WE’VE COME A LONG WAY SINCE THEN

I went looking in my files for a story — which I didn’t find. Maybe it’s on one of my backup drives. I’ll have to look. Meanwhile, I found this unfinished bit. I wrote it in 2006. Life is much better now. It is interesting seeing how far we have come in a decade and how, despite my pessimism and a lot of setbacks … we’re still here. These days, instead of dunning us for money, the banks want to give us more credit cards and keep raising our credit limits.

The message is SPEND, SPEND! My answer is NO, NO! But thanks for thinking of us. Please send cash, not credit.


SUNDAY MORNING, LATE JUNE 2006


My first call this morning was from Discover card, to which entity I owe some thousands of dollars.
You can always tell it’s a creditor. The calls have a hollow sound, probably caused by the speaker phone.

“Good morning. May I speak with Marilyn Armstrong.”

“Speaking.” Sigh. Here we go again.

“I was wondering if you were intending to make a payment this month.” Note that today is June 30th, and it’s a Sunday. One can only wonder to which month she is referring.

“No. I have no money. My unemployment has run out and I have an income of zero.”

“Well, have you considered returning to work?”

I paused for a long moment, pondering the hundreds of resumes I’ve sent, the dozens of phone calls, the days and weeks poring through employment websites.

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“Actually,” I said, “I have decided I don’t feel like working. You see, ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be poor. Not merely a little short of money. Oh no. I wanted to be so poor that I can only shop at the Salvation Army on half price days. I want to be awakened in the early hours of my weekend by creditors dunning me for money. I want to make choices, like ‘do I eat or do I buy my medication? Do I keep the telephone or pay the electric bill?’ You know, miss … what was your name? I didn’t catch it …”

“Tracy …” she replied.

“Well Tracy, even when things were going really well, I was always yearning for the day when I wouldn’t be able to go to the doctor because I have no medical insurance.  So I plotted and schemed until I found a company that was sure to go bankrupt while I worked there owing me three or four months back salary … oh and I also arranged for my husband to be abruptly jobless and for economy to tank… and voilà! I got what I wanted.

“I’m dead broke and I get to have conversations with people such as you first thing on Sunday morning. It’s better than church. ” And I clicked off.

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I’m sure my wit was lost on her, but at least recounting it to Garry made him smile. Everyone keeps telling us that it’s going to get better because it has to. Call me a skeptic. I bet that’s what they told the homeless families as the sheriff evicted them.

Being poor in America is actually considered a sin. If you are poor, people assume you are also lazy, stupid, and uneducated … unless they are liberals, in which case they assume that you come from a deprived background where your mother was a prostitute and your father is doing 25 to life for murder.

People like us, who used to be among the top wage earners who lived the American Dream until it turned into the American Nightmare, scare the pants off fellow citizens. Our ill fortune might be contagious. What has happened to us could happen to them. It might rub off. In America the Beautiful, they could face complete ruin because the economy faltered, they had some bad luck, got sick … or worst of all … got old.

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People can’t afford to be sympathetic. It’s too close. Lots of people are living barely a paycheck from financial disaster. In their dreams, they see the glittering eyes of the predators (whoops, I meant creditors) watching from the shadows. So everyone circles the wagons and throws another log on the fire and huddles together against the dark.

We’ve gone way past that. No wagons to circle and out of firewood.

I have more of a sense of humor about this some days than others. Generally speaking, the first caller of the day gets the sharp edge of my tongue. I just hang up on the rest.

Oh … then there are the automated messages. “Please hold,” says a robotic voice, “for an important message.” How dumb do they think we are? Even before we fell into poverty, I never held on so someone could sell me something or pressure me for money. Good grief. Is anyone that naïve?


Although we are in better shape than we were, many others are not. That’s how come there are so many angry people. The dream of America promises they can have a new car or two, a nice house … and a job that pays a living way. That if they do the right stuff, they will have the good life.

When the good life failed, when America failed them, it had to be someone else’s fault. Those people. Black people. Hispanic people. Islāmic people. They stole their dreams.

Someone stole their dreams … but it wasn’t those people. It was the people who sent the jobs to other countries, hired the illegal immigrants to work for sub-minimum wages in sweat shops. It’s always the people who have the most who prey on those who have less. Always, throughout history.

It is still true today. That rich guy with orange hair is NOT on your side.

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