Coming out of the local market the other afternoon after buying my next day salad, as I headed to my car, was a fellow standing alongside of and leaning onto a Toyota Corolla, not the newest model but well-cared for. In front of the car, in display mode of sorts was a table with a hand-written sign that said "$40." It was a coffee table, a very white wooden table that came nearly to my knees and about three feet or so long.
I measure the heights of many things in terms of my knees. I've had three operations to replace one and half kneecaps making me nearly bionic but still moronic (and you'd think Lindsay Wagner would friend me on FB at the very least? HA! Oscar Goldman stands a better chance and he doesn't even own a Select Comfort Mattress) and while I have motor skills challenges, I watch the knees, please, with ease. He wasn't interested in assaulting me with the table, but in selling it.
Last week as both political parties in our nation's capital maneuvered to stake out the best positions for the November Election on extending unemployment benefits to those whose current benefits have been exhausted, Dave (I didn't ask if that were his real name. Situation reversed, I wouldn't have given me mine either) was doing what he had to do to keep his family from sleeping in that Corolla.
Dave has a job, okay HAD a job, working for a car dealership in the auto body shop. He was especially good, he told me, in frame straightening and cold steel reconfiguration (all I know about cars, for the most part, is where the gas goes. Almost everything he said was an English I don't speak). You'd think as people held on to their cars longer, because they can't afford to buy new ones, the Daves across the country would be in decent shape, unless their dealers get squeezed by the banks whose money they use to buy the cars they try to sell us. When that happens, they lower their overhead and the Daves all hit the bricks.
It's odd how all those billions upon billions we gave to too-big-to-fail businesses and banks didn't do $hit for Dave, Janice, Bob, Ezekial, Jebediah and who the hell knows exactly who else among the many millions of folks across the country trying to make it as the flood waters of hard times just keep rising. He started coming to the parking lot about eight months ago he said, looking to chat up people after they'd bought groceries to see if they needed their sidewalks shoveled free of snow, or pathways cleared to their garages.
We had a reasonable amount of snow during the winter, though I didn't get the impression he'd made enough money to get the front tires on the Corolla replaced, as they were looking a little like the top of my head, if you follow my drift and he probably doesn't have the 'discretionary' cash to pay to get them rotated to the rear (I didn't think to look if he had perhaps done that. Maybe he did already).He looked like a bright man, just confused as to how he wound up at the place where the road and the sky collide on risky home mortgage loans, which, I've been told, was the gasoline on the bonfire of vanities that has become a recession some say rivals The Great Depression.
The folks in DC, after they'd milked all the political capital out of whose fault all of this is (we never tire of Search for the Guilty, do we? I've yet to once experience how it helps us fix the problem, but I'm right there, fighting for a window seat in the clown car, when we're loading up to do some searchin'), finally extended the unemployment benefits. If they just do something about the people receiving them who'd prefer to be working, that'd be something that could take all of us past November.
Dave's already sold off most of his living room. And when he shows up out here every couple of weeks or so, someone calls the local police to report him. He certainly doesn't have a license to sell furniture in the parking lot of a broke-a$$ mall already devoid of businesses (they disappeared in the years preceding the economic tsunami that we have now) and it's just easier to move along, working the circuit and eventually coming back. He's got two kids, almost ready for middle school and no illusions they'll be going anywhere near a college or any other post-secondary educational institution unless they win the lottery.
It's the kind of scene my mom's father, Grampy, used to tell me about when I was a small kid-grow men selling apples in front of skyscrapers in Manhattan and families, like his, learning to not want so they weren't disappointed when they didn't get. Every generation of American since we got started has done better than our parents before us so that our children will have it better than we did. In a way, it's the promise of that dream that joins us as a nation, no matter our color, gender, religion or politics.
I walked back to my car. I didn't need a coffee table and I couldn't persuade Dave to take ten bucks 'just in case' he ran into somebody who only had thirty, and drove off while my constant companion (I always have a Springsteen CD in the player of the car) posed the question I know that if we can't figure out how to answer around here in the next couple of years, we may not be around to do any more figuring.