COLUMBUS _ Buddy and I were working on the woodpile at Uncle Chet's house, stacking about 10 face cord of pungent ash, maple and cherry. The sun was beating down, and the pine needles crackled underfoot. Everything around us was tinder dry, that is, except the wood we were moving.
That was green and heavy.
"I'm hot, just watching you," Uncle Chet said from the lawn chair at one end of the stack where the 10-year-old was emptying his wheelbarrow.
"It is pretty hot," he agreed, but kept moving.
Alice came out with lemonades in mid-morning, and we took a break. I sat on a stump, and Buddy retrieved his John Deere pocket watch from the pickup.
"It's 10:47," he announced, then looked at the pile that remained. "I'll take 10 minutes off."
"Don't worry about the time," Uncle Chet said. "I'll pay you for your break."
"But you said ... "
"I know, but I've seen how hard you work. Relax, Buddy. You're doing great," Uncle Chet said. "No one would know this was your first job."
"You're almost half-done," Alice said. "I though it would take at least two days."
"Dad's been helping," he glanced at me.
"I'm his assistant, at $3 an hour," I said.
"And I keep $7," Buddy said as he brushed a lock of damp hair from his forehead.
Uncle Chet nodded approvingly. "He may go far."
"Maybe we should put him in charge of Social Security," Alice said, "so the government doesn't keep threatening us with poverty."
"Like some banana republic," I said.
"They could fix Social Security with the stroke of a pen," Uncle Chet said. "All they have to do is tell the billionaires to pay Social Security tax on all their earned income, the way most Americans do."
"What's the upper limit now?" I asked.
"$106,800, as of last year," Uncle Chet said. "You pay tax on the first $106,800 and anything over that is exempted for Social Security. So, people in the working class pay Social Security tax on all their income, but someone making $1 billion a year gets $999 million tax-free."
"A loophole," I said.
"We've got hundreds of billionaires and ten of thousands of millionaires who need to pay Social Security tax on all their income, the way most people do. Then it'll be there for kids like Buddy."
"Here, here," Alice raised her glass.
"In an age of stark disparity brought on by those who've exported American jobs to low-wage nations, the obligations of the rich are clear," Uncle Chet said.
"Why don't we ever hear it like that on TV?" Alice asked.
"Big media is controlled by billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, furthering their own agenda, lining their pockets and consolidating control," he said. "They give us as much news as a Roman circus. That's why we hear so much about Casey Anthony and balloon boy and so little about the economic woes of everyday people. When I was growing up, the rich were more restrained, gentile, even beneficent. A company owner might make 12 times more than the janitor, but not 1,200 times more. Jed Clampett was considered super rich with $25 million and bankers fell all over him.
"These days, Jed wouldn't be a player. These days, the rich are too rich and unpatriotic, the rules are rigged by their lobbyists, and they expect us to believe we can afford three wars at once, station troops around the globe, but can't maintain services at home."
"Unfortunately true," Alice gathered the glasses.
"You made me very eager to keep this job," I told him and got off the stump.
"Back to work," Buddy said and took his watch to the truck.
"If we were a nation of 10 people living on an island, it would be easy to challenge the ethics of the super rich," Uncle Chet said. "Just imagine we're on that island, and all we have to eat are three pizzas."
"OK," I said.
"What would happen if one person announced he was a billionaire and took one pie, then two said they were millionaires and took another pie, leaving only one pie for the other eight?"
"Pie fight," I said.
"Exactly," he said. "And if the media told it straight, we'd have a pie fight to end all pie fights. But because the media and message are controlled, we aren't going to get a pie fight any time soon."
"We just have to work," Buddy said and began to load up his wheelbarrow.
"We have to do that," Uncle Chet agreed. "And we have to organize, push back, stick together and tide each other over closer to home."
Cooperstown bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit www.thedailystar.com/tomgrace.