Part I: The Middle
For Barry, an average build twenty something with a pension for vulgarity, his fear was untenable. His days were a daze. The homeless man on the corner made him wonder about his backup plan. Everything was crushing him as he creaked to the light in his 1999 Saturn.
His parents had it easy. They spent his salary on a home. That could get peanuts today. Tomorrow, maybe literally. They didn’t have school loans. He was in debt in a way that they thought he was underwater. For his parents, gas was under two dollars, cars cost nothing, thoughts of computers taking over were pure paranoia, and that was after compensating for inflation. The last generation was better off. They earned the same and paid less. Most didn’t even need an education to get a job. How could he pay it forward, the world was a wreck.
The scraggly haired homeless man held his sign reading “Family of three, lost job after broke leg, anything helps. God bless.”
Christ, Barry thought. I have no cash and he’s looking right at me. Is that sign even real? But I don’t pray. God doesn’t give a shit.
Barry’s mind turned frantically to the future and the internal nagging began again. Thr same nagging thoughts in a cruelly materialistic world.
“I earn more than my parents but I have loans, higher bills, and cannot afford what they could. All they do is call me ungrateful. I make the average household salary two years out of school and I can barely afford car payments. Only my grandparents seem to understand. They could live in the city though. I’m single because all woman want is a man with twice their own salary and that is based on perception. What is going on? I’ll get them, I build the programs that will replace them all.”
Barry laughed manically to himself. Life was quick, it was a daze. Yesterday he was 18 today he was 26.
‘Fuck,’ the light turned green. The homeless man now looking in his window frowning. Is it the comment or the knowledge that he wasn’t getting anything. How the ‘fuck’ is that a job.
Barry sighed, that was his second out load curse of the day. How would Darlene ever know how he felt with words like that. She is truly amazing even if she is ten years his senior. A red curly haired woman, her blue eyes could pierce the sole. She was smart, somewhat technical, and everything else he wanted in a woman. Her half smiles showed she knew what he thought but his advances were always spurned. She seemed so much taller than 5 feet 8 inches. Fate, always a —, Barry caught his own thoughts in rush hour. What does Darlene think of his speech? Clearly she must know he isn’t rubbish. On the other hand, he would give his left nut to go steady with her. Maybe, he thought, in a jar of formaldehyde.That way, if things ended, he would have something to give the next girl.
His laughter became audible to the commuters surrounding him. Barry just gave them crazy eyes.
Time to deploy the math that will defeat the world and make others rich. How I love to make decisions for others. Perhaps Darlene would be her radiant self. Even if she seemed distant at first, she was quite a joy to get to know.
Part 2: The Low
Jill cleared her eyes. She stared at the cracked sealing and then at the rat trap in her apartment. Four years ago, this apartment was at average rent. Today, her food service position could hardly make ends meet.
She had a community college degree. Most people in her community thought that would allow her to get into the middle class. Her parents had nothing and came to this country with only the shirts on their backs. She bought into the exuberance. Perhaps too much. Maybe she shouldn’t have shrugged off the positions she had though were beneath her. After all, that man, Barry, was building systems. She was building sandwiches. It was depression at first thought. He could only have been as smart as she was, STEM background aside. Something seemed wrong. He was bald at 26.
Jill immediately went to her resume. Many had told her it was strong but getting a decent job seemed like winning the lottery? She had applied for secretary, purchase order fulfillment professional, sales person, and more without a single call back. The only reason she had her current position was because a friend from the army knew she needed help and had some service industry experience.
3.4, associates degree, work experience, honorable discharge, and a woman from a clearly man’s world. She should have been a good candidate. Life! Today must be the lucky day!
Jill looked in the mirror at her black shirt and name tag. She felt like she was still in the army, just one that cared even less. They cared but they weren’t spending 12 million dollars for training and a few thousand dollars each year on her. Instead, she was cleaning their stores and making them money for the same wages. She could hardly pay the rent. The army had cheap food, a free cot, and a roof. Her roof was about to fail. A note on the fridge, filled only with ketchup, reminded her that rent was going up again. The refrigerator hummed loudly and menacingly.
Everything went as usual, the bus ride, the small courtesies. Nothing ever changed, just the level of effort to get it. Jill shut it all out with a smile and wished she had headphones, let alone a phone. Those bills were beyond her. At least landlines were cheap. Breakfast, on the other hand, was not. She might sneak something in at work. Jill felt the need to go to college but thought about how crushing the debt would be.
Thoughts of processed meat breakfasts and college degrees slipped from her mind. Her life had become so routine she didn’t even need to think.
“Darlene!” Jill smiled. “The usual.”
Jill knew Darelene could seem distant sometimes but getting to know her was actually a joy. Sadly, it was one of the things that kept her going.
“Yes,” Darlene smiled and her voice brightened slightly. Jill smiled.
“How was your run?”
Part 3: The High
Tim looked around his suburban home. He was told that his salary could get him into the upper middle or even upper class but his profits seemed to get nowhere. His children were yelling at each other yet again, belaying the bright rooms in his home. The white walls were cast yellow but the most heated part of the house was coming from the children. The stress was getting to him. He was overweight, had lost a great degree of his hair, and didn’t seem to care that his house was one of the few left in the country that espoused some pre-recession roles.
As the bellows of the crashing waves slammed off the walls and echoed back into his ears, his phone rang. You cannot hit children today, right?
“Calm down. I’m answering the phone.” The waves continued. When I was there age that would have worked.
“Tim, how are things.”
“We have an issue. We are bleeding money and need to get rid of someone. What about Barry. Its been a year and his systems are only coming along sluggishly. I don’t care if universities are working on many of the same things or an entire company does something with less specialization. I just don’t see the performance. After all, the outcome seems simple enough.”
“It’s a little early! We may have a better option.” Tim knew one of his much more highly paid employees exhibited less skill. He knew everything she was doing. Perhaps he had underestimated the work Barry had to do. After all, wasn’t DARPA funding something similar.
Tim really didn’t like having to yell.
“What were you thinking?”
“We may be overpaying someone else. We thought she was skilled but she is hardly helping Darlene. Let me get to work. The company is only two years old and we have some contracts coming.”
Dammit, Tim thought to himself. Things have been tight since the recession. He really didn’t want to think about this. Darelene is smart. She has her finger on the pulse of both of them. I can wait until I get to the office
Tim’s wife, an attractive blond professor, was just finishing making cereal and fruit for everyone.It was in the latest magazine. This one seemed reasonable though. She had written the article.
Tim grabbed the closest thing to an unhealthy meal off of the counter, grabbed his fruit, kissed his wife, and went out the garage door. She liked him for him, right? He frowned at the weight of the world.