I just sent away for a sign in support of the Occupy Wall Street protest. It’s the least I can do.
The Internet makes this absurdly easy. You go to ActBlue and donate sixteen dollars or more (that covers costs and anything more is pure donation) and they send you this to put in your yard or window:
I encounter a lot of people whom I suspect of believing this is not their issue. They never took on a mortgage for too much house, they have savings in the bank, they chose a safe profession, worked their way through college instead of taking on a loan, whatever. Bully for them, but:
I got a literature degree, something that along with a dime will buy you a cup of coffee, because I was sixteen with a family hustling me off to college over my proposal that I work for a couple of years and figure out something about the world. I had to pick a major, so I picked what I loved, knowing that someone with a background in literature and the attested ability to write ought to have a future teaching, at least, maybe in publishing or document-laden government agencies. It took me a few years to realize that I would rather cut my throat than deal with academic politics and that mag card typists’ skills were valued more than mine; worse, that I practically was cutting my throat if I had to take a job sitting down. So I learned to do something I loved all over again — fix bodies and maintain them. I didn’t want to be a doctor; people had been teasing me about being “Dr. Sled” since I was a tiny little Flexible Flyer, and I probably had the intellectual chops, but I didn’t want to sit in an office for the rest of my working days, poke people with sharp things, terrorize them, and insult their intelligence, which is 90% of my experience of doctors.
I work hard doing something that benefits people, I do it well, I live modestly. I drove my last car for twenty-two years and refinanced my house to bring the payment down and maintain it in good shape. I manage my money carefully and have the credit history to show for it. I socked away the legal maximum in my IRA until the Internal Revenue decided I was richer from being divorced; these days I can barely afford to save anything. (Strangely, our tax code can’t seem to conclude that people are richer from being richer. Who knew?) I pay my own health insurance — which now has a deductible roughly the size of my mortgage payment and does not cover preventive care — and hope I can keep on affording it. My retirement savings evaporated to less than half their highest level in the 2008 crash and have still not entirely recovered. Social Security will make a big difference to my retirement, if it is still there. Since I pay a double whack into it as a self-employed person, I damn well hope so.
My bank has started jabbing me with monthly checking fees unless I tie up another thousand dollars in my account. Good thing I don’t use a debit card because they are now charging for that too. There is so little real competition in the banking industry that I don’t expect to find a much better deal anywhere else. My business is dipping and I am having to hustle new clients for the first time in twenty-five years, because no one feels like spending money any more, or they are taking what they used to pay me and using it to help their unemployed brother with three kids. And while I hustle, I have to think that I am still better off than the unemployed brother.
Am I really just supposed to shrug and say “Shit happens” after finding that a quarter century doing a worthwhile thing that I love and that helps others, making frugal and cautious decisions, still leaves me wondering how I’ll afford to live in twenty years? Oh, I was supposed to find someone with an impregnable career and marry him? Should have gone into a profession I loathed? What do we tell my favorite kid, all of sixteen now and thinking about college, determined not to be as feckless and improvident as her parents? With no money in the cookie jar for even living expenses, do we tell her to saddle herself with the huge loan amount she will need even for a state school, and hope whatever occupation she has in mind doesn’t get offshored? Or maybe just make a little porn, what the hell? I think we have run out of glib answers.
There are a lot of people out there in worse shape than anyone I know. Some of them have so little to lose that they are camped out up in Zuccotti Park. I gather the broadcast media likes to interview the loopier ones they can find. The rest of them are speaking for me.