The weight of inequality


In the days that followed, I found myself thinking often of the common man on the street and the gap between us. I imagined people – the elevator boy, the waiter in a restaurant, the pizza delivery guy – looking at me, sizing up my net value, and comparing it to their own. On streets I often hid my camera. I sensed a strange notion of guilt, for things I possessed and they did not. I found this condition disturbing, and I wondered how others like me coped. I spoke with some friends.

“We know inequality as an abstraction, and we think we understand it. But putting a number to it, not statistically but in the context of an everyday situation, is something else.”

I was with an ex-colleague who now divided his time between the corporate and social sector.

I continued: “This is what happened when I gave that figure to the barber – I put down a number that made the gap between us explicit. Before this incident I ignored these people, now I think of them everyday.”

“I see what you mean,” he said.

“You live here – how do you cope with this on a daily basis?”

“I deal with it by contributing to social causes. And I tell myself that to do this, I need to keep a certain level of prosperity – good clothes, a car, an apartment, and so on. I need to keep myself satisfied, so that I can have an impact on others.”


My dream about learning to dance

At the center of an unnamed European city, a large park doesn’t open its gates until noon. People line up to get in and sit at round tables drinking wine, eating small cakes or playing accordions. Our friend who lives in the city says if they would only open at a reasonable hour — 7:00 or 8:00 — hikers could start their journeys there, setting off on one of ten long-distance trails, which were once the routes that pilgrims took to visit all the lost fingers of the national saint. It’s crucial, he says, to begin at the right place, like a ball that must be thrown from behind the head. I go in search of a conference dedicated to a book they claim I wrote, though I have no memory of it. By the time I find the venue at the far end of the park, the last paper has been delivered and they are pushing the tables back to dance. A tall, thin woman insists on showing me the steps, walking behind me, raising my arms as high as they’ll go. Slower, she says, slower! Let the steps find you. Eventually we are almost motionless except for a slight twitching of the hands. I turn around to face her and find she’s somehow slipped away, leaving in her place an elm tree full of sparrows.