A friend has to run down a beach on which a tidal wave breaks every few minutes. The timing is split-second. He hugs me goodbye and sets off. The huge wave rolls in … crests … breaks …
I wake up just before my friend drowns.
In real life, there’s no waking. In the next few months, I may have to watch as four friends lose their houses.
Jack earned a teacher’s credential three years ago. He owes $20,000 in student loans but can’t find a job in cash-strapped California. He got a mortgage modification but can’t afford even the reduced payments. His house is tiny and ramshackle, but it’s home.
He’s let the plants in the garden die to save on his water bill. He never turns on the heat. He eats a lot of lentils. If he loses his house while he’s still out of work, will anyone rent to him?
Anna got two letters last week from the Bank of America. The first said she might get her loan modified; the second said they’re foreclosing. She’s made multiple calls to ask which letter is correct. No one at the bank can tell her.
The house that Sean and Cathy bought in 2006 is worth 35% less than they paid for it. Sean, a city engineer, has taken a 15% pay cut. Worse, he had to lay off almost a dozen colleagues. He still sees their faces in his dreams.
Worse still, there are people who’ve never had houses, jobs, or health care to lose. One in seven Americans, and almost a fifth of our children, are living in poverty. Almost 51 million lack health insurance. Their sufferings are unimaginable, and getting worse as the middle class loses the means to give to charity.
In a recent column, Paul Krugman imagines Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, saying: “Nice middle class you got here. It would be a shame if something happened to it.” McConnell is threatening to raise middle-class taxes if the Democrats eliminate tax breaks for the rich.
But the middle class is already broken. Millions of us, many more than are counted in the unemployment statistics, are either jobless or marginally employed. We’ve been in and out of work for years, losing our savings, cutting back on our spending.
And it’s crucial that we spend. If we can’t afford to buy rose bushes and linoleum, if we can’t donate to the Food Pantry so the poor can eat too, the economy won’t recover.
The Republicans don’t seem to care. They represent the rich. The “tea party” contingent feels the pain but blames the wrong people (gays, feminists, socialists, Muslims). And even the Democrats in Congress, as Bob Herbert says, show “no sense of urgency in their policies or attitudes that suggests they understand the extent of the economic devastation … on the poor and much of the middle class.”
In an Orwellian twist, Carly Fiorina — whose tenure as CEO at Hewlett-Packard cost me and 30,000 other people our jobs in 2001 — is accusing Barbara Boxer of “class warfare” as she tries to buy her way into Boxer’s Senatorial seat. And Meg Whitman has spent $119 million of her e-Bay fortune to purchase the governorship of California.
So which class, exactly, is making war? Because it isn’t mine, and it sure as hell isn’t the poor.
Rage and despair seem the only sane responses, but as W.H. Auden wrote in another context, “These moods give no permission to be idle.” So those of us who have jobs, work; and those who don’t, look for work; and all of us look for ways to help the people who have even less than we do.
And in my dreams most nights I see my friend running down the beach as the huge wave rolls in to sweep him away.