Thursday, July 05, 2012

Class Meeting Down at the Laundromat

(Bill Glahn writes…)

Andy Griffith’s body wasn’t even cold yet and the masters of disaster were already at it. "While I prefer to remember Griffith as Sheriff Andy, I’m sure the Obama administration will always hold him in high regard for his role as a shill for ObamaCare," concluded one blog on A comment section that included even more vociferous condemnations of Griffith for the unpardonable sin of serving as a spokesperson for the Affordable Care Act followed.

Let’s not forget that Sheriff Andy lived in a fantasy world, one where there was no discrimination (no minorities, in fact) and no unemployment. It seems even Otis, the lovable town drunk, had a job. He at least had a home to go to after sleeping one off in Andy’s jail. Bad guys, whether they be used car hucksters or bank robbers, always came to Mayberry from outside of town. The town folk loved their teachers and there was never a complaint about how much Helen Crump made. Cancer didn’t exist. And if someone came down with some minor malady, Aunt Bea’s chicken soup or apple pie was always good enough to get them back on their feet.

Like Sheriff Taylor, Andy Griffith was a kind and decent human being. Unlike Sheriff Andy, he lived in the real world.

The Laundromat where I usually go is in one of Springfield's most impoverished areas. It's not the closest to where I live now, but it's the cheapest and I'm something of a creature of habit. Especially when it comes to saving a quarter or three. Politics are never discussed there. The folks who go there are so disenfranchised, I suppose, most of them feel "what's the use?" This past weekend I had a lot of errands to run so I went to a more expensive one where I knew I wouldn't have to wait for a washer that worked.

As I walked in there was a somewhat heated argument going on about the Affordable Care Act with three participants - the woman attendant, a jack-of-all-trades, and a woman I'll call Ms. Parrot. And plenty of available washing machines - all quite modern to those I’m used to. I proceeded to do my wash without comment, but you couldn't help to eavesdrop as the voices grew louder. The attendant and JOAT were not very well versed in economic speak but they had a pretty realistic grasp of what their own economics were and fell on the side that ACA was a step in the right direction. Ms. Parrot kept insisting it was a Communist program and the ruination of the middle class. The more they resisted, the more argumentative she got. At one point, when she called JOAT "a Communist"," he walked outside to grab a cigarette and leave the attendant to her own devises. "I don't think he's a Communist, but I think he cares about sick people."

I thought that was a pretty strong statement. But Ms. Parrot persisted. She saw me taking my work uniforms out of the machine and said, "I can see you're a working man. How do you feel about paying taxes to support lazy people who don't want to work?" I know the uselessness of engaging rhetoric so I changed the subject instead.

"I'm kinda interested in your definition of 'Communist,' but I'm far, FAR more interested in your definition of 'middle class.’"

There was nothing – nothing at all – that would seem to indicate that Ms. Parrot was anywhere close to an economic status that she was claiming allegiance to.

"I work for a living. I have health insurance at work."

"So do I, but I'm not about to claim middle class until I can at least afford my own washer & dryer."

"My washer and dryer broke down. I live within my means," she replied defensively.

"So when your employer decides that he needs to cut your health benefits in order to compete with the same type of business down the street that doesn't provide any, do you continue to live within your means and die?"

"Well, I suppose at that point I would just go out an find a different job. That's what working people do."

"I wish you luck with that. I'd hate to see you die or, worse yet, become a Communist." I stuffed my clothes in the dryer and proceeded outside to join JOAT. She turned back towards the attendant. The attendant told her she wasn't in the mood to continue. Ms. Parrot called her "rude."

I think the definition for "middle class" just got expanded to "anyone with a job." I suppose there are a lot of garment makers in Bangla Desh who are just thrilled to know that.

In this world we live in today, corporations operating in the U.S. are cutting out jobs and benefits at a dizzying rate. The company I work for has lain off over forty in the last couple of months at our facility alone. The cost-savings are not figured out in wages. That is more than made up at time and a half as the additional workload is placed on fewer and fewer employees. It is the savings from health insurance from each laid off worker that increases the bottom line. It’s the reduction of safety programs. Benefits of all kinds are being erased. I was washing my uniforms because our company just discontinued uniform and laundry service to their employees and they have to be turned in next week. Beyond assuming another expense to an already depleted budget (work clothes), I’m dreading the day when they announce that health insurance must be cut back "in order to compete."

This is the world that Andy Griffith lived in. To his great credit, he chose to live there with the same amount of empathy and decency that Sheriff Andy showed in his fantasy world. Maybe Ms. Parrot should look beyond Mayberry as well.