Success, Failure, Bare Feet


At first my feet might seem like a good symbol for my unemployment. They started hurting almost immediately after I was laid-off. Over time, drugs weeks they have gotten tougher. It would be tempting to conclude that I have been “pounding the payment” looking for opportunities. But in fact, my job hunt was mostly conducting at the computer or the phone. The reason my feet hurt is because I was barefoot almost all the time walking around on hard floors. So my feet are not a very good symbol for my unemployment.


At the beginning of the year my family spent some time in a cabin in Bastrop with some friends. If you don’t know those cabins, they are constructed of stone and long planks of timber. They have a rough beauty. They were built by boys who were part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. Intellectually, I had understood had been clear for many months before New Years that 2009 was going to be a bad year. I wondered then if the catastrophe would become as tangible for us as the wood and rock had been for those boys. Losing my job certainly made the disaster more personal. While there was anxiety, however, I have really suffered. There were no great sacrifices (at least not yet). So I can’t really say that I understood what life was like for those boys or indeed for the many that had lost more in current economic environment.


I heard something that seemed to be to be a good symbol for success. You may remember last year the criminal Bernie Madoff, convicted of running a +$50 billon Ponzi scheme. What caught my attention was a statement by investigator Harry Markopolos. He said that it took him about five minutes looking at Madoff earning reports to determined that the man was a fraud. The earning showed steady growth year after year, unaffected by trends in the market, the price of oil, wars or the weather. His profit rose on a forty-five degree angle with time on the X-axis and growth on the Y. An arrow of wealth shooting toward heaven. Icarus flying to the sun, kissing it, and continuing on forever. It’s amazing that Madoff wasn’t caught sooner. It’s amazing he wasn’t awarded a Nobel Prize. Isn’t this, the arrow forever rising, our ideal of success? It’s the nation’s talisman, a roadmap, a diagram of our dreams.


The day before I lost my job, our refrigerator broke. On the morning I was laid-off I was working from home, waiting to hear from the repairman. I got a meeting request from a manager asking me to come into the office for a “mandatory business update.” The very ambiguity of the request made the topic crystal clear – no sudden face to face meetings with unnamed topics are good. I had to wait nearly four hours for the meeting. I stopped working. I was distracted and it seemed pointless. Instead, I cleaned out the refrigerator and freezer. The refrigerator was probably the best symbol of the layoff. The refrigerator and especially the freezer was an archive of our intentions, and of our culinary failure. There were vegetable we though we should eat. There were condiments that we’d hoped would spice up our evening. There was food we bought on whim, and those we though would change our live style. The freezer was so packed that we could only buy a couple frozen foods each trip to the store. I salvaged a little. I threw the rest away – the good intentions with the bad. The refrigerator was bare. We could start over again.

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