March 19, 2010
My girlfriend and I decided recently to come up with a new political party. We have the Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Green, etc. Our new party will be the Futility Party. Our mascot will be a sleeping three-toed sloth. And the candidates we put forth will either be non-existent, fictional, or dead – because any of those options seems to be better than what we have to deal with now. Right now I’m thinking Paul Lynde for California’s next governor. The state and its budget are both complete jokes, why not throw in some of those dry witticisms from the Hollywood Squares and make it a guest on Saturday Night Live?
Or let’s just get the Kool-Aid dude to break up the tension.
But more to the point, if there ever is one with my posts … what Sue and I both have been feeling for the past year, probably longer, is this perpetual feeling of doom, the waiting for the other shoe to drop, the wondering when this is going to get better, and the frustration of asking how it all went so wrong to begin with. I often wonder lately why the suicide rate during The Great Depression wasn’t higher (or maybe it was, and just under-reported). From my perspective and I’m sure that of a lot of other people, our current “recession” isn’t over yet. Not by any means. No, we are not on our way to recovery yet, either. And frankly, even though this isn’t classified as a “depression” (I honestly don’t know what the cutoff or criteria is, forgive my economic ignorance), whether it’s a recession or depression, it sucks, big time.
Side note: Sue had a great way of expressing this the other day. She said, “Maybe the Dementors (from Harry Potter) are already living among us, sucking the life out of everyone.”
Normally I would agree and say yes, I think they’re called Republicans, but since I’m dating one of them I can’t really say that anymore. And I don’t even know what political party I would vow adherence to anymore, hence my earlier comment about forming a new one. More on this line of thought about the Dementors in a bit.
For all our elected officials who think that when someone who has been on unemployment finally finds another job, that all’s right with the world, let me explain a few facts of life from my own example to you, and you can figure out the trickle-down ramifications of it. And before someone jumps on my case, this isn’t a “poor pitiful me” whine, I admit to being guilty of living beyond my means just as much as a fair number of other people. I am not without my financial sins by any means. I just think that a lot of stories similar to mine get overlooked in terms of economic analysis. Politicians may tell us the recession is on the rebound or over, but I say something is still very rotten in the state of the union.
In January of 2008, I took a new job with a venture-capital backed veterinary medicine startup company, apparently at just the right time – a week after I gave notice, the biotech company I was at laid off 2/3rds of their employees. One of them would have been me had I not already given notice. I knew the shit was en route to the fan anyway, so I’d been looking for something else for a while and got lucky via a referral from my current boss. My new job was going to be a three-year contract, where we (4 of us, eventually set up in an office space in Del Mar, California) provided clinical and regulatory support services to a company based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A three-year deal at $75,000 a year, plus an additional $15,000 a year to cover benefits, retirement contributions, etc. – all the stuff you don’t get with a small, private employer. So basically $90,000 a year. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.
I had to obtain my own health coverage, but that was to come out of that $15K a year, and since my last job paid $70,000 a year, I was still making a fair amount more than I used to. And I chose to remain blissfully unaware of the impending economic bubble burst that came along later that year. My house had appraised at $575K back in 2005 when my ex and I divorced (we were fortunate to end up with two homes, which I am thankful to my ex-husband’s frugality for that – we kept our first house when housing prices were poor and rented it out for years). In 2008 it appraised for $500K ($75,000 less than only three years earlier) which should have been a warning sign to me right there, but I was happy that my refi still met the 80/20 loan-to-value ratio, I got a good fixed loan rate, paid off a home equity line and a couple credit cards and was able to put some extra into a down payment for a new car. My 2000 Subaru Outback was paid for but approaching 160,000 miles – it still ran fine, but it was really showing some wear and tear, so I splurged on what I now call my midlife crisis car, a 2008 Cadillac CTS in Black Cherry, with the 3.6 liter engine. Still living beyond my means but confident that I’d get things under control at some point, after all, I had a good, well-paying job, right?
In May of that year, I took my kids up to Santa Barbara for a weekend, just the three of us, and we got a nice hotel room with a beach view. In August, I took them to Legoland for two days for my younger son’s birthday and got them each an annual pass, and we stayed at a hotel nearby, also a treat, vs. the 45 minute drive back home each night. My part-time nanny/babysitter lived with me part of the time and I could afford to pay her then – she would take the boys to school in the morning while I headed off to work in the opposite direction (my kids go to school by my ex’s house, not mine – he lives in the better school district and we have shared custody), and helped out with taking my older son to soccer practice and the occasional evening of babysitting if I went out for happy hour with friends.
I met a new guy that summer and we started dating steadily in September/October of 2008. I got my house cleaned every two weeks, had a gardener mow the grass and keep the landscaping up twice a month, had 200 channels of cable and HBO, went to Starbucks once or twice a week, and loved shopping at Cache, Georgiou, Nordstrom (for shoes) and Kohl’s. I kept the hot tub in my backyard full and heated and used it often, ran the A/C in the summer (and it was beastly hot that summer) and the heat in the winter, watered the grass, got the roof repaired, and so on. It was a good life. I felt okay bidding on stuff at the silent auction at my kids’ school and donating to the PTA, buying gift wrap for the school fundraiser. I had a security system installed and paid the $39 a month for the monitoring service. The kids and I went out to dinner on occasion (admittedly, just to Chili’s or some other place with a kids’ menu), and when we got take-out pizza, we got Round Table. I love Ketel One vodka and hate the cheaper stuff, and could easily drop $200 in an outing at BevMo to try out new liquors and decent wine. I liked Matrix Biolage shampoo, getting highlights done by a stylist, Charmin toilet paper, Philosophy’s Cinnamon Buns body wash, Tide Total Care detergent and that ritzy Downy fabric softener in the pretty packaging. Was that so bad, really? I was just being a good consumer, doing my part to keep the economy alive, and hell, in my mid-40’s, I think I deserve a little luxury! And I thought I was making enough money to be able to afford it.
I drank the Kool-Aid, I admit it. (For those who don’t understand this reference, look it up on Urban Dictionary.com or read up on the Jim Jones cult massacre, but the first choice is probably more appropriate here).
Let’s flash-forward a bit now. In March of 2009, my boss told me that my salary was immediately being cut by 15%, and I was given a 60-day layoff notice. I started looking for a new job almost immediately, but when May came along, I still hadn’t found anything. I went on unemployment and continued looking. The house next door to me went into foreclosure. The house around the corner from me, the same model as mine, went on the market for $395,000. My take-home pay dropped from $5200 a month to $1800 on unemployment. My health insurance, already higher than normal because of my pre-existing medications of an anti-depressant and a beta blocker for high blood pressure, went from $220 a month to $341 a month. Groceries went up, after school care went up, car insurance went up, water and utilities skyrocketed, cable rates went up (don’t they always?). One of my four cats developed a thyroid problem and needed medication and then needed a radioactive iodine injection to the tune of $1000. My other old cat, already diabetic for the past 6 years (he gets insulin twice a day), started needing arthritis and blood pressure medications. I needed additional scans on my last mammogram and got cortisone injections in both knees for osteoarthritis to see if it would help the constant pain I have in them.
I was used to applying for jobs and almost always getting an interview in the past, because I can write pretty good cover letters that get attention. And generally, if I get an interview, I get offered the job. Not anymore. My applications went off into some black hole/dead zone like the waste from an Imperial Star Destroyer, and my life floated off with it like the Milleneum Falcon, only sans the handsomeness of Han Solo. I didn’t have medical device industry experience, even though I had a decade of medical drug industry experience, that wasn’t good enough in a market where HR reps seem content to wait for that 100% match rather than taking a chance on the 90% match who might enjoy the job more because they’re learning new skills (a daring idea, that). Thanks to a wasted year of the feds arguing over the healthcare initiative, drug companies were all taking a ‘wait and see’ philosophy with regard to future growth and hiring, and seem to continue to do so.
I didn’t have eCTD submissions (electronic drug approval applications) experience, because my last two companies went bankrupt before ever buying the system(s) they were planning to put in, that I was going to be in charge of. In the meanwhile, plenty of other regulatory folks in San Diego were learning those systems, and by gosh, when they looked for jobs, they had a much better shot than I did at a very limited field to begin with. A tech writer temp job for Qualcomm that I worked at 4 years earlier (same job, same department even) that paid $35 an hour back in 2005 was open again, this time for less than $20 an hour. And I couldn’t even get the time of day when I applied to that one, either. I had recruiters call me about administrative assistant jobs paying $17 an hour when I was making almost $12 an hour on unemployment, and all I felt was insulted; after all, I had been making $43 an hour!
Over the course of the summer, things started to shift and fall by the wayside. I stopped watering the grass and let the lawn die, and eventually got lawn killer and sprayed the whole yard myself, with the intent of re-doing the backyard into some more water-efficient landscape once I was working again and could afford to put in new plants, gravel, bark, and drip irrigation. I drained the hot tub and turned it off. We stopped going to Round Table and started getting the $5 ready-to-go Little Caesar’s cheese pizzas instead when Mommy needed a night off from making dinner. I dropped the HBO and cut the cable to 100 channels, I laid off my part-time nanny and asked her to move out so I could save on the water and utilities from having her living here. I only had the housekeeper come once in a blue moon, and cut back on the gardener. My only rationale for not stopping both altogether lies in the fact that between my bad knees and back, I’m useless for most floor, toilet, bathtub cleaning, and gardening, and I don’t even own a lawnmower and didn’t want to buy one. I’m still trying to find a cheaper vodka that I can tolerate, since most of the time now I’m too depressed to consider actually giving up drinking.
My tax refund in May 2009, that I’d planned to use to put into college funds for my kids, instead went to paying my mortgage payments. I didn’t really have much planned for this past summer, but part of that tax refund was going to go for a three-day weekend trip to the beach somewhere with my two boys, maybe a hotel in Carlsbad or the Crystal Pier, I’ve always wanted to stay in one of those places. No more Starbucks, Cache, or Georgiou. I’ve switched to Suave and generic toilet paper and the cheaper variety of Tide, and frankly, I don’t think my hair smells as nice nor are my clothes as clean, and my butt gets sore because it misses the Charmin and we all know that I’m full of shit. I hate the way my hair color looks when I have to color it myself, and my gray roots are so stubborn with regard to over-the-counter hair color that they’re on a par with Che Guevara.
I cashed in one of my IRA accounts from a previous job and used the proceeds to cover three mortgage payments before Chase went into foreclosure on me, and the rest of it went to pay down credit cards I’d been running up trying to make my other expenses. My mortgage payments are $2550 a month, I think you can do the math with that $1800 a month in unemployment and figure out the problem pretty quick.
I was proactive and filed a Homeowner Assistance application with Chase almost as soon as I got my layoff notice. I’d heard these things take months so I figured I should get going ASAP. Fat lot of good it did me. I applied in April 2009. As part of your application, you have to send in your two most recent paystubs. So I did, the latter one reflecting my 15% pay cut, which I noted on the copy. My hardship letter specifically stated that I would be unemployed as of the end of May. What I didn’t really find out until months later is that the assistance program really isn’t designed to help you if you’re unemployed – basically the bank doesn’t want to talk to you if you don’t have a verifiable income from a new job. So there was one hurdle. Second hurdle was that I didn’t hear back from Chase until the end of September, at which point I got a form letter denying me, based solely on those two paystubs, telling me that I made too much money to qualify for a loan modification. They had my application nearly six months and never even bothered to read the hardship letter.
At some point over the summer, a good friend suggested I apply for a position as contractor for the US Navy, his company did a lot of shipping with them and they were always looking for bright people to work in the office handling all the data entry aspects. As you may have figured out from a previous blog post, that is where I ended up. I applied here in August, part of the application process requires going through a security clearance process, or at least the clearance of a “person of trust” for a government job. I thought, okay, well, it doesn’t pay what I’d like but I’ll apply for this as a backup, sure that something else would come up in the interim. I interviewed for a fantastic position at Allergan up in Irvine and was willing to commute 90 miles each way for it, the hourly rate was good and I was desperate. Supposedly they loved me in the interview and then poof! Nothing. They didn’t even contact the recruiter back. This seems to happen waaaaay more often than I think anyone realizes, at least that’s what I’ve heard from a lot of recruiters and fellow unemployed friends. I think part of the federal government’s whole job stimulus package should have been a mandate that companies post viable jobs that they actually intend to fill within a month or less AND that they interview people who are currently unemployed, if they meet the requirements. That gripe stems from running across this article on Yahoo:
Gosh, thanks, folks. I can only hope that every HR weasel out there who pulls this kind of shit gets to experience the same kind of hell themselves at some point in their life. I was starting to think I should invent my own creatively named consulting business just so I could say that I was still employed – maybe something as a lab technician for a clinical trial involving domestic housecats. Four of them, to be specific, and they all happen to live under my roof, but hell, nobody needs to know that.
Related to this is my gripe that companies that are doing well enough to stay afloat in a recession should do just that – stay afloat. Stop being so fucking greedy, you don’t need to make a 20% profit every quarter or even a 10% profit. The job market is continually being increased by newly unemployed people who were working at jobs with companies that are still making a profit, folks who thought they were “safe”. So maybe your company only made 2% last quarter – what happened to common decency of just hanging on and waiting for better times? Why does everything have to be driven by the stock market and by continual greed? I’m not going to go off here on the banks pocketing enormous salaries and bonuses for their upper execs who did nothing to deserve it, or all the investment firms that soaked their investors for money while vacationing off in the Bahamas when the shit hit the fan. It sickens me, and that is putting it mildly.
I made so many phone calls to Chase that left me in tears over the last several months. I’ve applied for one job after another and another and another, even applied again a few months later when the job ended up disappearing and then reposted again in some slightly different form. Positions that I thought I was a perfect fit for didn’t even contact me. Positions where I knew someone at the company, friend of a friend or an old coworker who could recommend me to HR or to the hiring manager, didn’t contact me. And yes, I did finally end up as a contractor working at a Navy base, putting absolutely zero of my previously hithertofore believed valuable work experience in biotech to use, aside from knowing how to use a computer and the ability to fog a mirror. Am I angry about all this? About now that I have to reapply to Chase now that I finally have two paystubs in the bank (well, I have the pieces of paper, the money is gone the split second it hits my account, if I’m not already overdrawn) and go through the whole process with them again and humiliate myself? Damn right I’m angry. Am I angry that my previous job was supposed to be a three-year position that ended after less than half that? Hell yes, I am. And that the CEO of the company that was supporting our contract managed to waste $10 million of venture capital funds in less than a year, money that was supposed to run for three times that long? All on outlandish office furniture, matching shirts for a sales team with no product to sell, fancy dinners, brand new computers, brand new this and that, while our Del Mar office struggled along with hand-me-downs and office equipment from my last company’s bankruptcy sale. And yet I was the first one to be laid off, not him. Am I bitter? I think you can answer that one.
And thus finally brings me to the point of this post. The bitterness, the anger, the frustration, the depression. It staggers me to see how callous we have become toward one another in light of mutual, widespread fuming. There is no answer, no immediate overnight solution to our economy. And with the widespread pervasiveness of the internet, we can make our feelings known so much more quickly and widely – just think, 20 years ago, you would have had to call up a bunch of people one at a time to bitch about your life. Now you can complain to dozens, hundreds, even thousands simultaneously. And thus the venom spreads.
I’m not a religious person by any means, but even I have often heard the quote of “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Ask yourself who is to blame for our current economic disaster. And before you answer, take a long hard look in a mirror. I certainly have. That Kool-Aid was pretty tasty while it was being served up. Your neighbor Jim down the street who took equity out of his home to buy a new car, maybe a set of silicone boobs for the wife and a pool table for the rec room to spice his life up a bit. Your cousin Verna who needed back surgery and borrowed against the equity on her condo. The back surgery didn’t go so well and now she’s unable to go back to work, and her condo has dropped 30% in value in 2 years. The young couple, newly married, getting into their dream home with only 3% down, sure that in just a couple of years, the value of the place would increase by at least $100,000 and they could cash out and put that money into a bigger down payment … before that balloon payment hits on their adjustable rate mortgage, and before their rates adjust and their mortgage goes up $400 a month, or $800 a month, or worse. Your enterprising Uncle Phil who refinanced his house, did some home improvements and funneled the rest of his equity into starting up his own business with that kiosk at the mall that sells hand lotions from the Dead Sea that was going to make him a millionaire. The mall lost two of its anchor stores when the Mervyn’s and Macy’s folded, and half the town is out of work. Including Uncle Phil. Now his mortgage payment is $1000 more a month than it used to be and the beloved house that he and Aunt Ginny have had for 15 years is suddenly $200K under water, and Aunt Ginny’s ailing mother is moving in next week, so Ginny has to take time off work to take care of her.
My good friend Jeff bought a nice house in the high 500’s when everything in the neighborhood was going for well over $600K. It now appraises at $335,000 and he owes around $420,000 on it – all the equity from his previous two homes that he rolled into it is locked up or basically lost. I told him instead of struggling to make payments on it now that his oblivious wife is divorcing him, he should mail in the key and walk away, and start saving anew for another place. His self-absorbed spouse was thinking they could just sell the home and split the profits – duh, there are none to split, only mutual debt to shoulder. A prospect which, for him in his mid-to-late 40’s, completely sucks. Who wants to be starting from scratch when you’re almost 50, with nothing to show for your years of homeownership, especially no home? Brutal. Was Jeff wrong to buy his house? He probably had a 20% down payment on it, pretty decent compared to most homebuyers from the last several years. Could he have predicted the house would drop 40% in value in less than 5 years? Probably not. Who could?
It goes on and on and on. We all wanted something without waiting for it, the shiny appeal is so hard to resist – of course you need a TV bigger than 30″! The Big Game (football, baseball, March Madness basketball, Olympic Curling, take your choice) is on next weekend and you want to impress your friends at your party with that whopping 56″ HDTV that ripped out your drywall the first time you tried to install it. The new car to impress clients or annoy your ex-spouse, the new wardrobe to show off your svelte new post-diet figure, or do a better job of disguising the pre-diet waistline. That nice crystal or china for when company comes over, even though that’s maybe twice a year. The $30 bottle of wine even though you really can’t tell the difference from one half the price after the first two glasses. Lessons for the kids and buying that electric guitar for Billy instead of just renting one. And you might as well get a nice one because what if he grows up to be the next Jimi Hendrix? Given enough time we can manage to rationalize just about anything.
We all work hard, right? We all deserve to reward ourselves now and again, that seems fair. Regrettably, credit (albeit often at a price) is about as easy to get these days as a cup of coffee at Starbucks, maybe easier, so we don’t need to wait for anything. The term “delayed gratification” fell out of our vocabulary, if it was ever in it to begin with. I think it depends on your age.
I can actually remember the days when stores did lay-a-way policies. Remember those? Back in high school and college years (early 80’s), I can remember buying a few things that way, usually clothes. I got my Mom this ridiculously expensive (for then) luxury bathrobe when I was up at UC Berkeley, it took me weeks to pay for it. But I still got it in plenty of time and got to enjoy actually wearing it for a few days around my dorm room before I went home for winter break. Soft red wine-colored velveteen with a white satin collar, it was like a Joan Crawford era robe, something you’d wear with slippers trimmed with maribou fur. I can scarcely remember lay-a-way policies, they varied store to store, but usually it was something like 20% down, then you had to pay another 40% of the price within a few weeks, then pay the remainder within another few weeks. Realistically, this was a form of delayed gratification, and it did make you think about your purchase a little more, it wasn’t just a one-time hit on a credit card. You forfeited the money you’d put down if you didn’t make the next payment in time, and you didn’t get the item, either. Eventually stores moved away from that and even the Mom and Pop department stores (mostly long gone, or they’re “boutiques” now) started offering credit cards at 18% or 21% interest, so you could get what you wanted RIGHT NOW without having to wait to pay for it via lay-a-way policies.
And then when things start to go sour, we rationalize the negative.
Well, of course it’s someone’s fault, right? The banks, for lending money when they shouldn’t have. Those stupid people who borrowed beyond their means, who got into houses they couldn’t afford (in this case, they’re always faceless, nameless humans, not people you might actually know). Blame the Bush administration. Blame the Obama administration. It’s the fault of the Republicans for being so callous and greedy. It’s the fault of the Democrats for giving away all our money. It’s the fault of the immigrants, for taking all our jobs. Or the terrorists, because they have ruined everything, especially air travel. The Pro-Choice folks, because they murder babies. The Pro-Life folks, for bringing unwanted children into the world when we already have more than there are homes for. Blame the Jews, because they don’t celebrate Christmas. Or the Muslims. Or the Christians. Other countries can blame us now for their economic downfalls; some of the biggest investors in the U.S. mortgage market were Greece and Spain, both nations now on the verge of economic collapse. Pick your target(s), aim, and fire. Even better if you can find some way to use your religion as your excuse. Fundamentalist Christians use the Bible as their excuse for committing the murder of an abortion doctor. An Islamic extremist will use the Koran as his excuse for committing Jihad and ramming a plane into a building. Isn’t it strange how far things can go awry based solely on interpretation of books that no one knows the author of?
And now we have the Tea Party, which seems to be the floundering and angry voters who feel abandoned by the Republican party and perhaps the dissillusioned Democrats as well, all of them finally waking up and realizing gosh, they have no clue what the government is doing with their money and they want to know about it! To counter that, there is now the Coffee Party as well, which seems to have a similar directive but with less shouting involved. Better late than never, folks – but again, the sense of blame must be involved. It’s never a case of “Gee, I really am pretty clueless as to how the federal government operates – I’ve never really studied how the Ways and Means Committee works or what the function of the Federal Reserve is – maybe if I was more aware of these things I could make better informed choices when I vote in elections, rather than just voting for someone on a visceral level.” Instead you have people out there with this, “why wasn’t I told?” attitude that they use throughout their lives, as if it is now socially acceptable and even commendable to spend your existence with no more awareness than a protoplasm. “But nobody told me …” How often do we hear this plea nowadays? ALL THE TIME. I just popped open Yahoo to see what the news du jour was, and one of the leading stories was how homeowners who are being helped by the Fed’s homeowner’s assistance plan are shocked … SHOCKED! to find that their credit scores have gone down. Well, DUH. As if they wouldn’t have gone down a whole lot lower if your house had been foreclosed upon.
Let’s have a brief history lesson here. Does this situation sound vaguely familiar? “Many voters, seeking an outlet for their frustrations … began turning their support towards the far right and far left of the political spectrum, opting for extremist political parties …”
It describes the seeds which helped foster the rise of Nazi Germany. People were frustrated with the economy, their government, unemployment, and the feeling of being put-upon by having to take all the blame for WWI. Here in America, it seems that the rest of the world hates us for something. The terrorists hate us for our freedom. Or for our smugness. Or our supermarkets. Or because we have Chuck ‘E Cheese. Or wait, that’s just me, sorry. But we feel put upon, trapped, stuck in a stage play where we don’t know our lines and we don’t know when the curtain call is.
So we take it out on each other. Every day you read about yet another group of people who are “insulted” by something said or done by a politician or by another group. You can’t call someone retarded because the Special Olympics folks get in your face. The President can’t suggest people not blow their money in Vegas when they know they should be saving for their kids’ college funds without the City of Las Vegas getting their bowels in an uproar. Black people can use the term “nigger” freely in rap music, but woe to the comedian who tries to use the same term in a joke. And everyone seems to feel like they’re owed something – because they grew up in a crappy neighborhood, because they went to a crappy school, because weird Uncle Kevin exposed himself to you when you were 10, because your dog bit you in the leg once, because you have straight hair and you always wanted curly – well, dammit, it just isn’t fair!
We blame the Republicans and the Bush administration for setting up the dominoes that led to the collapse of our economy and the housing market. (Well, I do, anyway). Others blame previous administrations for the softening of the lending standards to the point where banks were encouraged (or even chastised if they didn’t) to hand credit out to every Tom, Dick, Harry and their cousins so we could all participate in the American Dream of owning a home and living the good life, regardless of ability to pay. We blame Obama for not being able to fulfill the terms of his campaign promises, for being a Socialist, for being born in Hawaii, for not being able to give up cigarettes, for the continued lack of jobs. So rarely does it occur that someone sits back and contemplates our current situation and says, “Gee, you know, if you look at it, you can see where this policy shift let to X, then that led to Y, and then over here we had this change of direction, this interest rate change, this push from the left and this push from the right, and it just led to a big mess.” Or something like that but with bigger words.
Get over it. Yes, I know there are people out there who, over the course of the last decade, continued to save wisely and spend frugally, and they have every right to grumble about the rest of us being the grasshopper while they are the ant. For all the good it does them. I know of at least 15 people who are dealing with fallout from unemployment, pay cuts, furloughs, housing price collapses, or all of the above. And I don’t even know that many people. And maybe you are truly without sin and can start chucking rocks at the rest of us with abandon. But before you start rooting around in the dirt for a hefty stone, ask yourself if you know a Jeff, or an Uncle Phil and Aunt Ginny, or Jim or Verna … or maybe you are one yourself. People that have no issue with spouting violence and anger at a rally usually feel quite different about yelling the same thing directly in the face of someone they know and/or care about.
Back to those Dementors from Harry Potter. I used to picture a human form of a Dementor as being someone like Dick Cheney, or old man Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I no longer do. Although, admittedly, there are way too many Dick Cheneys or Old Man Potters living amongst us. As there are nasty old Nurse Ratchetts and Mommie Dearest types, all of whom are angry, bitter, depressing, and seem to serve no greater purpose in life than to spread anger and hatred. But think about this … isn’t the collective negativity of 10 Dick Cheneys just about equal to the lower-level bitterness of 1000 of the rest of us? According to an online US population “clock” at the time I wrote this post, there are 308,904, 994 people in the United States alone. If even half of those are grumbling and griping about how their bad luck is the fault of all “those people” out there who didn’t make their mortgage payments without recognizing that the other half probably ARE “those people” and most likely their friends and neighbors … well, that’s a whole lot of negative energy. And even that supposedly good half probably has their fare share of unpaid or defaulted credit card debt, or they’re on welfare or disability or some other form of government subsidy when they are fully capable of working, but feel they’re somehow entitled to get money for nothing.
Let’s go back to that mirror and look long and hard before you start blaming some nameless, faceless “them” for your issues. Walk that mile in the other guy’s or gal’s shoes. And ask yourself, truly, how much do you really need to be happy? There was a time when I was ecstastic to be able to listen to a good tune on my Sony Walkman (cassette tape, no less) while riding a BART train to school or work. I love a fireplace on a cold night and with a good movie that makes me cry. When did life have to get so damn complicated and when did we, as human beings, become so greedy and judgemental about everyone else’s lives? What makes you happy? Just YOU. Something that doesn’t require thousands of dollars or the expense of someone else’s peace of mind or tax dollars? And how have we lost sight of it?
I think of that old quote from the comic strip Pogo. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” WE are the Dementors, and the only ones sucking happiness out of our lives (and conversely, the only ones who can breathe the happiness back in).
Come, take a deep breath with me …