“What the hell,” he thought. “Who cares about an ice cream social?”
It hadn’t exactly been his day. Not a sale. Not a show. Not one. He had ridden the bubble until it burst, and now–even the three networking groups he visited during the week, all meant to help people find new, creative opportunities in the midst of THE WORST RECESSION IN HISTORY–felt more like he was going through the motions. The terrible coffee, the people who treated it like grief counseling, the slight disdain from folks who had been laid off when he told them that business was just slow. “Real estate is tough in a recession, you know?”
But, as his wife reminded him, there were upsides. Like picking up his daughter from St. Theresa’s after school. It wasn’t quite the daily humiliation he anticipated; it was pretty clear there were other guys in the same boat, who had had the same talk about “ways to contribute” with their wives. He’d wave to a familiar face or two, but nobody ever actually talked. And what would they chat about–maxed out credit cards, how many more payments they could still afford to make on their Volvos?
But it gave him a moment to sit still, listen to the news or a CD, or read the mail. And, because it was his daughter’s junior year, that meant sorting through college pamphlets, packets, and mailers. Now THAT was a daily humiliation.
It wasn’t just the “projected cost of tuition” inserts that hit him in the gut. Maybe it was the fact that she went to a private girls’ school, but he couldn’t recognize anything about his college experience in the glossy photographs. Nothing about pledge week, nothing about tailgating, nothing about job placement, and not a one of them–not even the co-ed schools–offered business as a major.
One school actually gave students with a 3.7 GPA or higher a black robe to wear around campus. A freaking black robe. Another played up the opportunity to study “other cultures, other countries” for an entire semester while living on a cruise ship that literally went around the globe. He’d rather talk about the next Volvo payment than that. And then, there was the school that cancelled classes once a semester for a “forrest day” that ended with an ice cream social on the lawn of the president’s house. An ice cream social.
We had “hangover days,” he though to himself, and made a note to make that joke with his daughter.
Just then, a Hummer whizzed–or came as close to whizzing as a Hummer can–into the front of the line. The driver, jumped out and, immediately confronted by a teacher, started yelling something about priorities, schedules, and how the teacher should be grateful that he pays his salary.
Quite a show.
“Dad!” The passenger door swung open. “you’re reading my mail again!”
“Hey,” he said with a mock-scold that still sounded strangely like his own Dad’s voice, “as long as you live under my roof, this is my mail.”
She rolled her eyes but laughed. He smiled, took a sip of his terrible coffee, and maneuvered around the Hummer.
They drove out of midtown and headed towards the suburbs. They passed the unfinished condos on 135th and the big empty retail expansion that was finished just before the banks froze. It used to stick out like a sore thumb. Now driving by was just one more way he was going through the motions.
Notes: I actually had a dream not terribly long ago about a middle aged guy sitting in a car outside a red brick building making fun of college recruitment pamphlets. I got to thinking about what it was like to work at a church in Johnson County, KS, during the recent recession (which hosted one of those networking groups for a while but served better coffee), and imagined this character from a dream in a more sympathetic light. A couple of recent Facebook posts–one from my sister about “Mountain Day” at the college where she teaches that reminded me of “Campus Day” adventures at Hiram and another from a friend writing about entitled parents picking up their kids from school–stuck with me and I couldn’t help but add them in. 2008 or so was just at the beginning of the Facebook/Iphone/do everything online surge, so I also imagine that viewing “getting the mail” as important is not anachronistic in depicting 2008-9.