Part of my job lately is to round up interesting/tragic stories of former middle class families who are now slipping into poverty as a result of the recession. In an article I wrote a couple weeks ago featuring a couple of these families, I put a little note in the introduction asking people to email me their own stories.
As a result, I’ve spent the entire past week combing through hundreds of the most depressing e-mails you could ever imagine. “I lost my job, my husband left me, my child got the plague and my dog got run over by a truck, all in the same day.”
E-mails like that. E-mails that make me want to pour steaming hot coffee in my eyeballs and jump out the window of my office building.
But today I received one that caught my eye. This guy Jeff wrote me a very upbeat, optimistic e-mail describing his turn from middle class to homeless. His story is similar to the others– he had a 2-story house, a deck, a pool, his own business. Business plummeted, he lost his house, couldn’t find a job, and now he, his wife, and his two young boys are living in a mobile home, moving from city to city in search of work.
I liked his attitude in the e-mail, and I had a feeling he might have some interesting stories to tell, so I gave him a call. “How do you cope?” I asked him. “How do your kids cope? How do you feed them?”
“Oh we do just fine,” he tells me, “My kids see it as an adventure. Last week, a giant rattlesnake actually slithered up to the campground. Since I’m not receiving a paycheck, I figured, What the hell? So I speared it, roasted it, and fed it to my 3-yr-old for breakfast. Real depression-era shit. But he’ll be all the better for it.”
“What do you mean he’ll be better for it?” I ask him.
“Well, my grandfather grew up during the Great Depression,” he says, “And he’s a bad-ass old man. He eats moldy pizza. He’s the hardest working mother-f*cker you’ll ever meet. And he doesn’t take a damn thing for granted. That’s how my kids will be, and I’m proud to say so.”
You know, this is something I hadn’t thought about. How is the next generation going to be affected by this depression? How are we going to be different, having experienced such a ridiculous unemployment level at this crucial time in our lives? Will we be more careful with our money? Will we be penny-pinchers? Will our kids be less spoiled than many of us were? Will they be stronger, harder working?
Talking to this man was enlightening, despite the fact that he was a little bit nuts. I think I’d be a little nuts too if I were stuck living in a camper with my entire family for over a year, eating rattlesnakes for breakfast. Can you imagine? But he’s really got such a positive attitude. He didn’t complain once. I was practically begging him to complain, you know, for the pathos element of my article, but he refused. He kept calling his situation an “adventure” and assuring me that it could be worse.
Jeff is currently on his way to Austin to try to make it as a blues singer. It’s a long shot, but maybe he’ll succeed. And you know what? He’s probably right about his 3-yr-old… that kid is going to be a bad-ass.