Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank yous

By Carl

There's not much to be thankful for this year, and maybe that's the thing to be thankful for. It throws years like 2008 into sharp relief when the comedown off the high, and the hangover, are as fierce as 2009.

Before I get to the maudlin bits, let me thank you, my readers and friends, for putting up with my crap for yet another year. My blog has grown surprisingly so that I am now considered by the ranking service Technorati to be a "large blog," meaning a lot of people read this stuff.

Oddly enough, this comes on the heels of my vow for this year to
specifically not pursue the popular stories.

And ThumbPer, who has been my faithful companion and blogging partner (he's sitting on my lap, paws on my computer stand, as I type this).

I'm sure I'm giving short shrift to a lot of people, places and things, and as they occur to me, I'll note them at the end of this piece. I refuse to turn this into one of those treacly columns where Mom, apple pie and the Boy Scouts feature prominently.

I'm thankful that I'm safe, for one more year, from the ravages of this horrible economic crisis. I sit insulated and isolated safely in a warm house, with at least two turkey meals ahead of me, and warm clothes to put on. And I sit here, I remember that I'm safe but others are not.

Brother, don't you walk away. Food pantries are bare nationwide. Hunger is creeping across the land like a dark plague, picking off the weakest, poorest among us. People who can only afford a candy bar because the local grocer charges $1.50 for an apple, a browned, bruised battered one at that, are dizzy with need, aching for a real meal. They need comfort and food and comfort food.

More and more people sleep on grates and subway benches. It's hard to tell if they are derelict or destitute, but this is America and they deserve the dignity of our compassion and assumption of destitution. We cheer heroes in sport despite their cheats and crude behavior, so why cannot we not find it in our hearts to look past a drinking or drug problem and reach out to cheer these folks on as well?

Right now, today, there are millions of people working too hard at jobs that pay too little. I think of this woman in my neighborhood, she looks Mayan or Incan. Her features are sharp, as if they were chiseled onto the head of an axe, her long black hair kempt under a woolen cap. She could be forty. She could be eighty. Sometimes on the weekends, I see her with two young children. She stands just under five feet tall.

She pushes a shopping cart through my neighborhood each and every morning. She's done this for years, picking up deposit bottles, going through the trash and recycling bins. I make a point of it to neatly bundle my beer and soda bottles for her in plastic bags and leave them by the bins. I've probably made her a hundred bucks a year.

The cart overflows with her currency: huge plastic bags filled with empties, standing sometimes six and a half feet high. Seven days a week, which means that seven days a week, she has to go to a store and exchange them. I once estimated that this probably pays her twenty bucks a day. A hundred dollars a week for digging through stuff everyone else has discarded, the nasty smelly stuff. I don't know how many hours she logs doing this, how big a family she's struggling to assist, and if she even has a husband or other adults.

I don't have to know that. I see her dedication, and think to myself, there are people in this nation who would gladly have her arrested and put on a boat home. It wouldn't matter to them if she was legally here or not.

Worse for her, there are sharks in the water now. I've seen them: angry men who come by in the afternoons, turning over garbage can lids, looking for bottles to return. Angry white men, frustrated by the sparse pickings (she is thorough). This is a post-apocalyptic world for them, and their fear manifests to anger, and anger to rage, and rage to violence.

I only pray to God I can be there to protect her when these guys get the hint they'll have to roll out of bed early. Hell, they scare me and I'm bigger than they are. But they have anger, which makes them dangerous, but brother, don't you walk away!

Where are our
Steinbecks, our balladeers? I pondered that question as my head lay on a soft pillow under a warm blanket. Who will write our Grapes of Wrath? You? Me? Who will be our Dorothea Lange? Our James Baldwin? Who will record this generation lost, so that the starkness of existence as most Americans live it can be contrasted with the moneybags of Goldman Sachs, so that accounting can be made and responsibility assessed?

Things to be thankful for:
Reunion. Old friends new once more. Life. Art. Courage. Wit. Compassion. Spirit. That I'm not Glenn Beck. Michael Stickings.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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