Capital gain has always been the number one American value. It’s the reason why doctors pump patients full of pills that give them symptoms that need more pills to be treated. It’s the reason Sam and Caitlyn will be paying off student loan interest until they’re at least thirty-four.
“Art isn’t exempt from the system just because it’s essentially the most simultaneously human and divine activity any of us can participate in besides sex. But money’s pulled all divinity from sex, and the humanity from art.”
Paula pointed her finger at the glass windows to her left.
“It all comes down to money out there.”
“Money is a necessary tool,” Carol countered, “toward gauging value and worth, and achieving our goals. It’s not nearly as soul-sucking as you’re trying to make it sound.”
“Value and worth?” Paula asked. “You said yourself…”
“Paula,” Carol bit into another croquette, “I don’t want to debate with you.”
“Wait,” Paula protested, “now I’m going. You said the North East was depressing unless you worked at the top of media and show biz, or finance right? So I don’t think we’re debating. I think we’re agreeing on a real situation from two distinct perspectives. I think the entire thing is depressing.
“It shouldn’t be so difficult and unfulfilling at the same time to be comfortable and working class. I grew up with money too. My parents have a really nice house out in Queens, and make good money. They had me and my brother in their early thirties. And I lived in that house my whole life, and they pay my rent now.
“But it’s not the same world for us now that it was for them. We won’t get away with our dreams, or having a good life just by working hard. We’re working from the negatives and we’ll wind up slaving for crumbs and morsels.
“When I’m out of school, if I stay in New York, the only good,” Paula made finger quotes, “opportunities I’ll get are behind a desk, in front of a screen, in an office somewhere in SoHo, or on 11TH Avenue somewhere. And they’ll pay great, and I mean really great for the amount of skill I’m gonna have if I ever decide to graduate. Except,
“So you don’t want an office job?” Carol sought clarification. “No matter how well it pays?”
Caitlyn had always known Paula’s thoughts on art, and society, were sardonic. But she’d never heard them detailed to this extent. She listened prudently to her friend’s exposition.
“God no,” Paula replied, “because no matter how well it pays it will steal something more valuable from me – my creativity, my originality, my identity. My bosses will mold my work into their brand, and I’ll learn to conform my thinking and adjust my process while I perform mind-numbing mouse clicks for nine to eleven hours a day.
“My coworkers will be little competitive idiots who will envy any superiority I demonstrate – even unwillingly – over them, regardless of us all being crabs in the same bucket. And the only ingenuity I could exercise that might possibly benefit me would be plotting against and undermining them on my way to the top of the ad or gallery world.
“I’m not doing that shit. I’m going to fucking France and staying in art school for the rest of my life. I’ll paint in the streets and sell my work right there to whoever wants it and I’ll let my school show my work and if no one cares, no one cares.
“But I’m not gonna eat shit for it, ya know? I’m not gonna give myself a heart attack over anyone’s stupid bullshit deadline for some vector-based seven hundred square pixel graphic I don’t give a shit about. I’m an artist, and I was born to paint.”
Paula finished her speech with a shrug and devoted herself to the squid in front of her.
Carol’s brows came together as she made a bewildered face at Sam, then Caitlyn.
Caitlyn shrugged and returned to her own dish. She figured, for the most part, that Paula meant everything she’d just said. But she didn’t understand how, or even necessarily believe that, Paula intended to spend the rest of her life in school while she painted the streets of France for cash, like some Technicolor love story.
“Seriously?” Caitlyn set down her fork and turned to her friend. “You’re going to paint in the streets of France? That’s not going to make you any real money.”
Paula popped a piece of calamari into her mouth. She chewed slowly, thoughtfully before cupping her fingers beneath her wine glass.
“The grind, the struggle, the trial of endurance is the longest, hardest, most unfulfilling blow job you will ever give. Society shoots its lumpy hot load into your mouth and after what feels like an eternity – the duration of your employable life – what you’re left with is the bitter sticky taste of your own submission.
“You know that one percent those hippies and crusties in the park were talking about last fall? They’re real. There are really people in the world hoarding the majority of the wealth, circle jerking this massively degrading giant bukkake of taxes, interest rates, corruption, war, propaganda, and sickness onto everyone else. And the world is lapping it up because we just want to be touched so badly we don’t care how one-sided the fucking is.
“I don’t want that money. That money isn’t real. No money is real. It passes around and everyone thinks they want some, but I don’t. My most valuable currency – and I think you can appreciate this, Carol – is my mind. That’s the real tool. That’s what’s valuable and worthy and I’m not going to sell it.”