Friday, December 12, 2014

A lot of people are still struggling in this very slow economic recovery. Many no longer show as unemployed because they have given up hope of ever finding a full-time job similar to what they lost.

It is a cold world out there if you have been laid off and you are over fifty, were in a labor-intensive manufacturing job (now moved overseas), or are without the computer and internet skills that are so necessary today. Even new college graduates in many fields, loaded down with debt, are having trouble finding employment comparable to their skill sets.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the mainstream of American life with a car, house or apartment and a steady job, can’t imagine the terror that comes with suddenly losing these things.

I wrote The Storm (Granite Grumblings, 2011) a few years ago but it is just as applicable today.

I hope you will think about it as you pass the Salvation Army bell ringer or get ready to make your year end charitable contributions.

Glenn K. Currie,

The Storm

I got a call the other day from an old friend. He had been laid off from his job. He was another casualty of the broad epidemic of downsizing that has been going on for several years.

Shortly after he lost his job, his wife, a fairly senior employee in a state agency, decided to divorce him because he was, in her words, a loser. He had then escaped to a consulting job in Spokane for a few months, but couldn’t stand being away from his kids and had moved back to southern California.

When he called, he had no job, no wife, no assets and very little access to his kids. He had almost no hope. He had been dropped into that vast chasm that seems to have absorbed so many in recent years. A formerly successful individual suddenly becomes a non-person in our society. As I listened, I could feel the terror. I could envisage a man on a space walk who suddenly finds the umbilical chord to the ship severed. As he spins into the darkness, he sees a world of incredible beauty: a silent planet disappearing into the distance.

He had called me to find a little warmth and to see if I knew of any job opportunities. We talked of old friends, now scattered around the world, and of places to start over. I couldn’t offer much real help, only sympathy and a couple of suggestions. We tried to fill the silences with a discussion of the weather. New Hampshire was in the middle of a major snowstorm combined with near zero temperatures. It was sunny and 73 in Newport Beach. He won a tiny victory in that exchange.

As I hung up the phone, I looked out the large floor to ceiling window in my study. The outside flood was on and I could see the snow dancing through the night. The flakes glinted like mica in the cold night air: sparkling chips from a black-granite sky, gleaming just out of reach and then disappearing into the night. The wind played with them, pushing them against the glass and then screaming in rage as it carried them away from the alien warmth.

By morning, about eighteen inches of snow had accumulated. A few flakes still drifted down but the storm was over. The trees, the land and the pond were all covered with a fresh white layer that made the world seem pristine. Plows were actively working the otherwise deserted streets. But then, as I watched, a lone man with a shovel came down the road. He stopped at two homes, trudging to the doors and then slowly making his way back to the street. To my consternation, he then began the long trek down my driveway. He was quite thin, unshaven and moved stiffly.
He rang the bell at the side door and when I answered he dispensed with any niceties and simply said, “Do you think you might want to have your walk or driveway shoveled?” I nervously, reflexively, declined. He said “thank you, anyway” and began the long walk back up the driveway.

It had caught me by surprise. I regretted that I hadn’t even explained that I have a man contracted on an annual basis to plow the driveway. I also realized that he was the first shoveler I had seen out trying to make money after a storm in probably twenty years. Even the kids don’t do it anymore. And then I thought about my friend and his struggles.

I also remembered the old car beside the garage that sometimes sits under snow for a week or two until I get around to digging it out.  I chased him down as he was being turned away from another home up the hill. We agreed on ten dollars for him to shovel out the car and the breezeway.

I asked him what he did for a living. He was a house painter who was trying to make a little extra money to see him through a difficult winter. He said he hadn’t had much luck.

After I paid him, he walked to the top of the driveway, turned left, back towards town, and disappeared. Shortly behind him came one of the big city plows, its yellow lights flashing a warning. It flipped snow and rocks and clumps of dirt into the building banks, clearing a path for the rest of the world to do its business.

No comments:

Post a Comment