A Home Run Postcard for Our Hard Times

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect Summer ’11 postcard than the one we received this week from our dear, close, ancient friend, Jeff. As I have written before, I love and collect postcards. Jeff has been a steady contributor to the collection since we met in Santa Barbara in 1974. Through more than 100 cards he’s sent over the years, we’ve followed him and his family from job to job in state to state and on their modest vacations here and there.

His most recent card is iconic in so many ways. First, as he has superbly done in the past, Jeff has uncovered, with some difficulty apparently (“Took AwhileTo Find This Postcard,” he scrawled), a rare picture postcard; this one  of Target Field in Minneapolis, the newest ballpark in the major leagues. It’s an excellent addition to my overall postcard collection, but also to my slowly growing subset of baseball field cards.

Better still, Jeff captured more than just another ballpark, but a slice of our times and lives as well. You see, Jeff, like me, is a victim of our current wretched economy. And the only reason he’s in Minneapolis and visiting Target Field is because of it.

In 2011, the job he had held for more than 13 years evaporated. Like so many employees, he was let go with no severance, no back pay for unused vacation days, no extended health benefits. Nothing.

So, he and his wife decamped from Milwaukee, where he’d sent us postcards of the Brewers’ home, Miller Park, and made their way to Minnesota because they had some temporary part-time jobs lined up. Hence, the “Celebrate” stamp he’d affixed to the Target Field card struck an optimistic note about the fact that he and Barb were salting away some money.

Further, he jokes in his brief note that he won’t be attending any more than the one game he went to, when this year’s hapless Twins actually won, because, he says, “I May Lose My Perfect Record.” Of course, as a diehard baseball fan, Jeff, like me, would go to any game, if possible. However, his family budget, like mine, doesn’t permit such extravagance. One game a year will have to suffice.

It turns out that the same day his card arrived, NPR’s Talk of the Nation radio program presented a discussion about how our actions as individual consumers and business people were helping or hurting the economy. The segments I heard included callers describing how, in their small ways, they were giving the economy a boost. For example, a gift shop owner in Wisconsin hired two people and a veterinarian was constructing a new office. These were taken as signals of hope.

But behind some of the stories there was more bad news. A gentleman from Salt Lake City said that his wife was going to open a hair salon in their home and she would charge less than a full-scale salon “because people aren’t willing to spend $90 in the salon.” Whether she succeeds or not is not as telling as the fact that people no longer can afford to pay what they once did, even in Utah with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Another caller noted he was reluctantly going to apply for early Social Security because no one would hire him. And there was also the small manufacturer who was buying cheap automatic saws and NC punch machines from defunct businesses so he did not have to hire people.

Despite some of the happy-talk spin Neal Conan and his guest applied to the vignettes presented by the show’s callers, the underlying facts of the economic anecdotes were grim. This economy remains stuck in neutral, and, for many, still going in reverse.

Had Jeff or I called into the program and relayed that we were earning just enough money through part-time jobs or free-lance assignments to get by, I’m sure the host and his guest could have spun tales about how entrepreneurial we were or how new careers might emerge in our lives. While possibly true, the real truth is that both Jeff and I would prefer to have kept our old jobs, been able to plan for the future, and maybe be able to afford to attend more than one baseball game in a season.

© Mark Everett Hall 2011

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