One day last winter I went to Home Depot to get a good deal on a replacement garage door. The employee helping me was on the older side of middle age, a mild-mannered man named David. In the course of conversation David made it clear he'd been screwed over a year or two earlier by his longtime big bank employer, and now found himself able to find only this part-time job.
Later that day I ended up writing a column about the experience, (changing David's name to "Robert" to protect his anonymity) because I couldn't get it out of my mind. I went back to Home Depot later that week to find David and give him a link to the article. He had said that while he wasn't a "political person", he was still an avid online reader.
But when I went looking for him, he was gone.
Just two days after I met him, his "employment had ended". That's how it was put to me when I went through a first and then a second level of inquiry. That was the sum total of information the store manager and employees I asked were able or willing to provide. I had David's first and last name, that's it, and they were so common as to make it impossible for me to locate him.
A question has gnawed away at me ever since. What happens to a white collar worker in his late 50's who after 20+ years of loyal service is thanklessly cast off by an unaccountable corporation, with no pension or benefits, barely any 401K left - and then loses his part-time lifeline of a job at Home Depot?
No good answer, only upsetting suppositions. I said a silent prayer for David, and moved on.
Then yesterday I was on another run to Home Depot, looking for something to help handle the chinch bugs chewing up my front lawn. I was standing at one of the aisle intersections trying to figure out which way to go when my ears zeroed in on a raised voice nearby. I knew right away it wasn't David, but the tone and words immediately made me think of him.
"You understand what I'm sayin'? 30 years and then Bam! Wiped out, know what I'm sayin? Lost 60-70 percent of everything"everything"and here I am. How about that?!"
I turned in the direction of the deep, strong but straining voice and saw a strapping man who looked to be in his early 50's, six feet or a little taller and barrel-chested, thick salt & pepper hair slicked back, eyes blazing defiantly behind thin wire-rimmed glasses, a deep scowl sharply defining his jutting square jaw line.
He stood. shoulders hunched, behind a power tool department counter, wearing one of those Home Depot smocks, another smock-wearing employee maybe half his age standing beside him, staring down and shuffling his feet, looking embarrassed even through a full beard. On the other side of the counter, the customer side, stood a middle-aged man wearing the bewildered look of someone caught in an interaction that wasn't going anything like he might have imagined it would.
My first instinct was to linger and listen. But I didn't. I wandered off in search of my AC filter, as the details of another sad story drifted out of earshot, swallowed up by the din of other distant conversations and the ever-present fluorescent hum of Home Depot .
Just an hour or so earlier, I'd read online about how American corporations posted all-time record profits in the third quarter of this year, $1.66 trillion in profits. Trillion. In the same chunk of online time, I read a couple of the latest accounts of how Republicans in Congress, including our own new Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, are pushing hard for a reduction in corporate tax rates. That same kind of push is coming in 2011 at the state level, courtesy of the Republican Party of Florida.
Note that neither the national or Florida Republicans are proposing any meaningful - any? - new efforts to reach out and help all the Davids, the millions of white and blue collar workers thrown mercilessly onto the scrap heap of the American economy, faced with the thankless task of fighting it out with each other for part-time jobs at Home Depot, or worse.
If, while shopping for bargains this holiday weekend, you should run into salespeople or other employees who seem a little sullen, who have a story they need to get off their chest, or who simply seem a little less than "thankful"...patience, compassion and empathy would be in order.
Because let's face it, even if things are looking up just a little for some of us, and looking better than ever for for Big Business, there are still millions of Davids, millions of thankless human question marks scattered across every corner of the American landscape this Thanksgiving.