It’s “funny” how what’s news isn’t news at all. Instead, it’s more like the news catching up to the old story that people have long been experiencing for themselves on the ground. Take the media report this past weekend that “4 out of 5 Americans will experience poverty in their lifetimes.”
On the ground in mid-Michigan, the words “grapes of wrath” are like a remixed theme song underscoring the narratives of present-day pathos and nonhip(ster) irony. Here’s one paired vignette:
A couple pulls up at a yard sale — mostly consisting of free things — in a rusted vehicle; everything about them looks tattered, and one of them is pregnant with their third child. They had jobs in the Bay Area, and had rented the same place in San Francisco for five years, but had both lost their jobs and then lost their home. “We weren’t behind on the rent. But we put metal yard furniture on the porch, and the landlord said that wasn’t in lease, so we got evicted. I couldn’t find it in the lease, but it was probably our fault.” So they drove to Michigan because here they have family they can live with, and thus little or no rent — in a place with few or no jobs, at least ones that pay anything worth talking about. They try to load up their vehicle with rusted, tattered stuff from a huge free pile, and the back door gets stuck, despite the screw driver that they say usually opens it. While shoving things into a side door instead, something else breaks off inside their auto; they just shove harder, then drive off, their muffler rumbling in the distance.
Meanwhile, a local hustler of a realtor in a real estate market that’s “rebounding” from the low of home prices that largely cost less than most rusted cars (and still do!) explains how he has a bunch of “investors” from San Diego who have this idea of getting richer quick. He shakes his head, as if it’s a super bad idea, but also mentions proudly how he’s been featured recently in a major national newspaper as a top realtor in the United States — “and in mid-Michigan, no less!” These California investors have been buying up tons of good deals (read: foreclosures and other sad stories of loss) at dirt-cheap prices with the notion that they can somehow sell the houses and apartments almost instantly to some Michigander for double or triple or more, sans any improvements. “I don’t think they understand the difference between the San Diego and mid-Michigan real estate market.” The bought-and-not-yet-sold spaces sit silently empty, smelling musty and forgotten.
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If you’ve run across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com. Share, enjoy, and repost — as long as it’s free as in “free beer” and “freedom.”
(Photo by Cindy Milstein, street art, Vienna, June 2013)