"The Global Depression" a short story
An Imagined Reality
I imagine that fifty years from now a neighbor’s child, or perhaps even a grandchild, will come to breathe life into the memory of the month that led to the ‘Global Depression’. This is how it will be epistomologized, a month when it will be known that first the American real estate market bottomed out, because of bad loans. The mortgage brokers will be known as the shopping mall “model scouts” of infamy. The dirt bags who dangle the American Dream in front of hopeful, and maybe naive people who are all too willing to reach for the promise, only to have it all pulled out of their grasp, landing on their faces with only a flexible, or sub prime mortgage agreement to fall upon. This is how I will tell it.
The visit will remind me of the time when I was in the fourth grade, and I was given an assignment to interview someone who lived through the Great Depression. My grandparents were too young to remember anything about it; and there was a little old lady who drove a tan Ford hatchback. She was right next door. My mother pushed me to interview her. She lived mostly alone. She had a grandson who would only sporadically show up in the middle of the night, drunk, and loud, and usually belligerent. I would watch from my bedroom window as she would come to the side door and try to quiet him, to get him to come inside, he often wouldn’t listen. Sometimes she had to call the cops. At least twice he crashed his car on our street; he hit big oak trees that were close to the road. My mother, I think, felt bad for her and that’s why she arranged the interview. I was uncomfortable, other than watching her suffer from crouched under my bedroom window, and the time that she hustled over to my house and breathlessly, yet politely, ordered me to call the fire department, she had a chimney fire. She frantically ran back to her house and I assume that she was saying, oh dear as she covered her mouth with a handkerchief. After the fire department came and everything was safe she thanked me and walked in behind the firemen to assess the damage. She sent me a thank-you note, it was written in that old lady script that had to be a result of arthritis, or something… I really didn’t want to be there. I wonder if my interviewer will be reluctant?
I will remember how I dreaded and bitched the day that I sidled over to Mrs. Cooper’s house. I anticipated the ‘Nick at Night’ interior. The old lady smell, I concluded, was white shoulders and Lysol. Even though I, simply because of circumstance, had seen her at some of her most weak, human, moments; she still presented herself with complete control on the day of the interview. And I, at nine-years-old was uncomfortable because I somehow felt like seeing her at those times was wrong, and it was my fault, and if she knew I would be in trouble. I tried not to look right at her. I focused on my notes. I went over the same words twice with my pencil, and when I did have to look at her my gaze was sideways, and low, probably adding to our tension. I wonder what the tension between me and my interviewer will be.
I think that my interviewer will be uncomfortable with me because by then, my humanity will be like an unmistakable beard of bees. I think that more women in my generation will not hide their challenges, struggles, missteps and defeats. We must have seen the aperture in the facade. We connected to the suffering of the generations before, but through empathy, and hated the facade. My interviewer will probably know many of my difficulties, more if the interviewer is family; I, undoubtedly, will hold my grandchildren captive on long car rides and go on endlessly. Many women in my generation will not only reveal it all, but also not apologize for it, which will be one of the reasons that my interviewer will find me discomforting. My humanity will swarm with fury at a conversation like this and, the interviewer will find herself scared of getting stung.
As my interviewer will enter my home I will turn off the radio, and shuffle around piles and piles of paperbacks, trying to find two seats. I will offer the interviewer a drink and make myself a whiskey and ginger on the rocks…I will be old, and I won’t apologize. I will remember how Mrs. Cooper gave me cream soda. I will give my interviewer iced tea.
My interviewer will look around at my house as cluttered, but interesting. My ‘old lady smell will be the result of dove soap, and secret deodorant. After a moments silence I will feel like I have to mention, uncomfortably at first, that I live alone. I will remind my interviewer, even though they will already know, how my husband left me after he lost his job. How he picked up and moved away, and then once he found a job and a new woman how he fought me for custody and won, took my two babies away. The rage will all be new again, and for a moment the swarm rages and my interviewer will have to pause. I will not tell my interviewer about how I don’t apologize, my distance, or my resentment either.
When my interviewer will begin I will drift back to Mrs. Cooper’s screened in porch, and I wont hear the question, but I will act annoyed like it is my interviewers fault that I didn’t hear. My interviewer will want to know where I was and what I was doing in October of 2008. I will explain that I was teaching middle school English, living with my husband who was a salesman. She will ask me what I was thinking when I heard about the collapse. To the interviewer this “historical event” will seem like a distant and singular happening. I will think how it takes some life experience and your own little swarm to understand that the chain of historical events drifts over the fluid surface of time and is never without connectivity, and is never singular. This will remind me how I assumed that Mrs. Cooper was going to tell me that she struggled and starved, beginning the day after the market crashed, like it was some sort of polar shift. I will remember how I was almost disappointed; I will remember how I anticipated interviewing one of the scrawny, dirty, Dickens-like children that I saw in the black and white picture in the Social Studies book. Aside from cutting back, and going without the un-necessaries, she told me it wasn’t too bad for her family. Right there, as I remember it all, it will occur to me that maybe she did suffer and struggle, she wouldn’t have told me. I will receive some belated satisfaction, and will approach the series of questions with an upbeat attitude, and will delicately correct my interviewer that the crash of 2008 was a result of a series of events that extended back into the first Bush term. This concise correction will be instead of the long-winded explanation into the philosophies of time and historical thought.
I will explain, with honesty, how scared I was for myself, my family, the country, and the world. I will describe how at the time it was hard to know who to trust, the president was responsible for the problem, and the media was more concerned with destroying each other then putting out realistic information. I will muse with nostalgic disbelief and horror how on many news channels there were “experts” who repeatedly said the mortgage crisis was the result of giving loans to unqualified “minority” borrowers. I will lean forward and look with seriousness at my interviewer and state that this was disgraceful, dividing, and an attempt to scapegoat the problem that was really the result of greedy bloated old white men. I will notice how my interviewer will become shifty, and uncomfortable. I will remember how it is not socially acceptable to discuss race or discrimination anymore; especially if you’re white, people just want to avoid it. I will be kind enough to change the subject.
I will tell my interviewer how, at first, I did just fine. My husband’s job was great, and I was teaching. My husband always assured me that we were fine, his job was secure. I will pause and remember, and then continue. It wasn't until the spring of 2009 that the Recession hit the commercial sector, and there was no money to lend, so no new projects. There was no one to sell electrical supplies to, so my husband lost his job. I will pause, remembering all that came after, take a big sip of my drink, and look up. My interviewer will say, convincingly, ‘sorry.’
I will appreciate my interviewer’s compassion and the rest of the questions will go pretty well, I will try to keep my musings to a minimum. The interviewer will ask pointless questions, like I did of Mrs. Cooper. I will remember asking her, “What did you think of FDR?”. I will remember what Mrs. Cooper said. She politely reminded me that she was only a little girl and didn’t really pay attention to politics. I will remember how she told me that her father didn’t like him, but she supposed that he was very helpful to all the “poor people”. My interviewer will ask me what I thought the founding fathers would have thought about October 2008. I will try to hide my annoyance with a joke. I will say that they would have been shaking in their pantaloons. I will then add that Washington would listen to all the ideas, Hamilton would have been saying ‘I told you so.’ And Jefferson would have been riding back to Virginia, with his tail between his legs. I will find my cleverness cute and not really care if it is historically accurate. When I will be done basking in my wit I will look up and notice that my interviewer must not have gotten it. I will become annoyed and wonder what the hell they are teaching the kids these days.
I will answer the last few questions and my interviewer will end with an even stupider question. ‘If you could ask George Bush one question what would it be?’ I will sigh and take a large sip before answering that I wouldn't. I will explain that I almost felt bad for the guy; I believe that he was a victim of his own legacy and not really fit for the job, but he got swept up in the whole machine. My interviewer will have a puzzled look on their face. I will take another sip and just grumble that I never voted for the guy. My interviewer will smile, slightly fiendishly. And this will cause me to stop trying to retrieve an ice cube from my drink and ask “What?”
My interviewer will tell me how the teacher told the class that almost no one, still alive, will admit to voting for Bush, but he won two terms. I will become offended, and my interviewer will not understand why. I will say emphatically that I most certainly did not vote for that buffoon. My husband, he voted for him twice, my parents voted for him, but me: No Way! There will be a deafening uncomfortable weight for a moment and I will almost involuntarily tell my interviewer that I wasted so much time afterwards saying ‘I told you so,’ that was all I had left. I will look up at my interviewer as she rubs a small red welt on her arm, and she will say a conclusive ‘thank you’. I will try to be cheery as I walk her to the door. When she finally leaves I will know that history and humanity will swarm around that child too, and someday it might bring her back to right now.
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