What’s Normal

Meg and I are training for a triathlon. It’s a big one and it’s coming up quick. I don’t think I’m going to have any issues with the run. I run about 4 miles a day already so going 13 isn’t a big deal. I’m getting faster on the bike and putting in miles regularly so I think I’ll be fine there. By far my weakest area is the swim. I had a gym membership for about a week before Coronavirus shut everything down. But since then I haven’t been able to practice much at all. Now that the weather is nicer, we figured we would just practice in lakes. It seemed like a good idea since it’s an open water swim and I’m definitely a below average swimmer.

The plan was to swim while the kids paddle next to us in the kayaks. They are still very new at kayaking, but then again, I am still very new at swimming. Neither of us, myself or the kids, can move much faster than the other, so it sounded like a good idea in theory.

The Milwaukee area has a couple of options for lakes that would work. Last night we picked one in what might be the farthest out suburb of the city. I’ve been there a couple of times. It’s a big lake with a nice downtown area and a small beach. It was about 5 o’clock on a Wednesday so I assumed the beach wouldn’t be too crowded.

I was wrong. It was packed. The little Main St. bar and restaurant spaces across from the beach were full of people. One bar had about 50 people sitting and standing on its patio space – a space not much bigger than my living room. On one end of the beach there were about 100 teenagers chanting or doing some type of cheer. It kind of looked like it was a senior class event or something like that. They were all huddled together talking and goofing around, normal teenager stuff. The other end of the beach was full of families and small groups of young people enjoying the weather. It almost makes you forget we are in a pandemic. Maybe everyone else forgot too, because I didn’t see a single person wearing a mask, and, while it’s hard to say for sure, we might have been one of the only groups actively trying to socially distance ourselves from everyone else. Because there was no open beach space, a couple of 19 year olds were playing catch with a football over the 40 or 50 families condensed onto their half of the beach. Even when we got into the water some asshole on a jetski wouldn’t stay far away enough from us.

Besides fearing for my life as 15 year old on a jetski with a couple of friends on the back of it and pulling a couple of people on a tube raced way too close to me as I am swimming next to my kid struggling to keep up as she paddles a kayak, the whole experience left me unsettled.

Immediately before loading up the kayaks and making the 25 minute drive west on I94 I went for a run. These crazy juxtapositions of rich to poor and vice versa really mess with me. Pewaukee Lake is a big lake for the area. I have looked a couple of times at houses on the lake and they sell for about half a million dollars for a place about as big as my ghetto house. My impression of the area is that it’s only accessible if you are in a great financial position (or at least can fake it enough). Meg and I do really well financially, but I think we would be on the low end of accessibility. I have no issue with anyone accumulating enough wealth to buy a lake house on that lake and live the type of lifestyle you get to when you have a lake house in a beach town. A version of me would love to be able to do that. I would love to use my money to give my kids the type of childhood where they grow up playing on the water and hanging out at the beach with their friends. But when I go from one of the poorest places in the city to one of the richest suburbs, I don’t know how to think about the experience. That is probably an understatement. It’s more than not knowing how to think about it. I actually found the sharp contrast in my perceptions of the wealth/absence of wealth in the too places to be disgusting.

It seems fair but it doesn’t seem right. Or maybe it’s right but isn’t fair.

On my run I ran past multiple people sitting on their porches passing time. Their houses were ratty and falling apart. They sat in old chairs or on the steps. Many wore masks. I ran by a couple of groups of teenagers who were meandering around the neighborhood with nothing productive to do. I saw a few people working, but most were just existing.

The differences in the two areas made me wonder about what the systems within our society produce. The group of kids on the beach most likely came from a place of excess. Excess is normal to them. The normalization of excess means you have little to worry about. A nice night at the beach is normal. Pulling your friends around on a jetski is normal. Playing football on a crowded beach is normal.

When excess is your normal, you don’t have much to worry about unless something threatens your excess. When scarcity is your normal you have to worry about everything because your margins are so much smaller than than someone living in excess. I think I have a hard time going back and forth between areas of huge excess and areas of devastating scarcity, because it doesn’t seem random. One area is almost entirely white and the other is almost entirely black. If both areas were a random representation of racial makeups I don’t think it would bother me as much, but that’s not the way it is.

We didn’t stick around the beach for long. The disregard for social distancing bothered me, but did so more because there probably aren’t a ton of actual consequences for someone living in an affluent area if they get the Coronavirus. Their insurance will cover the treatment and they can probably use sick time if needed. If one of the people I ran past, one of my neighbors, contracted the virus the results could be life altering. Many live with elderly family members and work jobs that are hourly – if they don’t work, they don’t get paid. This is way overly generalized, but there is still some truth to it.

After swimming for a bit we packed up the kayaks and headed back to the ghetto. It’s amazing to me how much more at home I feel here than out their in the rich area. If I had to pick one of the two places to feel more at home at, I would much rather have it be the inner city than out there.