Secrets by American Imagery
I was out meeting folks last week, seems that no matter where I go;
while the accents may change the stories they tell stay the same. I met a
man named Tom; he was an electrician and a sort of jack of all trades.
He told me, "The more jobs you can do the more work you can get." I
could relate to his feelings as they were mine as well.
Tom's fifty six years old and since he lost his house he splits his time
between his mother's couch and his girl friend's house. Like millions
of other Americans he once knew prosperity, raised a family and looked
towards the future. Now like me, he catches as catch can. We were
working on a job together rehabbing a 19th century farm house. Tom was
sleeping at night on a dusty old couch in the corner of the room. I
asked just out of curiosity, "Where are you eating?" This country house
is stripped bare with only a refrigerator in the garage.
"There's some ham and some bottled water in the refrigerator out in the garage," he explained.
"What are you doing about the mosquitoes?" I was compelled to ask this
because them critters were fierce in the shade even during the day and
moved in ravenous waves at night. He answered with a sly hint of a
smile, "you stay close to the fan and fight the good fight." Then he
added, "I hope we get paid today, I'm almost out of smokes."
As we worked we talked, he had worked for the railroad and had lost that
job when the Burlington-Northern had merged. They had bought him out
and he had used the money to open an electronics repair business. He
added, "There isn't any electronics to fix anymore, it's all plug and
play or throw it away." I just nodded in understanding, I'd heard his
story so many times before. I've even lived a chapter or two of it
myself, with me it was the industrial engine business, but I've heard
the story told before with the printing business or the painting
business and the contracting business or the landscaping business until
the stories begin to rhyme.
There was another fellow on the site and his name was Don, he lived in a
camper at the back of the property. Don wouldn't speak to me; he sensed
that I was hired as his replacement. There is no doubt about it, Don
was twice the carpenter that I was, but Don had drug and alcohol issues.
Mickey Mantle was one of the greatest baseball players of all time but
if he didn't show up for the game it didn't matter how good he was.
The boss had bought Don's house from him to keep him from losing it in
foreclosure and then let him stay in the camper on the property. Don had
cleared almost twenty grand from the sale of the house but had drank
and pissed it all away in a year and a half. Don came out of the camper
around ten thirty unshaved and hung over. He grabbed a beer from the
garage refrigerator and went back into the camper to drink it.
Around lunch time the boss arrived and asked if I had met Don yet? I
explained that I had, I had stuck my hand out in friendship and that he
had answered, "No habla English," and had walked past me in formal
hostility. Being from the south there are certain rules of conduct that
are immutable, if a man sticks his hand out in fraternity and you slap
it away they'll be no second chance without an apology.
When the boss showed up Don came out of his trailer and began framing a
window opening in the back of the house. The boss explained, "He's got
problems and we're trying to get them worked out, anyway, I've got
another job to put you on."
This other job was at Don's former home, the boss had given him the
opportunity to finish the basement and to live there, rent free. The job
was half done and a mess, Don couldn't get along with the tenants
upstairs and that was the reason that he was living in the camper. He
had written nasty messages on the walls and left the floors filled with
trash and beer cans but" this was a four bedroom three bath brick home
on six acres of land.
Don had built this house himself and had paid cash for it, but that was
before he had lost his job as a cabinet maker when the company had shut
down. Then a divorce and then the splitting of the equity in the house,
so Don took out a mortgage and then he lost it. In one stall of the
three car garage was his woodworking shop. It was filled with top
quality American made woodworking tools, it had the best of everything
but like the rest of Don's life it was in complete disarray.
"And when they've given you their all some stagger and fall after all it's not easy,
banging your heart out against some mad bugger's wall." Roger Waters
Realty Trac estimates another 1.17 million homes will receive a notice
of foreclosure this year, that's one in every 111 homes in the country.
Twenty percent of all homes in America are already paid for so that
number shrinks down to one in every 89 homes in America with a mortgage
are in foreclosure. This is the sixth year! We are looking at staggering
totals, upwards of forty or fifty million American's who have lost
homes, careers, husbands, wives and families.
If this were some deadly virus or horrible storm reeking vengeance upon
the American landscape would this government still do nothing? You see,
Don is sixty one and if he lives, he still has a union pension aside
from his Social Security. That is a vestige of a time long since gone in
America, a part of the vanishing mirage of retirement, replaced by the
401K which replaces the unemployment checks when that fountainhead dries
We've no jobs for our people, they've lost their pensions and then they
lost their homes. They've lost skilled careers in craft trades and jobs
in industries that no longer even exist in this country and their
government answers, so? What do you want us to do? Nearly every state in
the union is making drastic cuts to education, New York City alone is
cutting 3,000 school teachers. That's not fat, that's meat, so who will
educate the children? Where will the next generation work when they get
their printer fed diploma which reads, Little Johnny has passed a
comprehensive battery of government tests designed to measure his
ability to remember meaningless dates and facts but has not trained him
to think about his place in the world.
Where will those school teachers work? What trade can the next
generation learn that will provide them with a decent income for a
lifetime? The latest report from the bureau of labor statistics shows
that wages in this country are falling even in financial services. The
hours worked are falling as this economy comes staggering towards a
Earlier this year I wrote about an Obama administration program which
connects college students with participating corporate employers such as
Old Navy, Banana Republic and McDonalds. This is what this
administration considers job training, hamburger flipping and jobs at
the mall. It reminded me of the old adage, you can be poor on your own,
you don't need any help. Can an assistant manager at Old Navy or
McDonald's ever buy their own home? Can they raise a family or build a
What is the answer here, more of the same? How far can we ride this pony
towards the brink? Can we sentence our children to this future and
still sleep at night? What is to become of the land of opportunity? Who
took our greatness and who dug this moat to cut us off from it? A moat
filled with the tears of the damaged and the lost and how is it our
leaders cannot understand that the greatness of our nation is wrapped up
in the greatness of our people?
After the 9/11 attack in 2001 the government responds by stripping the
public of their civil liberties through the Patriot Act. In 2005, the
Congress of the United States passed the Bankruptcy Reform Act and
twenty four months later the economy collapses. The Supreme Court
affirms corporate personhood and then affirms the right of police to
kick in any citizen's door if they believe a crime is being committed.
Probable cause is anything, a noise; not answering the door fast enough
or even silence can be construed as probable cause.
Is it to be believed that these events are all random? Just coincidence
in a random universe? That after a smirking, snarling, dry drunk creates
two wars, tanks the economy while re-inflating the banking largesse
that along comes Mr. Obama out of the blue. Mr. Obama speaks in lofty
blue sky platitudes of "Hope and Change" he supports card check
legislation and single payer health care reform. He is paired off in the
election against an elderly Republican known for his ill tempered
At the Democratic Party convention Mr. Obama is in a dead heat with John
McCain, McCain goes to Florida and gives a speech against Social
Security to a room full of senior citizens. Then at his own convention
McCain picks Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate, she then
calls it a trick question when asked, "What newspapers do you read?"
Obama wins in a cake walk and names banking officials to the Treasury
Department, he names a woman who cut health care in Kansas to Health and
Human Services. He keeps the Bush Defense Secretary, keeps the Bush
bailout in place. Drops card check and single payer, sides with the
Republicans and against the unions in the GM bailout. Continues the Bush
wars and the Bush policy on torture or maybe these are all just random
coincidences as well?
We are being herded down a road towards where the sunshine ends, that
line between darkness and light. Where progress is measured in profits
and where jobs are measured in quantities and not qualities. Slaves have
jobs, but slaves have no civil rights, they have no health care or
pensions and they do not own homes. Their children are poorly educated
and have no opportunity to improve themselves. Slaves lives as victims
in someone else's world. They have no hopes or aspirations only the
master's hopes and aspirations, they have no children of their own they
have the master's children.
There are worse things than death and prison is a state of being not of location.