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. Their calls have a special hollow sound. Probably caused by their always using a speaker or microphone.
“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.”
“No. I have no money. My unemployment has run out. 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 searching employment websites.
“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 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.” And I clicked off.
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 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 twenty-five to life.
People like us, who were very good earners and lived a decent facsimile of the American Dream — until it turned into the American Nightmare — scare the pants off other people. Our ill-fortune might be contagious. What happened to us could happen to them. They could face ruin because the economy faltered, they got sick, worked for a company that went bankrupt, or were declared obsolete or too expensive … or worst of all, they got old and were pushed out the door.
People can’t afford to be sympathetic. This is too close. Too many of us are living a paycheck away from financial disaster. In our dreams, we see the glittering eyes of the predators (oops, I meant creditors) watching us from the shadows. So we circle the wagons. Throw another log on the fire and huddle against the dark.
At this point, we’ve gone past that. No wagons remaining to circle and we’re out of firewood.
I have more of a sense of humor about this some days than others.
BACK TO THE NOW
We are in better shape than we were. Not rolling in the big bucks, but mostly managing to get through the month. Meanwhile, though, too many other people have joined the “we’re poor” party. Which explains that’s why there are so many angry, hostile, hateful people around.
Someone told them they could have a new car or two, a house, and a job that pays a living wage. All they had to do was “the right stuff” to have The Good Life. It didn’t happen that way.
If the good life fails, it must be someone’s fault. It must be Those People. Black people. Hispanic people. Islāmic people. They stole the dream.
Someone stole the dream, right? It can’t be you were working in a business which became obsolete. Or you were under-educated and couldn’t keep up with the how the workforce has changed. Or maybe you just had really bad luck, a thing that can randomly happen to pretty much anybody — with no one at fault.
I know our problems weren’t because of Those People. Other struggling people are not our enemy.
The rich guy with orange hair is not your friend and he isn’t going to make your world a better place. Maybe he’ll help you hate better, but that’s not going to improve the quality of your life. Maybe you’ve figured it out by now. I hope so.