Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Pleasure of Privilege

At the school where I work, the children rule. Starting back in the ‘60’s, we took the notion of child-centered education to an extreme, to the point where we’ve never had a teacher’s room and the kids are served lunch first. If oxygen masks dropped in an emergency, we would reverse our airline training and put their masks on while we sputtered for air.

The notion of no hierarchy has carried over into other areas of school culture. Although our teacher’s salary increases by increments according to the number of years at school, almost four decades of service still won’t get you a parking place in the lot, a stool at the kitchen counter or a sense that your voice carries a bit more weight when it comes to discussing major decisions. In short, the idea of privilege due to age, experience, background or accomplishment is a foreign one in my community.

So imagine my delight when I printed out the boarding passes to my flights to North Carolina and noticed that my seat on the first leg was in first-class. Sweet!! I hadn’t requested the upgrade, but someone up high in United decided that due to my many loyal  years of choosing the Friendly Skies and the fact that I had recently suffered through long flights of cramped economy middle seats with the reclining seat in front touching my nose, not to mention the three-hour crying baby (would they allow one in first-class?), that I was worthy of three hours (to Chicago) luxury. Who was I to argue?

Was it my imagination that the woman at the gate warmed up five-degrees more when she noticed my seat number? Did I imagine the mixture of jealousy and admiration from my line-mates when I turned left to my wide cushioned chair instead of right into the low-class economy torture chamber? Did I feel any guilt when the offer for wine came before we had even taken off and the free meal was served? Did I feel I was worthy of the attention? In short, “Hell, yeah!!” I’ve certainly paid my dues and though in my heart of hearts, I’m all about the circle holding hands with everyone equally important and available, I’m ready for a little privilege and deference in my 6th decade here.

Yesterday I saw Woody Allen’s delightful film To Rome With Love and one of its many charms was the fantasy of the lowly clerk randomly selected to be famous and all the pleasurable perks and papperazi pains that came with it. Suddenly, everything he does, from how he shaves to which shoe he ties first, becomes of magnified importance just because. Because, as supermarket magazines testify, we need stars beyond the ones in the night sky to admire and fawn upon and live vicariously through, thrilled by their love affairs, enthralled by their jet-set vacations, heartbroken (while secretly pleased) at their inevitable downfalls via drugs, divorce, depression.

Without giving away too much, the film gives us random fame and takes it away and has us pondering whether protected privacy is preferred to public pampering. Most of us will never get to make the choice. But what if each person were granted a day in their community to be instantly famous just because. Interviewed, fussed over, preened and pampered, admired by alluring beautiful women or hunky handsome men (heck, why not go further and allow a one-day free pass to sex with admiring groupies?), driven in limos or flown first-class or given restaurant seats instantly, the whole nine yards of celebrity life. Get it out of our system and go back with renewed appreciation (or dissatisfaction!) with our normal lives. Names just randomly chosen by lottery and off we go.

Meanwhile, my three hours of pampered privilege went by way too fast, some of it wasted sleeping. Now I’m about to board the second flight, back rubbing shoulders with the folks. Ah, well, it was nice while it lasted. Thanks, United, for making me feel so special. Now about that school parking space…

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