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St. Giles Cathedral ~ taken by Dwight McAnear

St. Giles Cathedral ~ taken by Dwight McAnear
Edinburgh, Scotland 2010

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Monday, July 11, 2011

VELVET SLIPPERS

In the fifties, farming community schoolhouses in Texas were often all-inclusive. One of the smallest schools I attended was housed in a two story, brick building with a gigantic bell hanging from the entryway rafters. It was the same school that my parents attended in the thirties. My mother tells about riding a horse to get there with her older brother. He was fond of encouraging the horse with the ends of the reins and “accidentally” swatting Mother’s leg instead.

At this school, the first and second grades had their own detached classroom, nicknamed “the dog house”. But the first floor of the main building housed combinations of all the other elementary grades while the second floor was reserved for the high school students. My first year there, I was in the fifth grade.

Although elementary students outnumbered the high school attendees, we were nonetheless admonished daily to keep our voices down – even at recess – lest we disturb those elite high school students who were diligently pursuing the quintessence of academia. What honor and respect we held for them, besides the fact that there were dire consequences for disturbing their peace. From their treetop position they could see the countryside with far greater clarity, the air was pristine, and even the raindrops fell first past their windows. We children in the hallways below were often reminded to “put on velvet slippers” so that our footsteps would become indiscernible to these older students who had worked so hard to get to where they were.

Then the bubble burst. It happened when my teacher asked me to return a book to the library which was, of course, upstairs. I ascended the final few steps on tiptoe. The landing opened into hallowed classrooms on either side of me. I walked slowly and scrutinized each sanctified class. In the very first one, mathematics, a student near the doorway slept with his head resting on his desk as drool trickled down his chin. I couldn’t believe it. I moved on to the history class across the way. They were discussing the upcoming rival basketball game. What? I also spied two giggling girls chewing gum in the English class, and when I finally made it to the library, the librarian was away from her desk. A teenage couple who were kissing at a back table didn’t even notice me.

I was crushed. For the educational tranquility of this elite group we were creeping about in our imaginary velvet slippers? Even at eleven years of age, I found this disparity of expectations unacceptable. The lofty circumstances above us had been overvalued by those in charge and at our expense. All of us deserved the best learning environment possible. The infamous velvet slippers should come off, but they didn’t because I was only one and a child at that.

Such childhood discoveries and awakenings to the real world don’t always stretch into the present and, more rarely, into our political culture. However, when I read in a major newspaper that, since 1975, the bottom 90 percent of the population has watched its income rise by only 10 percent while the wealthiest 1 percent saw a 232 percent gain, I assumed that the income taxes they had paid would have reflected such whopping income increases. Wrong. Currently, our tax system makes few distinctions among those in the top 3 percent. Households making $250,000 per year are subject to income tax rates almost identical to those who bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. As a leading weekly magazine put it:  LeBron James and LeBron James’s dentist now pay at virtually the same rate.

This is not an issue that should separate us along party lines. This is about everyone doing their part in this country we all love. Washington rhetoric aside; step upstairs into the realm of the exceptionally rich among us. Do you think they are really on a more cerebral, job-creating, moral plane that the rest of us? Some of the ultra-wealthy have actually voiced the opinion that they should, indeed, pay more taxes.

There is some hope in the Fairness in Taxation Act (H.R. 1124 and S. 552). These bills would change this inequity by creating a series of new tax brackets, starting at $1 million in income and going up to $1 billion. “There’s no reason to treat the wealthiest 1 percent of the country any more specially than anyone else,” stated Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva, a co-sponsor of the House bill, in a recent interview. “And right now that’s exactly what our tax system is doing.”

The way our political parties bicker makes fodder for late-night jokes and leading news stories. Parties have agendas and talking points. In actuality, citizens could make a difference by contacting their representatives and telling them to vote in favor of these bills. I am not one any more; we can all speak to this issue. What could we lose? Our own voice. What could we gain? Billions of dollars. Hopefully, they can work out the details.

It’s time to take off our velvet slippers in favor of fairness. Snoop around for yourself.

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Sharon McAnear grew up in the Texas Panhandle at a time when small towns and farms still thrived, as did the comforting presence of extended families. Her grandparents were a constant source of joy and spiritual inspiration to her. They, like many others of that period, learned to appreciate the humor and irony in life, and those particular traits are given high regard in her writing. In addition to writing, Sharon is a reader, a hiker, and a frequent visitor to Britain. She confesses to lovingly wallpapering her family's downstairs bathroom with 243 Far Side cartoons one snowy weekend in the late nineties. Gary Larson, however, had nothing at all to do with the cover photos for her novels. They are the author's own work. Sharon McAnear lives in Colorado with her periodically dramatic family. She is currently plotting her next novel, and perhaps sneaking added inspiration from wallpaper.

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