It’s Chicago. Winter. It’s grey and it’s cold—the kind of cold that finds its way between the fibers of your thermals, into your skin, your bones. You’re at the train stop at Argyle, waiting for the el to come, huddled beneath a heat lamp with ten other shivering people. A kid is whimpering by his mother, who’s got him tucked into her, her long coat like a wing, over him, protecting. Nobody speaks. Just a bunch of sniffling and the unmistakable sound of a jaw clacking. You’re unsure if it’s your own. No, yours is tight. Too tight. You look upwards because it kind of looks like the sun wants to play, the clouds dancing over a white orb in the sky. But it doesn’t come out. And it hasn’t for over a week.
Damn. Where is this goddamned train? It’s all you can think about, if you even have the energy to think at all.
Just then, the speakers crackle. There’s an announcement from below that there was an accident a few stops before you and the train actually won’t be coming at all. Not for at least an hour.
With a real fear in your throat, you call work and tell them that you’re going to be late. You hang up, wondering if they hate you for it.
As you follow the crowd back down the stairs into the station, you hear people muttering about some guy that jumped in front of the el as it went speeding down to a fast halt and died.
It was the fourth you’ve heard of that winter. What the hell is going on? Seems like the longer you’ve been in this town, the higher the number of successful suicides. Almost always in winter.
It’s 2011. It’s America, or something like it. Debt doesn’t hide anymore—it’s everywhere. The Haves loan the Have-Nots money, so that the Have-Nots can take a shot at making something of themselves—like go to college to become a lawyer, or a nurse, or a sculptor, or a writer, or maybe to start owning a house. The Haves loan money to make the Have-Nots feel like they’re on the right path to do good for themselves, for their friends and families, and ultimately for their communities. This all seems fine at first, except these days, after the Have-Nots get their titles as lawyers, nurses, sculptors and writers, or when they finally move into that new home they’re so proud of, they suddenly become the Have-Even-Less-Than-Befores.
Wait. That makes no sense.
Oh. While the Have-Nots were working to make something of themselves, the Haves took all the jobs and moved them overseas to other countries that have absolutely nothing to do with their own. Sure, it’s great for those other countries. They get to be more like America. But now America seems to be getting more like those other countries were, before the once-American jobs rolled in. And everyone back in America is getting laid off. But the bills keep coming. And the debt keeps rising. And the Have-Even-Less-Than-Befores can’t hold their noses above the rising water, while the Haves watch from giant ships and mountaintops, banking on soaring profits never before seen in history.
Good for them.
Sometimes, the Have-Even-Less-Than-Befores end up drowning in that water and that’s when they throw themselves in front of trains.
Have you ever read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina? I have. And if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the end was a bit unbelievable. We do that with fictitious stories. It’s like we’re bred to disbelieve them.
But stories come from somewhere. Stories have the power to translate many truths, creatively; via imagery, character, tone, gesture, plot. All the things that make a work of fiction what it is. I went to college to learn about this because I wanted to tell the truth.
Sure, a degree in fiction writing probably won’t get you far. But surely a degree in public teaching would. Or, okay, at least a degree in nursing will get you a job. I mean, everybody needs nurses. Right?
You know, maybe I’ll write a short story or an entire freakin’ novel about a competent person who gets a degree in nursing and cannot find a job to save his life once he’s done. Because that’s the truth these days in America. So many have lost their jobs. Found out the hard way that their business titles can be matched by some people halfway across the world for half the money. Scrambling for an idea, they go back to school, having to ask even more from the Haves, so they can become nurses—a position they thought would never go away in any country. But when they’re finished with school, they find out that, while it’s true America needs its nurses, a helluva lot of other people were thinking the same thing, because they also lost their jobs, and now there are four qualified nurses for just one position.
So, while my college degree may not be worth much, neither are a lot of others—even as the demand for one continues.
And we wonder why this country went to the shithouse so quickly!
My love of writing, and my anger over the state of the union, has led me here—to this website—because, these days, there’s nowhere else for any of it to go.
So this is what I’m doing with my college degree.
What are you doing with yours?