Saturday, March 21, 2009

John Steinbeck Off the Page

During times of economic recession there are definitely little mile markers that stand out as significant indicators of the hard times. I am not thinking of the day where a heightened unemployment rate is announced, or the day where the stock market passes a twelve-year low, or the day where the federal stimulus package is passed, or the day where the number of foreclosed homes reaches a news-breaking high. No, these signs are abstract, if you will, words off the radio, words on newspaper pages. My life continues on as it always did - this is all just news.

But there are other indicators of an economic depression that can't be ignored, that aren't just pieces of news, that aren't simply words announced by a journalist. I am thinking of the day a friend lost his job, the day Dad's client walked fifteen miles to his office because public transportation was no longer funded, the day the big yellow machinery left the farm's housing development project because funds had bottomed out, or the day the first hitchhiker in years was seen on a busy section of Poughkeepsie's arterial and picked up by an old jalopy reminiscent of Dust Bowl era locomotion. These signs are concrete indicators that times are changing, that life as we have known it is undergoing a fundamental shift.

I haven't exactly been collecting these evidences of change. Life proceeds, as busy as ever, and some of these changes only precipitate out of my memory when seeded by a significant event. And today, I suppose, a significant enough event occurred to make me cognizant of the changing scenery of life.

Today a complete stranger, polite and well-built, obviously a man who knew the value of a good day's labor, stopped at our home and asked, "Do you have any work?" In my entire life, as far back as my imagination lets me traverse, I do not remember any similar event. The only thing I could dredge up in my memory turned out not to be a memory of my own creating, but an emotion formed while reading a Steinbeck novel.