Giving Away the Game – Scattershot Notes on Social Class and Other Afflictions


  • Jim Donnelly



social class, aspiration, working-class Italian Americans


One of my earliest jobs was driving for an unregulated car service in New York.  In the days before Uber they were called ‘gypsy cabs.’  One night I found myself on the business end of a revolver.  Telling the tale to my dispatcher next day, he was staggeringly nonplussed.  ‘Ya gotta put up with a lot,’ he said, ‘when you’re tryin’ t’ get ahead.’  ‘Yeah,’ I replied, disgusted, ‘even gettin’ your head blown off.’  Some time later, another driver, an African-American in a similar scenario, didn’t make it, emphasizing how much higher the stakes for a person of color.  These are the real wages of work, I thought, and the rules of the game.

My dispatcher’s nonchalance bespoke how invested in the game he was; in a set of beliefs, assumptions, and animating myths that keep the wheel of fortune going.  Like the Monty Python skit about the collapsing tower, if too few invest in those myths, the entire edifice crumbles.

The following is a personal essay that attempts to navigate the game’s parameters - social class, aspiration, and its attendant neurosis - and the myths that animate such notions as ‘getting ahead,’ ‘climbing the ladder,’ and the ‘American Dream,’ my country’s main (ideological) export.  The approach is less theory-driven than empirical, phenomenological.  Hence the numbered sections, a style popularized by Wittgenstein, Herbert Read and others.  Here it doesn’t represent chronology so much as the elusive, episodic nature of the beast. 






Personal Essays