I was in the coffee house down the block and to the east of where I work. I go there at lunch because they allow people to bring in food from outside --for me, a protein bar, an apple and a grapefruit -- as long as you order coffee. I get a double espresso and read the newspaper. The ceilings are high and the room long, like quarter-of-a-street-block long, with the counter situated in the middle. Sometimes even one of the six stuffed chairs is free.
Two weeks back I was sitting at a long dining-room table by myself when a young corporate man dressed in casual clothes came in and sat down at a table behind me. He was talking corporatese to someone on his smartphone. He went back up to the bar and ordered; then returned. After a while a young Asian-American woman, either Chinese or Korean, joined him. I am not sure if they greeted each other with an embrace or a handshake. She went back up to the bar and bought herself a coffee, complaining upon her return how long it had taken to be served. The young man agreed, saying it was horrible.
It was apparent from their conversation that they were friendly but not good friends. Maybe they knew each other at Stanford or Google. What they definitely shared in common was class. They were of the elite.
The young man spoke about just having moved from Singapore where he had been working. His wife had been getting a postgraduate degree at the London School at the same time. Now they were reunited and living in Seattle. (The guy probably worked at Amazon.)
He said that he and his wife had recently driven up to Vancouver (three-hours away and a border crossing) to get some good dim sum.
The conversation then pitched full throttle into food. Which area has the better Vietnamese, Seattle or Orange County? The young Asian-American woman, to the young man's astonishment, argued persuasively for Seattle.
It was at that point that I left. But the thought remained that class, while always with us, has returned in a big way. And the way to appreciate this is to focus on mobility. The elite are far more mobile now than those beneath them; or, put another way, those beneath the elite are far less mobile than they used to be, for they are the precariat.
Another way to appreciate this reassertion of elitism is to consider that Peter Parker, a.k.a., Spider-Man, is now the CEO of his own corporation, Parker Industries.
Even though I have a subscription, I don't think I have read Amazing Spider-Man regularly for at least five years. I did read the recent six-issue Prowler run, which was part of The Clone Conspiracy arc, a story line which refers back to an earlier cloning story published during the Watergate/Ford years.
The present arc pales in comparison to the original. Back in the mid-1970s Peter Parker was a regular guy in his twenties working as a photographer for The Daily Bugle who also just happened to be a superhero.
Thinking about those issues of Amazing Spider-Man this week, the Gerry Conway-Ross Andru issues from 1973-1975 -- from Gwen Stacey's death to her cloning by the Jackal -- issues I read as a kid when they came out, I was struck how they were able to accurately convey to a grade-schooler what life would be like.
When I got to my twenties I, like Peter Parker, was living in Manhattan. It was just as edgy, chaotic, violent and harrowing as depicted in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. I wasn't swinging from midtown skyscrapers or slugging it out with Doctor Octopus, but I was brimming over with testosterone and careening from one bar fight to the next street fight on a conveyor belt of morning subway rides hungover on my way to a Madison Avenue office.
The Peter Parker of today is nothing like that. He is a CEO for Christ's sake!
What the current Clone Conspiracy does have is Hobie Brown, a.k.a, The Prowler, an everyman member of the precariat. A marginal player who has been both villain and hero. A significant portion of the dialogue in the recent six-issue run is the conversation that Hobie has with himself regarding his low self-opinion. Gnawing self-doubt, who doesn't know it?
In Prowler #6 Hobie is interviewed by Peter Parker for a permanent position with Parker Industries. The Prowler projects his mind forward to a lonely gray-bearded life of vigilante crime-busting. Then there is a counter-projection of a fulfilling life with a lovely wife and two children.
But on the last page Hobie is left alone in his small dark apartment staring at the mask of his alter ego.
We should all be able to relate.