Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"The Grapes of Wrath" - Required Reading for Troubled Times

With the stock market dropping about 500 points each day, it won’t be long before the only entertainment any of us will be able to afford is a good book. Yes indeed - those lame, papery, non-glossy, word-filled things that you used to flip through in high school. And maybe college, if you were some sort of liberal arts major.

In any case, it’s very likely that one of the last books you picked up – way back in high school - was “The Grapes of Wrath” by John “Becks” Steinbeck.

How appropriate for today’s time – a story about life during the Great Depression.

And it was with this in mind – and also, so I could write this post – that I picked up “The Grapes of Wrath,” and gave it a good read.

If you don’t remember one of the greatest American novels ever written, the story focuses on the Joad family from Oklahoma. The eldest son, Tom Joad, recently released from prison, serves as the story’s main protagonist.

The family’s land has been taken back by the bank, and with no work to be found in their home state, they decide to head to California. The book chronicles their journey. Not to give away too much, but all the feeble grandparents die along the way.

I mean, I really read the shit out of that book. It never knew what hit it.

But Steinbeck hit me flat in the face with his richness of advice and multitude of smart tips about scraping by - and also where to find work during a severe economic downturn.

It all rings true today - except for maybe the need to crank your car by hand, any mention of President Roosevelt, and the book’s position that bacon grease is a healthy food.

Otherwise, this work of literature is timeless.

Here’s what I learned.

1) If you don’t have a job, prison is great because they feed you and put a roof over your head. So go ahead and kill a guy in the heat of passion, and do your 5-7 years while this whole economic crisis blows over. You’ll probably get used to all the rape and jail yard shankings.

2) Don’t take your elderly grandparents on cross country trips with no food and little water - especially when you have to drive your rickety truck across the Arizona desert, and the grandparents are sitting in the truck bed under a pile of the family’s belongings. They might die. It’s not good for the grandparents, and it’s emotionally damaging to the grandchildren.

3) If you need work, head west. California’s a mighty big place, and there’s bound to be something you can get paid to do out there. The Joads stuck mostly to peach and cotton picking, with a little ditch digging thrown in for variety. Comparable California jobs nowadays would be a low-level production assistant at a Hollywood studio, or a software engineer in Silicon Valley.

4) Rent is crazy, even in California. Find an abandoned railroad boxcar to live in. These boxcars are sturdy, dry, dark, and dingy. But they’d also be a cool place to throw a rave – at which you could charge admission and sell ecstasy to partygoers. Business idea!

5) Don’t punch a cop even if he shoots at you. This sent Tom Joad back on the run soon after they reached California. He was breaking parole by leaving Oklahoma in the first place, so any questionable interaction with law enforcement could have meant a trip back to prison for young Tommy. Don’t let this happen to you. It’s perfectly fine to break parole, but just make sure you hide from any police, like a mouse hiding from a housemaid.

6) Save your money while you still can. The Joads had, like, twenty bucks to live off of during their journey west. If they had saved up even 50 or 60 grand, they could have lived comfortably for months, through even the toughest economic downturn. But no, they had barely enough to buy corn meal. Don’t make the same mistake. Forget about buying that new Mercedes. Downsize to a 42-inch plasma. Go out for sushi less than 4 times a week. The money you’ll save could come in handy when you get laid off from Morgan Stanley.

Depending on how the stock market does today, I may need to flip through “The Grapes of Wrath” once again, in order to glean some more tips for you, my loyal readers.

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Anonymous said...

Grapes of Wrath tips are great. You are on to somethin!

The Mill said...

Thanks Filthy Rich.

As the stock market wastes away like a TB patient, we can always look to the Great Depression era for some "great" tips!!

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I am reading this book for school and looking for tips on how to get through it. Funny blog, though.