It wasn’t cold much, Georgia cold maybe, chill in the evening, but not enough to require a coat. I’m sitting alone in the warehouse, beer in hand; I’m contemplating the new universe. Six beers in, I’m leaning on the back of a car in the parking lot, staring angrily at the moon, as silence turns to rage. I guess it’s like 9-11; you can’t fully appreciate the true significance of the moment at the time. You have to live it, like a bad past or a bad dream. Only then, can you look back and grasp where you’ve come from, where you are now, living the experience of this era.
On the Road, Bound for Glory, Grapes of Wrath, thinking it’s personal, when jumping Jehoshaphat, Christ himself couldn’t have been saved from the largest financial collapse in seventy years. Just throw down the bait and watch the suckers scurry. Promise them tomorrow, promise them anything, but take their money. I was on the Internet in a public library in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Beside me in the next cubicle, a woman weeps into her cell phone, “I don’t have my last pay stub. Well… because I didn’t know it would be my last pay stub. I was laid off over the summer. I’ve got two kids; it will take a month to get a copy from the Board of Education.”
Welcome to the snake pit; a 25 or 26 year-old, college educated, single mother of two, cast off. Sorry, better luck next time! What an awful, wretched society that is. I met this soldier on a bus one night; he was going home for the holidays in Oklahoma. A carpenter by trade, he’d joined the National Guard to go to school. Nearing his home, he took pride in showing me the buildings he’d built. He hadn’t been there in three years; his last deployment was in Kosovo. He said it was a plumb and I reckoned he was right. He was worried his kids wouldn’t know him; he and their mother having divorced.
It occurred to me how the army had stolen this poor boy’s life. It’s not just about the money you know; they used him like Michael Jackson. Promised him candy, abused him and changed his life forever. What did he do wrong? Yeah, he signed up, but who could expect decades of war at 19 or 20? He said he could retire in nine years, that he really wanted to get out, but admitted he felt more at home with his unit. Institutionalized by a gang initiation, your brothers will take care of you. If you had needed a wife, the Army would have issued you one.
Shane is 18, outgoing and clearly very intelligent. He’s from the wrong side of the tracks though, and not well-educated. In this economy, he has a better chance of being struck by lightning than in having a future. So busy with subsistence, he has no time to dream, much less to do, on part-time, minimum wage splendor, where you work 30 hours and they only pay you for 26; and what’cha gonna do about it? A thousand and one scams, gimmicks and come-ons, like living inside of a TV infomercial, a frightful and amazing time to be alive, seeded with terrors and fraught with possibilities.
Have you ever seen the sunrise on Montana? Ever see the splendor of the Cascades? We are lost and found in this, in an odyssey, on a road trip. It’s the kind of times that grab you by the lapels and shake you like a rag doll, stripping away the old, varnishing the new. So it would be wrong and quite incorrect of me to forget the good and the beautiful.
Standing in the drizzle of Cheyenne Wyoming, thinking, “wow, here I am; this is Cheyenne.” Visit historic Cheyenne! All alone in America, a moment in time, in rain which I can never recapture, but will feel forever. The Texas warmth and the Texas emptiness with those so much like me. Back behind the house is a corrugated metal building with a good karaoke machine and cold beer. Inside, on many a night, a family of talent sings together. Not singing to impress or with dreams of becoming stars, but singing the experience of being a human family, of supporting and encouraging each other, no need to feel bashful or embarrassed. It’s gonna be all right, you know. Nobody’s going to laugh.
On the cold streets of Minneapolis I met a naturalized American from Liberia. He shares his book of African folk tales. It is the closest I’ve ever been to a sure-fire best seller. His heavy accent flowed through the text, making it even more authentic. His hand drawn illustrations were warm and genuine. He was over 50 with graying hair and grown kids, living as a street preacher, selling the gospel and trying to make his rent. Writing his book, that would probably never be published, because he didn’t know what else to do.
Then I did some work for a banker from the stage-coach place. He liked my work ethic and I liked his deep pockets. He was flipping houses and he was alright, for a banker, but there was this beautiful truth between us. It’s funny really, because he thought he was an “Entrepreneur” big and successful, helping a poor boy out. But I didn’t see him any differently than a grandmother selling Afghans on E-bay. He was buying three or four hundred thousand dollar homes for half or less than half, from the bank, flipping them. Unlike Granny, he was one slip from disaster. I mean it’s great to buy houses for half price, but who are you going to sell them to, in this economy?
One slip and he’d be answering Craigslist ads himself. He thought he was on the mountain top, but he was on the cliff… just like the rest of us. He was trying to make his payment and just cause it had a zero or two behind it, don’t change things much. He feared for his future as a sheep in a shrinking flock. He was a marketing executive for a major bank, and in today’s job climate? Why not leave the window open, just in case you get the urge to jump when they call you upstairs. He was trying to build his bankroll, before it was too late. It made him nervous and edgy, prone to flying off the handle. Bad tempered really, betting it all on one roll of the dice, friend… that’s desperation!
I look back now on who I was before this new universe overtook us and I don’t know that other guy, leaning on the back of that car. He was nervous and edgy, prone to flying off the handle; bad tempered really, betting it all on one roll of the dice, never knowing the dice were loaded. Shamed and made to feel foolish for his failure, when he never really had a chance. When you and I and her and him never really had a chance, we are a country with a broken government, not a broken people. Don’t let them tell you otherwise: There is nothing wrong with you.
About the author: David Glenn Cox is a senior staff writer for TLR and an award winning author and musician; he is the author of the novel, “The Servants of Pilate.”