Tuesday, December 28, 2010

American Life in Stasis

It’s a paradox, really.

The further you travel, the wider your opportunities even as the end of the road poking the horizon narrows to the head of a pin. The hand gets slick on the wheel and your eyes gloss over the seemingly endless spool of white or yellow paint in the middle of the road.

What’s that? The rumble strip or the intermittent pieces of metal they put in the middle of the road to warn you you’re about to get hypnotized into one undesirable direction or another. The road never seems to reach its termination yet your gas tank gets lower and lower and the engine gets hotter and hotter.

This is what it’s like being unemployed year after year. Predatory creditors and temp agencies dot the road while getting more and more numerous, little Rutger Hauers and Sean Beans just writhing to climb into your car and to do what they do worst.

Maybe if you’re smart, you’ll learn before it’s too late not to pick up strangers. Those with better cars than you learned that long ago. They’d learned that the people without cars are precisely the ones you should not and cannot help. Employers and literary agencies also learned that Randian lesson- not to give a helping hand to the unemployed and the unpublished.

On second thought, Gentle Reader, this isn’t Highway 66, its wide, arable land of opportunities beckoning with its inaudible siren calls. It’s Death Valley and only those with referrals worn on the chest like pasteboard placards offering work for food can get considered.

It wasn’t like this when I first got my driver’s license. Back in 1978, I was a fresh-faced 19 year-old kid just out on his own making just over $3 an hour and still able to support myself and put money in the bank every week. If my father drummed anything into my sieve of a skull, it was this:

Pay your own way, in cash, live within your means and you’ll do just fine, sonny boy.

My Dad had one, maybe two credit cards and maintained a respectable line of credit that he only dipped into when he had to. Back then, it wasn’t so easy to get a credit card. You had to prove you needed it and that you were solvent enough to get one. It was a privilege having a credit card.

By the 80’s, dogs were getting gold cards.

But then, slowly but surely, something evil began happening on the road of my life that even my dear old, trusted, pragmatic Dad couldn’t have foreseen.

By the early 90’s, potential employers interviewing for crappy, dead-end retail jobs began doing background checks on one’s credit history. By now, it’s almost the norm. Now, to even get a consideration for an even crappier temp job at minimum wage, you’re made to take literacy tests, math tests, quizzes on safety films, eye tests, pass CORI (criminal background), drug and credit rating checks.

Dad, oh Daddy-O, how could you not see this coming? You used to work for Digital. Why didn’t you tell me that the day would come when a guy could hardly hope for a job unless he took some computer science or software class?

Not that they even exist, anymore. Now, the US Chamber of Commerce has made the road more desolate than ever by not so secretly outsourcing jobs overseas to get around that irritating minimum wage so people in the Third World can do the same jobs for pennies an hour, jobs for which we’d trained ourselves at our expense or on the government's dime (until Reagan and David Stockman destroyed CETA).

Somewhere around the same time, credit card companies and other lenders also realized that their customers paying their bills on time was such an antiquated way of doing business. Now, they’ve found a way to make lots more money by stacking the deck against you and making you default on your credit card and mortgage payments and raising your formerly low APR just because you paid late a bill that was completely unrelated to your card.

And, even if you, despite all that goal-post moving, continue making your mortgage payments on time and even own your house outright, well, places like Bank of America found their way around that pesky little ownership thingie, too, and just foreclose on you by signing you up for credit-destroying home loan modifications even if you don’t ask for it.

So, in summation, the road gets drier and more desolate, save for the occasional Rutger Hauers, Sean Beans and other assorted and sundry predators and you’re literally running on fumes. The government that has victimized you by giving away trillions to the same predators who are even now cinching the noose tighter and tighter as jobs are harder and harder to get helps you out once in a while by sending a tow truck your way that’ll drop you off at an abandoned gas station where you’re then left to your own devices. The little bit of help they intermittently give gets you just enough gas to break down within towing distance of the next gas station and the end of the road is now the point of a dagger stabbing at the bruised underbelly of heaven.

Wall Street’s craps game with derivatives and mortgage-backed securities has cost us millions of jobs. The US Chamber of Commerce has cost us millions more with its brazen, despicable agenda to outsource as many manufacturing jobs as possible. And corporations, whether at the behest of Tom Donohue or not, are outsourcing more jobs to be done for as little as .03¢ an hour, have outsourced countless millions more while still enjoying the tax breaks that offshore corporations still get to this day.

But the little guy driving his car still has to pay his state, federal and excise taxes on his overheating car every year. It’s a Mad Max movie out there and the Mohawked lunatics with the bigger and better jalopies are winning the war.

And you wonder as you shift the wheel a bit this way and that, trying to keep it straight and narrow, when things will begin to change and what that would have to involve. Those on the left and right side of the shimmering road can easily agree that our country and the government that guides it has been completely taken over by, or merged with, the corporate sector.

Heaven has run out of manna and saviors and we've killed off the last Good Samaritans. When will it end and when will the common man finally get a break on the wayside? Or is that even in the works?

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