Monday, February 2, 2009

In The Details

I'm not the most observant person in the world. Actually, I'm pretty sure I'm less observant than your average half brick. But even I can't miss some things, even if it takes me a while to put together the picture they form.

For one, I've seen the price of the cheapest staples you can buy without eating cardboard - beans, rice, bread, flour, and the like - jump incredibly, such as brown rice going from somewhere around ninety-nine cents a pound to $2 a pound. Adding to this is the fact that, in my home town at least, the demand for unemployment/assistance programs and food banks has risen, and the main local employers are cutting jobs.

I've never seen a "Manager's Special" table before - I told you before, I'm about as observant as a half brick, and did most of my chronological growing up in years of plenty. But now there are carts and tables of specially marked goods scattered through the stores where I shop. Sometimes it's worth the trouble to fish something out (like a pound of dry pasta for fifty cents), sometimes not, but I always look to make sure. It's worth a laugh on occasion, anyway. (More about that later.)

In both of my cities - the one I call my permanent home, and the one I attend school in - the major employers include at least one university and one community college. They're still hiring, as far as I can tell, but a lot of students aren't going to make it here in the first place without financial aid. I really don't want to know what it looks like at the graduate school level, or what the profs I work around are saying when I'm not close enough to eavesdrop.

My other part-time job is working as a trash and recycling hauler (you'd laugh your ass off if I told you the actual job title), which means that every morning I get more of an eyeful of someone's life and culture than I'm comfortable with, even as an anthropologist. Most of the time in archaeology you end up digging in someone's trash anyway. It's always the insignificant stuff that tells you the most about Joe Average's life. I wonder what my profs would make of the fact that I'm not finding as much brand-name food packages any more, or food in general unless it's growing lifeforms on the verge of sentience.

You always find stuff that buries the needle on your Weird-Shit-O-Meter when you work with trash, but sometimes it's the absence of something that buries the needle. I used to find mostly unused notebooks as a matter of course, but lately the only pages I find are covered in notes, and the notebooks themselves are nowhere in evidence. Or the "throwaway" books, the type that are only good for one class for one semester, are so covered in notes that my hands get smeared with graphite when I pick them up, and there's little to no notebook paper at all. The bundles of coupons everyone gets with their books are also suddenly nowhere to be found.

I shop at thrift stores when I need clothes, but I'm never used to them being so crowded.

My boss for the trash and recycling gig just told me that his customers - the people who process the recycling - are screaming for purer and purer stuff, because they're cutting back on the hours and tech needed to sort and wash the "dirtied" paper and other stuff. And he's asked us to cut back on the amount of hours we work per week. I know a pay cut when I see one, but I'm not too worried. On the other hand, if I depended on this for my tuition and rent, I'd be sweating and thinking about taking on a third job. I wonder how my coworkers are doing.

So, tell me: how many devils do you see?

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