The Home Depot Misery Index

Extra, Extra. The economy still sucks. Didn’t need to hear the “unexpectedly” bad news from the Labor Department about a new surge in unemployment filings to know just how many of us are hurting, and how badly.

No, all it took to “rub it in” was a trip to my local Home Depot here in Southeast Florida – a trip I made with some degree of trepidation.

As a middle-aged, self-employed family guy, I’ve suffered the slings and arrows of this economic meltdown, trying to keep my video production business going, trying to keep the old head above water – even as my crazy, inflated mortgage sank right under it, just like it has for so many others in Florida and nationwide.

So when my wife and I decided we couldn’t put off replacing our broken, unusable garage door any longer, I headed off to Home Depot in search of a sale – and an increase in the credit line on my Home Depot credit card, which would let us pay this big ticket item off over a year, with no interest.

Long story short, I squeezed in on the last day of a 15% off sale – whoopee – but couldn’t squeeze even an extra dollar of credit out of them. The wonderful gentleman working with me on the order – let’s call him Robert – hung up the phone on the credit department and shook his head. “Been happening an awful lot” he said, looking into the distance through smudged glasses and scratching his balding head.

Unable (unwilling anyway) to wait any more to have proper access to our garage and its – ahem – “significant” amounts of stuff, my wife and I stitched together a Plan B on the phone, while Robert waited patiently. We were finally able to lock in the sale price of about sixteen hundred bucks – including installation – for our new gateway to…whatever the hell is in that damned garage.

It took quite a while to get the details of the order squared away, entered into the system, printed out, and when we were done I smiled and thanked Robert for his time, patience and effort, joking “That’s why they pay you the big bucks, right?”

He chuckled and shook his head again, leafing through the ridiculous pile of paperwork this order had generated. “Yeah, right, twelve bucks an hour…” he muttered.

“Really? How long have you been here?” I asked.

“Almost two years.”

I looked at this tall, athletic, tired-looking older man, probably pushing sixty years old, his lively, intelligent eyes peering up at me now through those foggy spectacles, a sad smile on his flushed face.

“Are you able to get by on the twelve bucks an hour?” I asked.

“No. But I’m lucky, I’m single now…and my brother helps me…” Long pause before he looks down, shuffles papers and says very quietly, “But I still just had to take most of the money out of my retirement accounts to pay all my bills” I didn’t say anything. I wanted to say, “I’m sorry to hear that”, but I couldn’t quite get it out – and wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it anyway.

After a few moments of silence, he looked up at me again and continued.

“I came out of school with a degree in Political Science – lot of good that did me – then I went back and got an MBA, a Masters in Business Administration. Finally got a good job at Northern Trust Bank. Five weeks before I would’ve been vested for my pension, they fired me. After that, forget about it…age discrimination, a guy in his fifties, forget about it…damned banks…”

I felt like I could jump in now. “I know, it’s incredible the way the big banks and corporations just keep sticking it to us and getting away with it…”

He nodded, looking off at the mostly empty aisles of the giant store. “Yeah, they do what they want, they get what they want, and even though it’s mostly Republicans that look out for them, you know what? Customers come in here so angry, working people, middle class people…and maybe they don’t like the banks, but what they say are things about ‘too many damned immigrants’, and ‘that damned Obama’ ,and ‘those Democrats and their socialist takeovers’…”

His voice trailed off, head shaking once again, very slowly, as he looked back up at me – a deep, piercing eye-to-eye look.

“When do people get it that they’re being led by the nose now by the same ones that put ’em in the holes they’re in? That’s what they should be angry about…” And then another store employee came walking over, sat down, asked Robert a question…and “the moment” had passed, without my getting to respond to Robert’s final, heartfelt words. He handed me a pile of paperwork regarding my order, smiled warmly and said it was great talking to me. I thanked him again, shook his hand, went and made my cobbled together payment arrangements for the new garage door.

But I’ve got to take this opportunity to say here what I’ve been thinking ever since walking away from Robert this morning. What I do know is that true public servants – Democrats, progressives, whatever the affiliation – must quickly take hold of the reins of clear, compelling mass communications, about how America got in the pickle it’s in, and who’s responsible. Cause it sure as hell isn’t Obama, or illegal immigrants.

What I don’t know, and I’m more than a little unsettled, no, unnerved to say so, is when all the angry working and middle class people Robert runs into at Home Depot are going to “get it”. Soon, I hope, before our economy, our democracy, and our individual ways of life suffer any further or irreparable damage.