By David Glenn Cox
I’ll try not to get my hopes up but I have applied for a job and feel I have reasonable prospects to actually land this one. It gives me an all over trembly feeling, like a passenger on a ship reaching its port after a long, long journey. The anticipation that this employment odyssey might actually end for me, takes my mind to places where it hasn’t been for a very long time. To new strange ideas, peculiar feelings of mutated emotions which wash over me like a new love.
I can never go back, I understand that much. I can never go back to who I once was, primarily because I have been gone from those days of clueless prosperity for so long now, that I no longer recognize that person. The hard road is a fine university, it teaches an appreciation for the small and the mundane, the wonderful feeling of a new pair of socks or of a good meal on an empty stomach, a hot shower or waking up between warm clean sheets.
I lie awake and dream of things such as my own bed, or my own home or of new clothes to replace my rags and well, it is all wonderful. But even in these day dreams, night dreams and pipe dreams I feel the fetters still. Call it maturity or call it scar tissue for I waste nothing. I scarf up paper napkins and carry food in my coat pockets because you just never know.
There is something more at play here in my renaissance, when this odyssey began for me several years ago it began in depression and self-pity. I had lost everything I owned and everything which I had worked for. It was as if I were being stripped naked and left as carrion for the buzzards. I was angry at the world and I was angry with the woman who at lowest ebb of my adult life had kicked me to the curb. Then something happened which is hard to describe.
I began to see others in even worse circumstances than my own, not with Mother Theresa eyes but with an appreciation that I was witnessing something important and historic and I had been granted a ground level opportunity to see it and to taste it and yes, to write about it. Their stories are as poignant and tragic as they are unnecessary; I met a man who like me had been thrown out of his home after losing his job and was unable to find another.
All that he had left of his former life was this nice car and an unemployment check. This car was the last vestige of his past life. It would be easy for us to say that maybe he should have sold the car to get out from under the payment. Only that would also be admitting defeat and accepting his decent into this new hard life. He got himself a hotel room; you know the type, in a run down hotel in a seedy part of town. One night, he had gone to the library looking for jobs online and arrived back at the hotel around nine o’clock. He parked his car in the back of the parking lot trying to protect it and then stopped to buy a coke out of the vending machine before entering his room.
As he was about to drop the coins into the machine he was tackled and found there was a red laser beam from a policeman’s automatic pistol being focused on his forehead. He was handcuffed and thrown onto the trunk lid of a police car. “What are you doing here, where did you get the car, where do you work?”
You see, owning a nice car while staying in a seedy hotel is to law enforcement agencies, probable cause. Why sure, he must be a pimp or a drug dealer and it was beyond the range of possibility that he might be a man who had lost his job and was trying to salvage the broken pieces of his existence. He was on his way downtown when the hotel night manager stopped the police saying, “What are you doing, he’s alright!” No, it never occurred to the police to ask the manager, “What do you know about this guy?” before tackling him and pointing loaded pistols at his forehead.
Remember this story the next time you ask someone, what’s new? My own story was similar except without the hand guns. I had helped a friend fix her car, an old beat up Toyota with a suction cup holding the passenger window up. We were going to pay her cell phone bill and as we pulled out into traffic there was this guy who was obviously staring at me. I wondered to myself, “What the hell is his problem” when the blue lights came on from the unmarked car.
We were pulled over for the heinous crime of me not having my seat belt on. The policeman asked my friend for her driver’s license and then came around to my side of the car for mine. Nervous and unable to open the window I opened the door to hand the policeman my driver’s license. He kicked the door shut with his foot as he put one hand on his holster and shouted “Remain in the vehicle!” His partner came around and opened the door and ordered me to “Step out slowly!” It was all perfectly understandable; a man who forgets to put on his seat belt could easily be a serial killer. I mean, after all it’s so obvious isn’t it, we were in an old car.
They took my license and began to ask me questions which were obviously drug related. I came of age in the 1970’s but this was a drug slang which I was unsure of and told the cop so to which he answered, “You sure about that?” Indignant, I answered, “Sir, I’ve never been arrested in my life.” He smirked and said, “We’ll know about that in a minute then, won’t we?”
I can hear you, really I can, I know all about my civil rights but if I had made an issue of it, guess where I was going to next? If we’d been driving a new Mercedes we would have probably never been pulled over in the first place. This is the difference between my old life and my new life as the cops parting words to me were, “You’re lucky you’re not going to jail.”
That’s nothing really, try being a single mother of two small boys and as you’re getting them ready for school and yourself ready for work one day when a man knocks on your front door and announces that he’s from the bank and you’re being foreclosed upon. Never mind your acceptance letters from Obama’s HAMP mortgage program or your bank statement showing your prompt payments. Her plight was no different than mine the law isn’t on your side; it is on the other side.
What are my problems compared to these, what are my pissy little inconveniences compared to a mother losing a child to an insurance company’s intransigence or losing a child to a nation’s military madness? These are my new friends in this new America and they aren’t oddities or curiosities they are everywhere and they are innocents, civilians unaware for the most part that a war has been declared upon them, They are Johnnie Bradfield, Jean Val Jean and Tom Joad, they are Americans all, who deserve better than they are getting.
This is the new gravity of my life as I try to reclamate myself with dreams of gainful employment and all that means in the way of creature comforts. I am not alone here, I have been given a great gift and its weight will never be lifted from me. I do not even know if I will get this job or not, but my heart is full of gratitude and love for all of those whom I have met along this hard road. I shall never forget them or forget that I am one of them. They have given me this great gift, I know now who I am, really and I know now who we are as a people, really and I’m not afraid.