These (Not Very) Happy Golden Years

I went stateside on Saturday. Purpose of the trip? the Customs guard asked my father, who was driving. Shopping, the weary man replied, gesturing at my mother in the front passenger seat.

These trips don’t happen often, but when they do, they’re generally bittersweet.

We live an hour away from a border crossing. The agents there are pretty chill, despite the job they’re tasked to do. One was wearing his sassy pants the day my daughter and I were on a road trip by ourselves. Purpose of the trip? he asked. Shopping in St. Lawrence County, I said. Why? he replied, and I am still stumped for the right words to describe the expression on his face, a combination of not-quite disdain, leaning more towards amusement.

My earliest childhood memories begin in 1976. I was four-going-on-five, and Little Egg Harbor Township Elementary’s Lisa Simpson, had there been an animated Simpsons family to watch on television back then. We stayed with my grandparents in their home for the school year, and then we moved back to Canada, to our unsold home in east-end Ottawa.

Most summers, Christmases, Easters, and March Breaks were spent in South Jersey. We also spoke to our grandparents on the telephone for at least an hour once a week in those pre-Internet, pre-smartphone times, and as a result we never lost touch with what, for me, was home.

A drive south on Route 37 in Northern New York is a sociologist’s report come to fruition. Prosperity and poverty co-exist, on awkward display, at literally every other house or piece of unworked land. And in my heart I know it’s no different anywhere else we might go on the East Coast. (I’ve never been west of Pennsylvania, so I can’t speak to what’s happening out there personally.)

These are the times that try men’s souls, quoth the Founding Father Thomas Paine. We’re a long way removed from the days of publishing pamphlets to get our messages across, but if this blog o’ mine is going to have any purpose, I will have my say on politics and policy on both sides of the border.

It has always astounded me that people who live in such abject poverty saw in 45 (I refuse to address him by his name) their saviour. It may well be, to paraphrase a post on my Twitter feed this morning, that when they listen to him, they hear their own beliefs and biases writ large; but a year and a quarter in with his administration, and from a socio-economic point of view, I’m pretty sure tax cuts for the rich weren’t what the majority of the electorate was after.

Now, more than ever, job losses are a typed announcement taped to the doors and windows of failed businesses. My parents and I spoke at some length with our waitress at a soon-to-be shuttered Friendly’s ice cream shop in DeWitt, NY as we ate our lunch and paced ourselves through dessert sundaes for which lesser trips were taken. She already has two other jobs, but she needs all three to support herself and her family. We’re usually 20% tippers, but she got that and a couple dollars just before we left.

I’m seeing a shift from capitalism to corporatism, and I don’t like it. Am I guilty of encouraging this shift, some might say, by shopping online? Yes, but I don’t do it all the time. We as a Western society are stuck in a chasm born of so-called opportunity, convenience, and ease of use, and I’m at a loss as to how we get out of it.

This is what I do know. John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas was onto something when he composed the lyric “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey.” He was singing about the bleakness of winter, but a month into spring in 2018, in a country I dream sometimes about moving back to, it is a vastness that only an open eye can see.