It’s difficult to really wrap your head around the reality of the recession when you live in Los Angeles. There are the warning signs–the NYT and CNN coverage is grim, the Thai restaurant you always ordered takeout from closes its doors, the Circuit City on Sunset is suddenly an empty lot. But while listening to the speculation from Washington unfold on the satellite radio in the car, you’re still getting cut off by a brand-new Audi R8 with dealer plates and an Obama/Biden bumper sticker. You’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic on thoroughfares like Robertson and 3rd Street and Melrose, where everybody seems to have time and pocket money for a two-cocktail lunch. Jesus, the end of the street is closed, not because we can’t afford to repair it, but because the fucking Oscars are about to go live–that sort of thing. Looking around LA, one does not see people formerly employed at the car manufacturing plant lining up for 40 available jobs, nor rows of housing foreclosures, nor empty food banks and emptier supermarkets. In this city, yes, the recession is happening. But this place must be so wrapped up in make-believe that it barely feels real.
Even though I loathe watching Oprah, I tuned in for a Lisa Ling’s special report yesterday. She traveled back to her hometown of Sacramento, to investigate a basically-illegal tent city where displaced citizens are trying to keep their lives afloat without jobs or homes.
It’s impossible not to hurt for the people featured in the piece, who were working, middle-class people until they lost their jobs and were forced out of their homes. But what I find most troubling about these very personal stories is the amount of shame each person seems to harbor in their situation–whether it be for dirt on their faces and fingernails, or in their reluctance to burden their children with the knowledge of their homelesness.
These troubled economic times should not be about shame, or about shouldering that shame alone. It’s everybody’s issue, everybody’s loss, everybody’s failure. And this recession is real. Very real.
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