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"We the People": The Death of the American Dream

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Patricia A. Smith       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   4 comments

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I'm going to try and take a little detour from what should by now be my familiar is my normal sense of humor and opt for the straight and serious direction today. Not that it's any of your business I'm not already straight (thanks for asking), but sometimes I get a bee in my bonnet about certain things and if I ever really wore a bonnet when I do, that bee can sting. In other words, when I get serious, it's not pretty.

The other evening I was invited to a Hanukkah dinner and service at the local temple. (Note: I'm really glad that Hanukkah happens only once a year because it is a b*tch word that always trips me up when it comes to spelling.) This is an annual event I attend with my friend Roberta and her children. I don't go for the food (can you say, "hospital like"?) as much as I do for the tradition and the beauty of the candle lighting service. It's the one day a year I find myself among a large group of young children. Yeah, young children and I are never going to find our way on some reality show together is not something that will be mentioned in my obituary. Deal with it.

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Late Friday afternoon when Roberta called me to remind me to bring plenty of Purell because I would be among a large group of young children of the dinner, she informed me that she had invited a new friend to join us as well. My immediate thought was, "who are you dating now and why haven't you told me about him?" reaction was "great!" She told me I would find her friend to be very interesting.

Interesting indeed. Mindy is 54 years old, holds a Ph.D. in Social Sciences and two Masters Degrees from Columbia University. Her entire career was spent in academia and she was (and this is the operative word) a college professor. An only child, after her father passed away, Mindy took two years off from teaching to care for her ailing mother. Her mother passed away and Mindy inherited the house in Florida and decided to live here permanently. Shortly thereafter, two major hurricanes (Frances and Jeanne) devastated our region (taking my roof in their wake) and helped to change the physical and financial landscape of our region, just as the housing bubble exploded and landed on our faces. Mindy's house was completely destroyed. Gone.

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For those of you that have never gone through something like a hurricane, I don't recommend standing on the beach trying to defy it, you cannot imagine the utter devastation and how it wreaks havoc on your emotional psyche, finances, survival skills and your life. Frances and Jeanne made landfall in virtually the same exact spot on September 8th and September 27th, 2004 respectively. Within 72 hours, the National Guard was called into my area and I could not enter my own county, let alone come anywhere near my house for the first five days after Frances struck. Once I was granted access, I was stuck at home for almost six days because of heavy rains and flooded streets where not large groups of small children matriculated using canoes. Just shy of three weeks after Frances had disrupted our lives, (as we had started to make some progress in normalizing our lives), we got slammed by Jeanne (she finished the job on my roof and tore it off cleanly) and we went through the whole ordeal again. Between the two hurricanes, I was without electricity for a total of almost 30 days. When the exhaustive mental and physical exercise was finally over, one out of four homes in my county found themselves dressed in blue tarp courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers. For many people, getting those tarps took several months. The housing market crashed.

I can tell you stories of people who waited in excess of a year for a claims adjuster to show up to determine the now compounding damage, the price gouging, the unscrupulous contractors who descended upon the region and performed shoddy work without license to do so. I could tell you the pleas for food, work, clothing and help on TV and in the newspaper. I was more fortunate than most. After one week of calling my insurance company and getting answering machines but no response whatsoever, I called my local insurance agent and gave her 72 hours to get a human being or find me the name and address of the president of the insurance company. I don't think the poor man expected to have someone as tenacious as myself calling him directly. Imagine my surprise when he answered his own phone. Long story short, I had a cashier's check 48 hours after our conversation and no claims adjuster ever visited my house. I told you when I get serious it's not pretty.

Mindy was not so lucky. Her house was uninhabitable. On top of that, the insurance company that held her hostage policy collapsed from the financial pressure and went out of business, leaving people like Mindy high and dry. Mindy was left with no house and no money. Her life and her situation spiraled downward from there. She has been unemployed for more than two years and now lives in a homeless shelter. She came to temple seeking help or financial assistance of any kind and this is how Roberta came to befriend her. Mindy spends every weekend at Roberta's getting fed, doing laundry and being made to feel like a human being.

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To be certain, what we faced in Florida was not as horrifying or devastating as what happened to the residents of New Orleans and Mississippi with Hurricane Katrina. And while the utter incompetence and sheer hubris of the Bush administration combined with the lack of human compassion by W and his ilk played out on national TV for all of us to witness, it seems we learned little about putting a face on the damage that disasters, be they man made, financial or natural can do. Mindy's is just one of them.

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Patricia A. Smith is a writer and artist (and sometimes both at the same time). A former columnist, restaurant critic and cruise line executive, Smith has lived in London, Greece, Denmark, Hungary, Egypt, Costa Rica and France. She returned (more...)

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