I left the bank, after begging them not to foreclose on my house, on my way to the unemployment office to file for an extension because my regular benefits are about to run out, and the car in front of me had a bumper sticker that read, “I am proud to be an American”, and it got me to thinking, well so am I. We, the Americans, have a lot to be proud of. In the last ten years we have had a president that signed the NAFTA deal sending millions of jobs overseas and had a tryst in the oval office. Discretion, in his case, not being the better part of valor. Another president that turned his back on the Americans after stealing the election, declaring war on a country on contrived intelligence just to line his and the V.P.’s pockets, On top of that he gave corporate America and the major banks free rein over the country and collapsed the economy, throwing millions of people out of work and for good measure out of their homes. Yes, I am still proud to be an American, I just don’t see the point of getting involved with such a government that whines for our vote every four years saying that it is our God given right to vote for a person that will lie to me and rob me of my livelihood in the name of patriotism.
It all started this morning, my wife left for work and when I finally got out of bed there was a TO-DO list on the kitchen table with a harsh note attached. There would not be any peace in the house tonight or supper if I didn’t take care of the list. I guess I can’t blame my wife for her level of intolerance, a year ago she was in middle management with a bright future, today she is waiting tables in a local restaurant for less than one tenth of what she use to make. Long hours and low pay is the American way!!! At least that’s the way I see it. Sitting at the table with me is a pile of envelopes, bills, no sense ruining my morning coffee, I already know what’s here. Sliding the envelopes to the other end of the table I pick up the list of things that I am expected to do, let’s see, bank, employment service, stop at the restaurant for lunch, her boss is springing today, he knows the fix we’re in so he buys us lunch a couple times a week, nice guy, decent. A good lunch and a good scolding from my wife if I don’t get something done today. Finishing my coffee I take a few minutes and stare out the window and dream of better times. My car looms large in my vision, I think to myself, I hope it lasts another year.
My second cup of coffee gives me the courage I need to open the envelopes, mostly bills but at least people are thinking about me. After a few minutes I decided that I have had enough abuse from the bill collectors, finish my coffee, and leave for the bank, I still need a roof over my head and that’s my first priority this morning, over five years in this house I don’t think there should be a problem I never missed a payment. As I get in my car I hear barking and notice “buttons” my neighbor’s poodle doing a wind sprint across my front yard. A second later my neighbor Ron, chasing his dog clad in fluorescent green gym shorts and a “I’m with stupid” T-shirt on, c’mon buddy, I think to myself there is a dress code even in this neighborhood. Getting in my car Ron waves and smile’s as he goes jogging by, go get him buddy, watch it buttons you freedom is almost at an end. I push the key into the ignition and turn and the car starts, ten years old and you haven’t let me down yet. Hang in there sweetheart I need you for one more year and then you can retire, I promise. I have my fingers crossed for good luck.
Driving down main street I notice a lot of empty buildings, some of these were prosperous businesses at one time. Coming into view, my favorite hangout, the hardware store. For any home owner, this is like a second home. I knew the owner’s of that store, Harry and his wife, man, they ran that store forever, my dad knew them, now the store is gone. Thank you big box. Another block puts me in front of the bank, I park the car and sit for a minute, and look at the building hoping for the best. Well I think to myself, I have to go in and get it over with, see if they will work with me. “Mr. James, how are you today”, I greet the loan officer with a friendly smile. “Todd”, he answer’s my greeting with a raised eyebrow, “how are you?” “Well, Mr. James that will be up to you, I hope we can work something out, this months mortgage payment will be a little late, you know my situation, no job, unemployment pay is way short of what I actually need.” “The bank will work with you for the time being Todd, but your situation better change.” I think to myself, yea you got yours, you’re not hurting that’s for sure. A Rolex watch and a five-hundred dollar suit. “Thank you sir,” I say as I leave the bank. I get in my car and pray a little, put the key in the ignition and turn , it started, a bonus, twice and in one day.
Next stop, the employment office, as I pull into the parking lot I think to myself, this is got to be my day, a job in my future, I can feel it. As I sit down at the desk, a perky little thing smiles at me, “how may I help you sir?” “Well, my name is Todd Monroe and my benefits are about to run out and I would like to apply for an extension, unless there is a job opening.” Joanne, the perky little counselor types my name and social security number into the computer, “will Mr. Monroe let’s pull up your file, see where we’re at.” “Okay, Mr. Monroe, I see here your benefits are about to run out, would you like to re-file?” “Yes, that’s why I’m here, a job or to re-file.” “Well, as you should be aware of, the job market is a little slow right now.” “Have you been actively seeking employment?” Joanne looks at me a little suspiciously, like I am getting rich on unemployment. “Yes, yes I have.” I say with an exasperated voice. “There has really been nothing but very low pay and limited hours, nothing I could live on.” “Well have you considered taking perhaps a full-time and a part-time job, just until you can find something in your field?” “My field,” I say in a voice that’s ready to explode, “my field was shipped overseas.” “I see Mr. Monroe, perhaps additional training in some other field.” “I did that, computer classes, IT, and I found out that I trained into an area that is already saturated.” “Well Mr. Monroe, I’ll get you’re extension process started so there should not be any delay in your payments, just keep trying to seek employment.” I push myself out of the chair and not feeling any better for the stop I bid Joanne a good day and leave. With all the good news I’m headed to the restaurant and a show down with my wife, or at least it feels like a show down.
While driving to the restaurant just six blocks further and lot of excuses are running through my head, the bank is getting restless and the employment service is of no help. Maybe my wife will understand. Driving past two other stores that I use to shop at are now shuttered, again, thank you big box. Used to be a time when shopping meant a chance to catch up on the news and the gossip of the community with the shop owners. Small town America, whatever happened, now it’s mega-banks, mega-corporations and chain stores. The one last bastion of man, the barber shop, a man’s world, now has gone the way of chain stores. Talking to the barber was better than reading the local newspaper, he always had the inside dirt. Small town America and the good old day’s, that’s where I want to be. Simple times, hard work, easy living.
Almost noon, in front of the restaurant, I see my wife through the window in her perky red and white checkerboard uniform, boy what the owner puts these waitresses through just to serve a bunch of lecherous old men, men left over from a past gone by. As I walk into the building, a smile on my face at my wife’s uniform, she spot’s me and smiles back. Walking up to me she asks “what’s so funny dear?” “Oh nothing, I’m just glad to see you, that’s all.” “Glad to see you too dear, grab a table and I’ll get you a cup of coffee.” “I’ll order lunch for us are you ready?” My wife says while heading to the counter for my coffee. Watching my wife walk away I glance around the place and remember coming in here when I was in high school, the place hasn’t changed a bit. It’s hard to find mom and pop restaurants like this anymore, this will probably succumb to the weight of the chain outfits serving factory made food in poly-foam cartons. This is a great old placed I think wistfully to myself.
Brought out of my daydream my wife is setting my coffee in front me, “Any good news dear?” she asks. “Yea, the bank will carry us for a while, not forever, and the job situation has not changed, nothing on the horizon.” “Well, that’s not what I wanted to hear, but at least you bought us a little more time.” “Yea, they suggested more education but why train into jobs that are not there.” “Well don’t despair dear, things will get better, they always do.” This coming from a person who doesn’t realize just how silly she looks in that uniform. “Oh, don’t forget, the lunch is on the house today, order up.” “Great, I’ll have a hamburger and fries, are you going to join me?” “As soon as I turn in our order and clear a couple of tables.” I think to myself as I watch my wife walk away, she can wait tables and I’ll wash dishes.
After staring out of the window and more day dreaming I’m brought back to the real world with the clatter of dishes being set on the table. My attention is immediately focused on the plate and then on my wife’s smile. “How does that look dear,” my wife asks. “If it’s free, it look’s great.” I answered back. My wife sits down at the table across from me and takes my hands in hers, “don’t worry dear, things will get better, just have faith.” “I know dear,” as I look into her eyes , “just hang in there with me,” trying to avoid any chewing out from her over the to-do list that I forget to bring along. “Taste good, dear?” my wife looks at me and smiles. “Yea it’s good,” I return her question, “it’s really good, tell your boss that I would be happy to do dishes for him for the rest of the afternoon,” I smile sarcastically. “Okay, okay just eat, I get the point.” “Making you wear that uniform we ought to get lunch free every day.”
“Boy, aren’t we just little Mary Sunshine today, and what is wrong with my uniform?” “Nothing I guess, it’s just the way the day is turning out, I had such high hopes for a job today, to get back to work, at this point I would be willing to take anything.” “Is that dish washing job still open here?” “NO!! You wouldn’t do it anyway, besides, they had to lay off the dishwasher not enough people coming in here since most of the people were laid off at the same time you were.” “The cook and I take turns doing the dishes, when I have no tables to wait on I do the dishes, when he’s not cooking he does them.” I look at my wife and smile and before I can say anything she gives me a dirty look and tells me to keep my opinions to my self. My smile even broader I look at her, “now you know the meaning of multi-tasking.” “Finish your lunch and get out of here I got a lot to do this afternoon.” My wife laughs.
As I finish my lunch I get up and my wife follows me to the door, I give her a quick kiss on the cheek and ask, “how much of a tip should I leave?” My wife laughs and swats me playfully on the shoulder. “Just leave, I’ve got things to do.” She smiles at me as I walk through the door, “and don’t forget the chores on the to-do list, clean the house and do any left over dishes from this morning.” “Yes, dear,” I smile a little sarcastically. As I get into my car I realize that I have been reduced to a house husband. Thank you twenty first century, working wives and house husbands. What happened, did the earth reverse direction on December 31, l999?