I can’t afford to buy one of those sweet cars wrapped in a red gift bow that are currently invading America’s living rooms during sporting events and family viewing time, but for Christmas I am getting my wife a couple books and maybe some clothes, and the lad will get a Matt’s Jucy Lucy mug and the lass some music, and we’ll be just fine thank you very much, no matter how hard Madison Avenue tries to make me feel like I’m living in a high-def version of Margaret Bourke-White’s iconic photo, “Breadline during the Louisville flood. Kentucky, 1937.”
Underneath a billboard of a white family in a convertible and the slogan “There’s No Way Like The American Way,” a long line of blank-faced African-American families wait for bread. The picture has been on my mind a lot this year and especially now this shopping season, because while ironic class-clashing photo ops still abound (go down to Lake & Chicago as the poor folks get off buses festooned with full-length supermodel-draped Mall of America ads chirping, “The housing recovery should start in your closet,” and, “The economy looks better in a new outfit”), one image remains unseen in this shoot-first-post-later-happy world.
No, the portrait that is not being made is the one of the lonely astronaut in his/her TV room, already anxious and worried about his/her job, life, kids, soul, teams, friends, family, etc. and then along comes this “buy a BIG car for Christmas” message, so pretty and so reasonable, like everybody’s doing it and, well, there is something very lonely and uniquely American about that portrait; call it, “I’m a loser, baby: American worker and flat-screen automobile dream, 2010.”
Officially, the unemployment rate in this country hovers around 10 percent, but a “60 Minutes” report in October combined the unemployment rate with the underemployment rate and came up with 17.5 percent. Not a lot of those folks are looking to buy or get a car this holiday season. The report went on to say that over a third of unemployed workers have been out of work for a year — a body count that hasn’t hit with such starkness since The Great Depression.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Because I was raised to believe that the greatest sin is to not be grateful for what you have, and that money is nice but it doesn’t guarantee happiness, I want to talk about the neon peace sign on Bryant Avenue near Barton school that lights up these powdery nights with a glowing mystical warmth. I want to talk about what happened at Kings Wine Bar at 46th & Grand tonight, just after 11 p.m., when a couple deejays, spinning REV 105 hits from the ’90s, cranked up a Beck tune.
People — not that many, but some — sang along; West poured me another, and the room’s collective eyes tilted toward each other.
I’m a loser, baby
So why you don’t you kill me?
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.