Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Fall and winter bring with them much more free time in which to write.
I wrote this soon after the election, however I now have an editor. Probably for the best.

So, of course there are pros and cons to working at home. Pro: You get to sit in your favorite chair and stream NPR all day. Con: You don't get any work done, because you decide you really need to go to Home Depot. At least that's what your unfinished projects seem to be saying with expectant stares from their various fixtures about the house. On your return, arms laden with lumber and plumbers tape, your two dogs ask with an unnatural persistency to be escorted on a long walk down to the river. So you close your laptop for the day, because these fall days are so short anyway and your significant other as well as yourself could also use the time outdoors.


She had been working at home for over a month now, and myself for just two days because I wanted to be in the big city for the historic election. She woke up very excited that Tuesday morning.

"Three pm and we put on the election coverage," she exclaimed.

Opening my eyes for the first time that morning I was able to discern that she was already dressed and ready for a day of telecommuting. I squinted to see through foggy sleep and without another word her blurred silhouette disappeared into her office with the dogs, and the heat. I managed to get out of our comfortably creaky bed half an hour later. A good fifteen in the bathroom, ten waiting for coffee to percolate, five getting dressed and I was ready to settle down for a good honest day's work in my favorite chair in our unheated living room.

It was a chilly morning and I could see my breath. It may have been my imagination, but the coffee in my hand seemed to cool much faster than normal. NPR was blaring from the speaker next to me loud enough so that she could hear it from the closed door of her office. Her office, which also served as guest room, yoga room, music room and only extra room we had in our tiny house, was equipped with baseboard heaters, a soft carpet and a door that closed but didn't lock. Every now and then a dog or two would push open the door and come out to brave the elements with me. Each time, as soon as the dog cleared the threshold I would hear her leave her desk and briskly close the door. As soon as the dog got a drink of water and realized how inhospitable the rest of the house was, he or she would nose the door open and slip back into the comfort and warmth.

"Ruby, close that door!" she would say with mock exasperation. Schwick! The door quickly brushed shut against the long strands of carpet.

That day an unnamed anxiety was getting to me. Was it the fact that one candidate in the final debate promised to eliminate my job? Was it that this was the first election in which I really felt emotionally vested, or was it nothing to do with the election at all? Was it that everyone around me was on the brink of losing their jobs, and myself and the lady behind the closed office door had an uncertain winter to look forward to in this tense economic adjustment, downturn, recession, collapse, DEPRESSION, whatever they were calling it.

So, an e-mail appeared in my inbox from my friend, Joe the Economy Professor. He laid out the schedule for his trip to London in the spring along with an open invitation to stay at his flat.

"Would I have a job in April?" I thought. "Can I afford to plan out that far?"

Will I have a job? I wrote to him, Can I afford to plan out that far?

He replied confidently that my job wasn't what he was worried about. If the economy got that bad, we would be looking at the New Deal 2, especially if the Dems won, which in that case would create more government jobs and public works.

"Oh good," funny how I come to trust his opinion only when something utterly incomprehensible, like the WORLD economy, threatens to adversely affect my life. Somewhat like religion. Sure Hitchens sounds good in the safety of my local coffee shop, but when turbulence knocks God Is Not Great from my hands at 30,000 ft, I have a more receptive attitude toward the blind faiths.

Don't know if I'll make it to London, I wrote. I need to be saving for our vacation in Greece.

I looked at my words. Was this what counted for sacrifice and suffering these days? From the ether of the tubes came the prophesy of an economic crisis never experienced since the Great Depression and this was how I was preparing for it? By wondering if I'd be able to swing the trip to Greece with the addition of a quick jaunt to London next year. I guess the underlying question prodding my anxiety was, "will I still be able to live beyond my means?"
Lord knows I've gotten used to it.

Three o'clock came around and she along with her knitting and dogs had settled into the living room.

"Wow, it's cold in here. Why are you wearing a T-shirt? And where are your socks?"

I didn't really feel like telling her, that besides my backcountry gear, which I only kept in good order because it tended to be a matter of survival, I depended on her philanthropy to supply me with new warm clothing for the winter. I also didn't want to explain that I had stored my sweaters in a dark dirty corner of my apartment at the park all summer, and come sweater season they had become saturated with some mold that inflamed my eyes and caused a rash under my arms when I tried to wear them. I wondered if she knew that the trash bag stuffed under the table in our bedroom was filled with moldy sweaters.

"It's not that bad in here," I said trying not to visibly shiver.

From the couch I flipped between ABC, NBC, CBS as coverage of the 2008 presidential election began. We had an election celebration party to attend at six-thirty, and the beer and freshly baked cookies were already packed. At the time calling it a celebration may have been overly optimistic, but when Pennsylvania was called I found my spirits rising to the occasion.


"Don't worry." She would plead. Many a time in the past couple months I had gone on a rant about the worst case scenario that I feared was fast approaching. All I could picture was a cold January, both of us unemployed with debt creeping up on us.

"You'll have to go live with your mom, and Satch and I will be sorting through glass recycling by the Fred Meyers."

"Don't worry," she said.

"Okay," I lied.


The car ride to the party, for I knew it was a party by then because Ohio had been called, found me riding shotgun beside my English expat friend Malk.

"Isn't this amazing? We are finally going to win," he said.

"Well, I'm winning," I said. "You in fact, unless I'm mistaken, do not have the vote."

"Bastard," He grumbled. "Years of Margaret Thatcher. Then I come to this country just in time for eight years of Bush. I deserve this moment."

Democrats, even at the cusp of certain victory, were still fairly touchy. "Don't celebrate too soon. We made that mistake the last two times. We'll wait for the ether in the tubes to tell us it is okay to exhale and loosen our grips on our microbrews." I remember the sick days used and the tear reddened puffy faces from the Seattle elite on November 5th 2004. It took a long time to repair the damage when I told them in their darkest hour that I had voted green.

"No, I'm not quite sure who the party candidates were," I replied to the backs of their heads as they filed off down the hall to turn in their leave slips justified by mental distress.

That evening the party began in a subdued fashion. Relatively young democrats were nursing beer, wine and eating vegetarian pierogies.

After a long boring hour with Jim Lehrer we flipped from OPB to NBC to Comedy Central, where Jon Stewart declared Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

Everyone sat in mild confusion.

"Was that real?"

"Quick, change the channel!"

"We need to know from the real news."

"Yes, Jim Lehrer says it's true!"

"Now switch to Fox. Let's see how depressed Brit Hume is."

His victory speech was moving and inspiring and I was glad I voted for him. He told us that yes we can, and I got choked up. He told us we had to sacrifice, and I thought that I could, but still only had a vague notion about what that might consist of.

The cheers were cheered and the champagne was popped and except for the diehard local political activists, who kept refreshing their browsers, we all left that night considerably relieved and happy.

Her excitement still seemed elevated when we arrived home.

"I'm going to watch more of the coverage," she said, and I squeezed her hand and left her on the couch with the TV and her dogs as she savored awhile longer one of the most important moments in our lifetime.


I lay in our bed and wondered what had really changed. Tomorrow more jobs would be lost and the value of our house would decrease. Again, I wondered what sacrifice meant and what struggling really was like. When my parents got married they lived for awhile with two dogs in a tent in a state park. My mom was a waitress and my dad worked in a printing shop. She kept a coffee cup from that job. I remembered loving that old orangish- brown truck stop mug. Watching at the table as tendrils of coffee particles rose up through the morning light mixing with her cigarette smoke, I would picture her in a blue uniform, with a name tag, standing behind a laminate counter. I've had a few menial occupations like waiter and club bouncer. Though I felt I had left that behind, especially after I turned thirty. Years ago she had held those jobs also. She was a waitress, a daycare worker, etcetera. I wondered if either of us was really up for the task of moving backward struggling and sacrificing.

The following morning I began to stir at the sound of the dogs eating breakfast and the tea kettle boiling.

"Wake up," she said with a kiss. "Welcome to a new world."

Groggily I opened my eyes and saw her blurry figure standing in our bedroom. The two dogs bounded through the light that fell in from our wet single pane windows. I rubbed my eyes and everything began to clear up.

"I'm ready," I said.