No one is immune from the impact of America’s current economic crisis.
Last night I enjoyed dinner and conversation with a group of long-time friends. We decided to enjoy Chinese food from our favorite take-out restaurant, Chop Chop, a Lodi Avenue fixture for more than 40 years. We gathered at the home of one friend who joined the growing ranks of the unemployed when she was laid off a couple of weeks before Christmas. She has a fabulous attitude and we are all confident she will soon secure a position, but in the meantime, she is under a good deal of stress. Shortly after losing her job, she was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Thankfully, she was not hurt. She did not cause the crash, but she is understandably uneasy at the prospect of her insurance company deciding to “total” her car because she would likely have a hard time securing a replacement vehicle while unemployed. Fortunately, her parents have assured her that they will assist in any way possible.
One couple is wondering what will happen in February or March. Although they are both employed full-time by different school districts, both are fearful that they will receive I.O.U.’s rather than paychecks. Hopefully, at least one of them will be paid in a timely manner.
Last week, I had breakfast with another group of “girlfriends” with whom I grew up here in Lodi, one of whom now resides in Arizona. Her husband’s efforts to secure employment have proven futile and she is struggling to support their family with the income from her home-based business. However, business has been extremely slow. She and her family were only able to travel to Lodi for a holiday visit because of the generosity of her parents. However, her father has advised her, as well as her siblings, that additional financial assistance will not be forthcoming from her parents who have seen their income drop as a result of losses on investments that were designed to carry them through a comfortable retirement.
None of my friends ever thought that, at this point in their lives, they would find themselves turning to their parents for financial help.
In fact, last week I wrote these words to a dear friend who is 83 years young: “Watching all of the economic news must seem surreal to you. I have turned to BigBob so many times and said, ‘I’m glad my parents aren’t here to see this’ because they would be freaking out. They were just enough older than you (my mother would be 92 and my father 90 if they were alive) that their memories of the Depression were vivid and those events permanently scarred them. They would be scared out of their minds to see the economic conditions people in this country are facing right now.”
Earlier this week, we visited nearby Jackson, California. En route we listened to Tom Sullivan’s radio program. We have been fans for many years, as he was a fixture on KCRA and KFBK before his show was syndicated nationally. (In fact, I was a guest on his radio program in 2001.) Ironically, he took a call from a listener in Jackson named Steve, a 17-year employee of the county’s largest private employer, Prospect Motors. As he spoke to Mr. Sullivan, he was watching transport trucks load up the vehicles on the lot. The dealership shut its doors, laying off 80 employees and sparking a tsunami-like economic ripple through the region. Steve was one of a few employees who remained to see to the final details of the closure. He sounded as though he was choking up when he explained that he planned to take a little time off before deciding what to do next; he would not be seeking employment in the auto industry, though. A little while later, we drove by Prospect Motors. The lot was nearly empty and, indeed, there was a transport truck on the premises. I thought about Steve and his fellow employees . . . and what their futures hold for them, as we passed by.
BigBob did not join me and my friends for dinner last night. Rather, he was at home sleeping in anticipation of returning to work at 12:15 a.m. Yes, he is unfortunately back to working the night shift, even though he has held the same job since May 1978 and has more seniority than any other employee. While we were on vacation, his employer laid off an entire shift of employees. That means that all the folks who, like BigBob, were working the day shift had to either accept the new hours or become a “relief” employee, reporting to work at the conclusion of the first shift. But “relief” employees are not guaranteed that they will work a full week and a certain number of hours are required each week in order to maintain critical benefits including, but not limited to health insurance.
When my friends inquired about BigBob’s whereabouts last night, I jokingly told them, “Be glad he’s not here. He’s not fit for human companionship. He’s a total buzz-kill tonight.” Indeed, he was very grumpy all day yesterday when he found out that he would be returning to work a little after midnight. In his defense, it is physically difficult for a nearly 58-year-old man who is diabetic and managing a severe case of sleep apnea to work the night shift. The neighbors mow their lawns, the telephone and doorbell ring, the dogs bark . . . he finds sleeping in the daytime very difficult. We are fortunate that the boys are old enough to appreciate the circumstances and cooperate fully by keeping the house quiet. And his mood was better today. I think he just needs some time to wrap his head around the idea of again working nights at his age and after so many years with the same employer.
Tomorrow, it’s back to work for me and MattieBoo returns to school. He has enjoyed a nice break from his studies since December 17, 2008. A week later, as we were getting ready to attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service, he announced that he could not go because he did not have any long pants that fit! Sure enough, in one week’s time, he underwent a growth spurt and could not wear any of the trousers he had been wearing to school right up to the point that his vacation began. I couldn’t believe it because I bought him all new clothes to begin this school year in late August. He had a growth spurt last spring after about three years of not growing at all.
So earlier today, we went to the local Target store in search of school uniform trousers. Since MattieBoo enjoys shopping nearly as much as I do — not at all, in other words — I took advantage of the fact that I had him hostage in the store and forced him to also select new tennis shoes. Since he is now taller than either BigBob or #1Son, I was not surprised to find that he required size 12 shoes!
When we got to the register, the clerk indicated that I had to process the credit card purchase myself. After punching a few buttons to confirm the amount and authorize the transaction, the monitor displayed a question I had never seen before. It inquired whether I wanted to complete the total purchase using the same credit card. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Well, what other card would I use?”
The cashier looked up and explained, “Our programmers just added that question recently.”
I looked at him quizzically. “Some customers requested to spread their purchases over more than one credit card,” he said quietly. It took me a few more moments before I finally understood his meaning.
“Oh, my gosh,” I said softly when at last I realized why the extra step had been added to the process. “People are maxing out their credit cards so they can’t put their entire purchase on one card?”
“Yes,” he nodded his head sadly. “So the programmers decided to add that option.”
MattieBoo is a “deep thinker” — quiet, thoughtful, sensitive, and tender-hearted. He picked up the bags containing his trousers and shoes, and walked to the car with me in silence. He remained quiet when we got in the car and explained to BigBob what had just transpired. He understood much quicker than I had.
“A sign of the times,” he sighed.
On the way home, I did not comment upon the several new “for sale” signs I noticed in and around our neighborhood, including the one proclaiming an impending “foreclosure” just a couple of blocks from our house on a street where I would never, ever have believed I would see such a sign.
More signs . . . of the times.
And finally, the State of California is scheduled to run out of money sometime in February, so I may receive my own I.O.U., courtesy of the Governator, as well as two “furlough” days per month. That would amount to an approximate ten per cent salary reduction. I’ll take the reduction and not complain if it means that another employee will be spared from being laid off.
No one is immune, unaffected or untouched by the economic times.