Thursday, February 18, 2010

High anxiety.

I talk to people at the checkout counter — no really talk to and
sometimes get to know them a bit.  There’s
the one who just broke up with her boyfriend, the guy whose wife is expecting
any day and the tall you gal whose balancing finishing a degree with work.  I actually know their names and that’s
not uncommon in a small community like Chapel Hill.  But I did the same in New York.  In fact, before E-Zpass I used to chat briefly with
tollbooth operators, sometimes getting a honk from those behind me in
line.  To one degree or another,
we’re all somewhat guilty of giving short shrift or even to avoiding eye
contact with those who “serve” us as if they were inanimate objects,
non-persons.  Of course we know
they are just the opposite, people like us with lives — families, joys, sorrows
and, yes, anxieties.

The difference between living in a city apartment with built-in
services as I did for decades and a free standing house on three quarters of an
acre is that you develop an intimate relationship with Home Depot or, in my
case because it’s a little closer, Lowe’s.  You’d be surprised how many times a week one can frequent a
store like that.  And, as you’d
expect, three years in I’ve gotten to know most of the people who work there,
many by name.  That brings me to

I knew the first time we met that Ron, unlike some of the kids working
in the store, was both seasoned and knowledgeable.  He was stationed at the commercial desk and you could ask
him about anything — what lumber to use for this project or how to install a
door lock and which one to buy. 
Sometimes you had to wait a bit because Ron’s expertise stood out and
his advice was in demand. 

Well the other day, I found myself in Lowe’s picking up some
birdseed.  Heading to the checkout
I spotted Ron behind one of the registers.  “What are you doing here Ron?”  It was asked in a kind of joking way expecting the usual
“someone didn’t show up” answer. 
To my great surprise an obviously unhappy Ron told me he had been
“demoted”, given the choice to move down or move out.  Thirteen years on the job, by then the store’s highest paid hourly
employee, he was reduced to making exactly $3 an hour more than when he started.  Like so many businesses, Lowe’s is
cutting back.  It wasn’t that Ron
had done anything wrong; he was just caught in the financial draft and, with a
family to feed, had no choice but to accept the humiliation.

So if you want to really understand why Barack Obama is having such a
hard time and why people are so angry, suffering such high anxiety, think of
Ron.  Down in the real world where
90% of Americans live, he’s considered one “lucky” guy.  After all, he still has a
paycheck.  How do you think Ron
feels about Lowe’s CEO who is probably taking home millions in pay and stock
options?  The outrage over
corporate compensation, bonuses and the growing disparity between both incomes
and quality of life in the land is real and legitimate.  In that explosive environment, we don’t
give anyone slack especially when the inequities are so clearly and starkly
visible to the naked eye.  Sadly
the president and all the members of Congress in both parties don’t seem to
understand.  Perhaps it isn’t quite
Nero watching Rome burn, but pretty damn close.  Other than fearing they’ll be thrown out of office, our
elected officials seem unconcerned about Ron, the millions
like him or their growing anxieties.  Ron, is just one of those
unseen non-persons attached like a fixture to the cash register.  We pass him by daily, eyes averted.

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