Thursday, March 12, 2009

Brother Can You Spare a Dime

This oldie was originally written during the depression (1931) by Yip Harburg, who was later blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

I’m getting old. Everyone is. Time and motion wait for no man, or so says one Reginald Perrin, a character from a British sitcom of some vintage. And I’m not old enough to remember the great depression of the 1930’s and the stock market crash and run on banks in 1929.

If my memory is intact enough to remember my history lessons from my grade school days, there were grown men jumping out of windows in an attempt at suicide because they lost everything in the stock market crash. People went to the bank to get their life savings out and the banks had no money. I wonder why the government didn’t give them the trillions of dollars, or the equivalent in 1929 dollars, to bail them out?

I’ve read some about it. I’ve heard stories in my youth from my Mom, Dad, Aunties and Uncles about how bad it was. Now, in 2009, the economy is the word. People are feeling the effects. regular folks, white privileged folks, that have never had to worry about being unemployed are losing their jobs left and right. They say they’ll have to cut back.

During the 1930’s depression, so many people were homeless because they lost their jobs and income, then their homes. They lived in their cars where they stopped as they had no money to buy gasoline to power them to anywhere. They lived on the streets. Food was begged for in soup kitchens, shared in community pots and stolen from windowsills and gardens.

This wasn’t the extent of it. This is what it was for so many. Compared to the 1930’s depression, this economic slump is nothing. Even the poor shop in the same grocery store as the people with money. They may buy different things to stretch their dollars, but they shop shoulder to shoulder.

A bathroom and running water is available, publicly, to almost every person in America. Every Wal Mart and McDonald’s has a bathroom. And in each of these, they use potable water to flush the toilet. You can drink the water, and not get sick, right from the faucet, and it is even heated. Imagine, warm water flowing freely, and you get to use all of it you want, and the economy is bad.

Being poor is relative. Having a depression is relative. In my last post about a public arts high school and a friend of mine, I started the story by mentioning my worldly possessions on the auction block. I remember once in 1976 we were so broke I couldn’t pay the rent. I had an old Toyota, a 1962 Corolla, and I had to sell it. I couldn’t afford advertisements in the paper. I wrote hand printed posters for bulletin boards but no buyer came forward. I ended up going to a car dealer and sold a perfectly good automobile that was easily worth $2000.00 for a check, written to me that day, for $400.00.

I was willing to give up some material things, and sacrifice them, and be humiliated by the buyer, so my family could enjoy shelter and food.

I know it’s a tough go for so many. It’s not a concern for others when you or your own family is struggling with financial problems. But it seems that not too many I know are willing to part with anything to get through the tough times. Or for that matter, willing to do what work they could to have some income.

I once sorted tomatoes as day labor to receive a check after eight hours at minimum wage. My wife has worked jobs for half the minimum wage as the government said she’d make tips and didn’t need to be paid the actual minimum wage. That was the law in Colorado. I’m not sure if that’s still how they do it or not, but they did in the early 1990’s.

I’ve sat on a bench waiting for my name to be called for a job that paid the minimum allowed by law and expenses taken out for a ride to the site where the ditch digging was taking place. I’ve sold my wife’s diamond earrings, the ones she didn’t want in the first place because she thought them extravagant, and other items of value that were just that, items. Fishing gear, hunting rifles, bicycles, clothing. You name it, I sold it.Things we certainly could live without. Be damned at the hard work and expense of buying them. Give them away for a pittance to maintain a semblance of order in the way of food and shelter.

My point is that the media and folks sit and talk about their money and the way it ebbs and flows into and out of their pockets, bitching and complaining about how bad they have it. There are others that have had it worse for years, right here in the United States.

Ask the tribal people who live on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation at Ft. Thompson, SD. The poorest county in the nation. Ask the Black woman with a couple of kids whose husband is in prison for the crime of having black skin. Ask the Mexican who was born in this country and is a citizen, not that it makes a difference where they were born as they are all human beings, who can’t speak very good English.

There are people right here in America that suffer and have been suffering for a long time. A loss of income and a shortfall in a portfolio is of little consequence to me. Sell the car, eat rice every day. We did it. Mac and cheese every meal for dinner. Cheap cereal with raw milk from the neighboring farmer, stale white bread with peanut butter. Meat? What meat? Boil the dishes, we couldn’t afford soap. That went for the laundry, too.

No, I didn’t live during the great depression. And my small time hardships mean nothing compared to those that really suffer and have suffered throughout the young life of this Nation.

If this strikes a chord with you and you take offense, then so be it. Disagreement is okay. Want to blame someone, a political party perhaps? I know the Republicans are blaming the Jimmy Carter administration for the housing collapse. It seems right to complain that trillions of dollars are going to the banks as we allowed the manufacturing of goods to crumble into ruin in this country, all for the sake of the very money that you hold so precious now that the economy has taken your jobs.

Like the wars we have fought, society has allowed this to happen. As long as you had yours, it was okay to squander jobs and hire the Indonesians to answer your calls to your credit card companies over billing issues. We let them take the industry to Japan and now China for the cheaper labor.

It may be too late. We may not have the material things we had in our future. The soothsayers are saying it can get worse while faux news is telling you to buy stocks so the rich can stay as rich as we’ve made them, forever.

Not sure I can end this rant in any sensible way. It’s a problem for sure. I just sold my soul to the devil. But I’ll feed and house someone who needs it. All I want is to see the need. If it comes to that, then there will be a time when I can’t do it either. I’ll go back to eating rice and boiling the water we drink.


billie said...

my mom thinks that this could be the best thing to happen to america in a long time. it forces people to re-evaluate their lives and what's really important to them. it teaches them a hard lesson about saving and about delayed gratification. and it's causing many to work together and get innovative and creative about our approach to the future. we don't hear much about the innovation on the msm- we hear about how horrible it is that capitalism is dying. but i think many folks realize that unbridled greed and self centeredness is what got us into this mess in the first place and working together is the only way we will survive on this changing planet.

fjb said...

I agree with your mom, bet. And I agree with you, too, Joe. Obnoxious greed and over-indulgence reached critical mass and we needed a reset. If this is it, then good, maybe we'll all learn to appreciate what we have and we can get over our insatiable appetites for excess. I guess I'm not the only one who's oddly happy this "economic downturn" has finally happened.:)

Anne said...

when you got nothin'.... etc.

your words hit home for me, joe. we have been struggling along for so long, we are accustomed to it.

it's the one's with the wherewithal that are truly freaking out.

Fran said...

Great music to go with this story.
I've never been "wealthy" per se, we've had good times & lean times.
But whenever I want to bitch about the things that make me mad about my house.etc..... I realize there are people who live in dirt floor shacks & spend half their day just getting water.
My meager house would be a considered a palace.

I always tried to help out those in need when we had enough to give.
But so many people have the tables turned now....
and I don't agree that everyone was in this consumption craze....

we drive old cars, live in a small, modest house & have worked our asses off to raise 2 kids & always provide for them.

Well I'd write more but I have to go put in 8 hours of the 40 this week, working for some fucking rich bastards who are obscenely wealthy, while I make a really shitty wage.

I'd quit & work elsewhere, but there is nothing else out there to choose from.

fjb said...

"we drive old cars, live in a small, modest house & have worked our asses off to raise 2 kids & always provide for them.

Well I'd write more but I have to go put in 8 hours of the 40 this week, working for some fucking rich bastards who are obscenely wealthy, while I make a really shitty wage.

I'd quit & work elsewhere, but there is nothing else out there to choose from."

Hey Fran! You and me both, girl.:)