There I said it aloud even though I have felt this way inside for some time. To see where I am coming from one has to consider my roots so that when you see the imagery in words … you know.
I used to believe … back when money had more value, when I had a job, when my mother wasn't stricken with cancer, back when my father had confidence in himself and my brother wanted to be the next Steve Jobs. Now I stare at the dollar bills in my pocket emblazoned with “The United States of America”, an oxymoron. Are we united? Are we alike? Do we even have common goals anymore?
I pass the money over the counter at a local post office. I remain a holdout, paying bills the old fashioned way, sending letters and postcards more than texts or tweets. The clerk hands me a booklet of recently released Forever stamps, Four Flags. The Flags fly with words below them, values that “The United States of America” supposedly supports, “Forever.” Freedom, Liberty, Equality, Justice. Are we free? Certainly we are far from achieving Equality. Womens rights? LGBT rights? Justice is to whomever pays the most. Perhaps we still have Liberty, or at the least a statue of it in New York Harbor.
I have peeled off some stamps, affixing them to return envelopes and correspondence. One by one, they vanish off the sheet, Freedom, Liberty, Equality, Justice, analogous to the real life vanishing values. There's still a few left but not much.
My grandfather was a self made man. He built up his money selling this and that, always trying to be in the right place at the right time. He oversaw an Army Air Depot supply division during WWII. He later had a family and eventually settled down. An ardent Republican he boasted in his later years of voting against FDR. Upon his passing two years ago, my mother inherited his house, some CDs, and a middling stock portfolio.
An only child, my mother never wanted to rock the boat. She was raised believing if you did not do anything wrong then there was no reason why the cops or anything else that's bad would happen to you. She ended up marrying my father and giving birth to my brother and I.
My father had a stuttering problem as a kid. He overcame this by writing down things and then speaking whatever it was he had written over and over. He loved to recreate baseball games he heard on the radio, in particular the Brooklyn Dodgers. He took his writing to college where he majored in journalism covering some of the same sports he listened to. He landed a job at a daily paper and felt that he was set for life. Consolidation and buyouts had other ideas. At some point the media group, decided to divest themselves of the newspaper business altogether. They sold to a conglomerate that was anti-union. The union was soon broken and everyone who stood their ground let go.
My father eventually got a job with the state writing articles for a government publication that advocated energy awareness, alternative sources, and improving efficiency. A recession one lustrum later led to the incompetent governor of the state saying that he would “Get tough.” and “Eliminate unneeded departments.” in efforts to balance the budget with those who believed that government was not the solution to problems but the problem itself. The entire state Energy Department was jettisoned and my father wound up having to find work once again.
My father took a lower paying job at another state agency. His heart was not in it as much. He eventually was Milton-ized … to storage room B with a desk but sans can of pesticide before finally being let go.
He trudged on with a series of temporary jobs, warehouses, clean up after games and events, and substitute teaching assignments. He has no hope for the future. His dreams of sticking with a company to retirement or being valued as a state worker promoting a critical topic went down with the ship.
My mother lost her health care coverage as it was tied to my father's employment. The church she works for does not provide it. She felt that something was not right but had no money to go see a doctor and was unaware of programs like Planned Parenthood that could offer free mammograms to poor women. She finally got health care coverage when she turned 65. Medicare! She went to a doctor to take care of everything she had concerns about. Well wouldn't you know … she has Stage III Breast Cancer. “If you came sooner ...” She is not happy about it. I try to get her to blame congress and the Very Serious People who they take their orders from for lack of adequate health care in this country but she pins it on my father, a shadow if his former self. “If only he had been more of a man ...”
My brother has always been the risk taker in the family. He started a couple dot-bombs, bounced from job to job without much thought before deciding to go back to college to earn a Master's in Industrial Technology. He found a great place to work, where they valued independent thought and initiative. He could work whenever he liked and as they encouraged alternative methods of getting to work, picked up riding his bike again. His joy would come to an end when the founders of the company sold out to an Indian research group and all work outsourced to the sub-continent. He had to train three Indians who could not speak or understand English real well how to do his job. Unemployed, my brother languished until deciding to return to school to get a MBA. He has $60,000 in debt from his education now and no idea how to pay it back. Depression has taken hold although he will not admit it. He spends his days pushing the envelope, outback adventures that could easily go wrong fast like kayak trips over open seas in rough conditions.
Like my mother I had this naïve notion that if I stayed clear of trouble it would not find me. Several pull overs later and really long court case squelched that one hard. My vehicle … was “suspicious.” Being loyal gets you nowhere. Help out a company and then they let you go and hire someone's somebody who's sleeping with some other person. I'd like to go back to college to finish a degree but seeing my brother frustrated with lack of options is disheartening. I have some gender issues that I never have really resolved, a major sticking point being that no one believed me. Health-wise I need help too.
My friends are worried. Many of them are starting families and hanging onto their jobs tightly. One has become an advocate for breastfeeding. She fears politicians curbing a mother's freedom to breastfeed her child. Another is active in a bicycling to work group trying to put lanes on roads so cyclists can be safer.
The future? It is not as bright as Donald Fagen sang, perhaps sarcastically, in “I.G.Y.”
“Standing tough under stars and stripes ...”
I stare back at the booklet of Flag stamps … Freedom, Liberty, Equality, Justice … USA … “Forever.”
“What a glorious time to be free ...”
I don't feel free though …
I've seen several other diaries use the boiling frogs analogy to the current situation …
That's wrong though … the scientist in my brother and I agree that the true representation is beach erosion. Bit by bit the sands are carried away. Looking at it from glance to glance you may not even notice the gradual change. Over time entire sections disappear and yet … we find people usually wonder if that area was ever there after all. It is as if they doubt their memory. Maybe they were mistaken? Maybe this is how it always was?
The fix is in.
2:20 PM PT: First of all I would like to say thanks to everyone who took the time to read, recommend, or respond to this diary, regardless of how you felt. Some told me to hang in there. A few took issue and told me to get over it … love it or leave it. Nonetheless that is a Freedom that we have, to agree or disagree. The overwhelming majority were sympathetic and I appreciate that. It reminds me of a Kurt Vonnegut quote on a Stella Marrs postcard I sent out as part of a mail exchange group.
“Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”
Thanks again …