The other financial tarp
Saw Ryan last night and took him for dinner. He's lost weight since he got out of the pokey, but he looked pretty good.
He's now an indentured servant.
Ryan's working for a guy who restores classic cars, from tires to antennas, rebuilding, painting, the whole thing. He helps with that work as well as rebuilding the barn the guy uses as a shop, bracing the posts as the whole structure is on the verge of collapse.
Ryan's supposed to be getting paid. But the guy said that once he gets paid, Ryan gets paid. And since the guy's customers contracted him to rebuild months ago and they expected to pay him with money from selling stocks or employment bonuses, cash flow has become a problem. The guy did swap him a small truck for work and is letting him live in the RV on the property, so Ryan can't kick too much or he'll be homeless and without transportation (and probably without much food). Given the state of the construction industry (and the labor market in general), he feels pretty lucky that he at least has a place to live.
In this part of the country, it is possible to live without any money. There are fish in the streams and rivers and lots of edible plants. You need a tarp and a stick with which to build a shelter. Tarps here are usually blue---blue tarps are so plentiful, you definitely get the impression that they must be required for all residents, like paying taxes and knowing how to open an umbrella in gale force winds. There were several people living at the meth camp across the street in tarp tents in the woods. You see the unmistakeable blue among the greenery.
Once, our neighbor saw a woman emerge from the meth camp tarp site carrying what she thought was a bundle of laundry. Until it started crying.
(FYI, the meth heads have been cleared out and the property has changed hands. The new owners cleaned the place out using an excavator, skid steer, and tractor---they were afraid to touch anything even with protective gear because there were so many needles. Oh, yes, and the buckets of chemicals for cooking meth. Lovely, that. Addiction is a horrifying thing, but I refuse to be all soft-hearted when some of these bastards were risking the lives and health of my family and those of my neighbors. Want to destroy yourself? That's your business. Want to destroy me and mine with your stupidity?. That's my business. And I will kick your ass.)
Contrast Ryan's servitude with some very good friends who live about a mile from us. Tom retired early last year and still works as a consultant. The last time we saw him he happened to mutter about the collapsing stock market was killing them. Now, they have three trucks, a house with mother-in-law apartment sitting on eleven acres, a flat panel TV, RV, motorcycles, horses, and a condo in the Dominican Republic. But they're feeling kicked around because the portfolio they created to build wealth is worth sixty percent what it was during the summer.
I understand the pain---you try to build wealth with a house or equities, and when the wealth building turns to wealth demolition, you have some sleepless nights. Especially when you're over a certain age and realize that time is no longer your friend and that you can't work your way out of your trouble.
Which Ryan is realizing. The work he does is hard and he's not bouncing back as quick as he used to. It may only be a couple years before the industry comes back, but what shape will he be in physically when that happens? Will he be able to work as a carpenter when jobs finally do become available? This realizaiton is, I think, new for him. But hard times are not.
Ryan has always been on that precipice between flush and busted flush. Economic issues revolve solely around being able to find work that pays well, and when you can't find work that pays well, you find work. But right now, he feels lucky to find any work at all. Because work, even shitty indentured work, stops him from yielding to the hopelessness of meth and prescription drugs and booze. If you feel to your bones you have no future, why would you plan for it? Why would you look forward to it? Why would you believe that there is a place for you in it?
A lot of people I know---people who have, despite their circumstances in the present, always believed the future would be better---are staring down what Ryan has always stared down. Time is not their friend. The future is not their friend. The future looks shockingly similar to the present and the present looks miserable.
The fab GF's oldest brother, Bud, was here over the weekend. He and the gal he's married to (she's a Texas gem, let me tell you) are taking care of her father, who has a busted hip and a sense of entitlement as big as the Lone Star state. Bud and Texas Gem are also caring for their two grandchildren, one of whom is developmentally disabled, as their daughter has an autoimmune disease and an asshole for an ex-husband.
Texas Gem is pretty sure she will no longer have a job in six months. Even if she does, she and Bud will not be retiring unless forced into it. Last spring the CEO of Bud's company sold a massive amount of company stock (incredible foresight there, CEO Dude--howdja know there'd be trouble coming?)--and now Bud said he feels stupid that he didn't unload the shares he had in his retirement plan. Their retirement plans were their escape hatch. Now, people can mutter about the light at the end of the tunnel, but honestly, if there is a light at the end of a the tunnel, it's the headlight of a very fast freight train about to knock them flat.
They are on a precipice neither foresaw or planned for. Their future looks bleak. Not as bleak as Ryan's, though Ryan has the benefit of knowing how to live by the skin of his teeth. As miserable as he feels about having no cash, he knows how to survive hard times. He just sucks at surviving good times.