It's hitting home now, this "economic downturn" as they call it. Not that I hadn't known/seen/heard it was coming.
Now I'm feeling it though.
I go into the neighborhood dry cleaners, the one I've been going to as long as I've lived in the neighborhood and find it's been taken over by "the franchise" which sounds a lot like "the firm" when I hear it come out of the mouth of the new manager that's greeted me and my dirty laundry. She doesn't know where the old owners are. She never knew them.
They had owned the business for over twenty years.
And in one day, it's like they were never here. Wiped clean.
I remember coming in and the lovely woman who ran the business would always call out my name, pulling up my account, bringing out my order without me saying a word. She always had a smile and a booming welcome. She and her husband, the quieter of the two, always kept some little candies by the door. She had carried my laundry out to the car many a time, full of compliments and coos for my children, pleasantries for me.
And now, it's like they were never here. Candy, pleasantries and coos a thing of the past. Now it's all business. I'm back to spelling my last name. Now I'm just a phone number and a tag.
I don't know if it was the economy or just plain tiredness or something else entirely that drove the kind owners from their business. I just know I miss them. And I missed getting the chance to tell them that.
I also know that I was waiting in line at Starbucks this morning with all the other folks who rank coffee up their on their list of necessities apparently, when out of the blue, the woman in line next to me starts telling me about her failing business, an Asian restaurant; she doesn't know if they will make it, her husband and she. This time, she says, she doesn't know if they can do it. Their house in the suburbs, they're going to have to try and short sale it, she says, her eyes fastened on the morning buns in the case. It's already lost half it's value.
She can't believe it she says.
We bought it for $750,000 and now it's worth $319,000 they tell me.
I want to wrap my arms around her, this stranger, and tell her it's going to be OK.
But I don't because she is a stranger. And I don't because I don't know if it's going to be OK.
I don't know when it's going to be OK.
But I suppose the fact that I'm caring more now about the folks who run the dry cleaner down the street, the stranger next to me in line, the whole world outside my doorstep that used to be noise and wallpaper and has suddenly become flesh and bone, is a good thing. A sign perhaps that things will not only be OK. But better.
Maybe in losing everything, we're gaining more. The luxury of being insulated from the rest of the world, from its pain and its loveliness both, is gone and in its place is hard cold reality, as well as opportunity to learn from one another, to live in tune, to live with less than before.
Yet, it seems, with more, too.