At Druid Hill and Laurens the morning after George Bush's stirring defense of all those still having a good time, Leroy Trapp glanced at the furniture piled in the street.
"Fifty thousand dollars," Trapp said softly. The furniture in the street had been thrown through two windows a couple of flights up. It was old and shredded, and it lay there right next to little St. Mark's Baptist Church, and Trapp said it had been lying there since the weekend.
"Fifty thousand dollars," he said again, a little distractedly. When the president talked of $50,000 on Tuesday night, Trapp walked across the room and turned off his television set. Then he told himself a terrible truth: George Bush was not talking to him.
The president used $50,000 as a dividing line. Leroy Trapp, 63 years old, drove a truck through the decades and never made money that approached $50,000 a year, and here on television was the president issuing his rousing defense of a capital gains tax cut with this magical $50,000 figure.
"Sixty percent of the people who benefit from lower capital gains have incomes under $50,000," said the president. It was his latest emotional pitch for a trickle-down money maneuver, a method that has worked so well over the past decade that America now has a greater disparity between the rich and the poor than any nation on earth in all of recorded history.
When the president uttered his words, question marks arose on the faces of people across the country. Where did this $50,000 figure come from? Was this the new poverty line, the brand new official demarcation between haves and have-nots? Did somebody slip into Washington while nobody was looking and erase the names of all those whose incomes never approach $50,000?
In all of this 50-minute state of the union speech Tuesday night, never did the words "homeless people" pass the president's lips. The word "schools" appeared once, and then drifted away. When Bush got to the words "poor" and "inner city," they were uttered in the same breath and then quickly disappeared and were forgotten, except in the places like Druid Hill Avenue.
"Old man," Leroy Trapp said now. "Just an old man."
He was looking at the furniture in the street. The old man died last week, and he had no family, and so someone who needed his apartment had come and cleared it out by tossing all of the old man's furniture and clothes and old papers through two upstairs windows and onto the street.
"Look at this," somebody said now.
Lying on the sidewalk, tucked between pieces of furniture, was an old supermarket tabloid, dated June 16, 1987. A front page headline screamed, "Alien Crew Alive After UFO Crash."
"Uh-oh," said Trapp. "I don't read that stuff."
That puts him in a minority today, for the other side of this great race for the presidency now includes not only the Democratic front-runner, Bill Clinton, but a woman named Gennifer Flowers and a supermarket tabloid called The Star.
Ms. Flowers tells a story of an alleged 12-year affair with Clinton, an affair so intense and heartfelt that when Clinton calls her, according to Ms. Flowers' own tapes, he somehow says, "Hi, this is Bill Clinton."
So these are our leading choices: one man who may have had an affair with a woman who can't even spell her own first name correctly, and another who thinks that $50,000 is a figure with meaning to millions who will never have any capital gains to declare.
On Druid Hill Avenue yesterday, here was Nellie Banks, 70, a retired medical assistant. She was waiting for the bus and looking at the old man's furniture on the street and she, too, was talking about $50,000.
"Oh, I never made that kind of money,: she said. "No, no."
Striding past her now came a man neatly dressed in a dark rain coat and a derby hat. The man had no teeth in his mouth. When he got to the huge pile of furniture, the man in the raincoat stopped and looked down, and then he began to bend.
From here, he picked up some undershirts. From there a towel, and from somewhere else what looked like a handkerchief. The man in the raincoat never looked around to see who might be watching, never gave evidence of any self-consciousness about taking a dead man's remains.
In Washington, George Bush talked of capital gains, and then he ridiculed those who would look elsewhere.
"You remind me," he said, mainly to Democrats, "of the old definition of the Puritan, who couldn't sleep at night worrying that somehow someone somewhere was out having a good time."
With this rousing patriotic defense of the comfortable and the unafflicted, Bush thus showed everyone where he stands: in his own world. It's the world where politicians conduct policy by sound bite. They run an economy by talking to bankers but not those shut out by the banks.
And they declare, as Bush did Tuesday night, "The people cannot wait. They need help now," and they hope nobody notices that this sense of urgency did not occur to anyone in power until an election season.
"He didn't say anything about the lower class, did he?" Leroy Trapp asked yesterday on Druid Hill Avenue.
"Just the rich," somebody said, "and the middle class."
"Yeah," Trapp said, "but the middle class, they're kinda like the lower class now, ain't they?"
Well, yeah, if you think $50,000 is the place we draw lines on capital gains.