May 31, 2023


barry-cleanup-aisle-09_01-09-2009I didn’t drink that much on Election Night, but I think I got a contact high from the hoopla. I’ve had a lot of shit cleanup jobs in my life, but I’ve never had a mess that kept me busy for more than a few weeks. Even if he didn’t have the job yet, I figured he’d have all the Glad bags filled and be hosing off the mop by now, and that he’d get to the basement later.

But I guess, like the rest of the country, I greeted the New Year with my first massive hangover of 2009 after the last delirious drunk of 2o08. I got out of bed on January 1, and my country was a mess. Who the hell did I invite over last night? And the last eight years?

It’s not a happy time to be a President-elect of the United States, unless you’re coming to the job with pixie dust and a magic wand (which is still a refreshing change from our last President-elect who came to the job with Rohypnol and 282 million ball-gags). Every foreclosure that a realtor finds with its fixtures stripped and rotten with garbage, gang graffiti, and human feces is a timely and topical metaphor for the mess that Barack Obama is discovering now that he’s taken possession of his new house.

I can’t speak for the rest of tenuously-employed America (and except for process servers and collections employees, everyone in 2009 is tenuously-employed), but I miss the good old days when I used to be able to drive into work and decide if I wanted to skip my exit and head to the beach or some tavern near the docks that opens at 7:30 AM to serve the graveyard crowd.

Why? Because it was 1999, and there was so much fat in the land that we couldn’t eat it all. I had an active pulse and I’d never committed a sexual felony in the workplace. I could get hired somewhere else tomorrow. The only people who couldn’t get a job were the ones who would cop to a nail gun assault on their application and inquire about the company’s workplace open-container policy. Most brokerage houses would have still hired me with that record. If everything else washed out, there was always Wal-Mart.

(Of course, I never wanted to lose my job and still kept up my Cal Ripken attendance record, but it was nice to know that if I did to put an ice pick in the back of the head of my work ethic, I could, and I probably wouldn’t be let go. Besides, the company I was with did have a liberal open-container policy, so if I really wanted to get my swerve on during the day, I could just wait until 2:00 PM when we were permitted to tap the Keg-R-Ator in the kitchen.)

It’s a very different world ten years later. My commute is five times as far as it was then–you can even detect a change in dialect between my neighborhood and where my office is. If there are free Tootsie Rolls in the break room, I’ll pass them by lest I dislodge a filling and have to put myself further in the hole with uninsured dental work. Sick days? That’s a dangerous roll of the dice for a contractor like myself. Unless I catch a fire axe through my sternum, I’ll be at work.

There were hurrahs across the land Thursday when President-elect Obama gave his morning speech on the economy at George Mason University. Still, it was equal parts encouraging and disturbing when he dropped the phrase “fear itself” into his address. It’s music to the ears of hopeful progressives to hear a leader invoke the memory of FDR in these turbulent times, but when President Roosevelt uttered those two words, much of the country was still years away from being able to afford to keep its electricity turned on for consecutive months.

And just to make sure we understood what we’re facing, he added, “it is altogether likely that things may get worse before they get better.” That’s not good news for any urban and suburban Americans who have already started pondering the logistics of shooting their food from their front porches.

The downside of this can-do nation is that we have a tendency towards irrational assurance. In our post-election glow, as much as we want to be pie-eyed and calling for Mimosas and breakfast in bed after awakening from our long national nightmare, God has since slung a few reminders–in the form of Bernie Madoff, Rod Blagejovich, and the mess in Gaza that we can’t ignore–that we’re still sleeping in a bed with soiled sheets. And the washer’s broken and the maid can’t make it into work because of the clobbering, holiday-crippling weather in nearly every county in the nation.

We did buy Hope on November 4th, but in this new credit-strapped America, it’s clear that we may have bought it on layaway.

So, we’re deep in the rough. There might not be any miracles forthcoming, but we can say a prayer for our new President that he can return us to a day when we could do what modern employed Americans do best: Photocopy our genitals, look at pornography, nap in our car, and take our livelihoods for granted.

Speaking as just one hopeful American, I really miss those days of not feeling we have to give a shit. And who knows? After this mess, maybe next time around we will.