Sick & Tired
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” - James Baldwin
I knew a woman once. I didn’t know her well. She would volunteer often at the local school and the community center down the street. She loved to take care of the garden and played crossword puzzles in her down time. She was older, but not hella old. Now, her four kids are grown with young families of their own. They live in cities more affordable than San Francisco. They do their best to call regularly, but with careers and young families, you know how it is, the time just slips away.
She spent about 25 years working in an administrative role at a government agency. Due to poor fiscal management and the rising cost of pensions, the agency offered her what seemed like a great opportunity to retire early. She never especially enjoyed her work, but it was a means to an end. She welcomed the opportunity to retire and felt grateful the circumstances pushed her expected retirement up a few years.
She soon learned that a fixed income doesn’t offer much security in a place like San Francisco. She had a 401(k) account, but decided to liquidate it after the crash of 2008. She read the news reports about people losing their homes. She had rent control so she felt protected, but seeing her life savings drop so drastically was too much to bear. She had to act. She swore off the stock market and didn’t pay attention to the record gains the market has experienced over the past ten years.
She kept hearing about Uber and Lyft. She had a smartphone, but didn’t use it much except to see pictures of her grandchildren on Facebook. The youngest recently celebrated her first birthday. The woman couldn’t afford the flight to central Florida for the party. She decided to take on some extra work to help make ends meet.
She made up her mind to give Uber a try, but quit after a week. She said her first day someone got in her car with terrible body odor. She made a face like the stench was still in her nose after all this time. Then she told me the story of how on a Sunday afternoon a group of 30 somethings got in her car after a boozy brunch on the town. One of the young ladies vomited all over her back seat.
“That was it for me! Whatever little money that was they can keep, honey!” She told me over coffee one Friday afternoon. “The nerve of these people, running round this city like they aint got no sense.”
She’s unsettled by the changes in San Francisco. She’s unsettled by the leadership at the White House. She’s unsettled by the mass shootings. She’s unsettled by the lack of emphasis on family values. She’s unsettled by the killing of unarmed black people by the police. She’s unsettled by the children at the border. She has settled into her unsettlement.
I asked her if she ever considered making up her mind to be happy. She looked at me like I was crazy. I’m sure she wrote off my suggestion as some millennial nonsense. Her response was defensive as if to suggest I was dismissing her struggle. She probably figured I was part of the problem. Given her persistent unsettlement that conclusion would likely be the most convenient.
That was our first and last coffee together.