Seattle and New York: Two Very Different Coasts, Two Very Different Views on the Recession

Is this dog sweeping up Dominique Browning's shit?
Lately, the Seattle Times' main metro columnist, Danny Westneat, has been writing a series of admirable pieces concerning folks' struggles with the recession. My personal favorite was a few weeks ago, when he wrote about how many overqualified people had applied for a job whose main task was to scoop up dog shit (he followed that up with a column about a guy deemed unfit to shovel said shit).

While things are slowly improving, Westneat's columns serve to remind us that we're still collectively stuck in a sub-optimal economic climate. People's careers have ended abruptly, and some are going flat broke.

That's reality--in Seattle, anyway; and the reality is probably a gazillion times worse in towns like Cleveland and Memphis. But leave it to the New York Times Magazine and the lives of "everyday" Manhattanites to squash empathy like a nine-pound hammer.

In this past Sunday's NYT Mag, we were treated to a heart-wrenching essay from Dominique Browning, a laid-off Conde Nast editor (the magazine she edited folded) whose life had taken a turn for the Conde Nasty--or so we're led to presume. Except the extent of Browning's plight is that she's forced--FORCED!--to sell her NYC-area home and move into her second home, a totally ghetto shack on the Rhode Island coast. Worse yet, she struggles mightily with how to fill her days.

"Slowly, slowly, the months go by, each one a variation transposing loss, loneliness and anger to gratitude and hope. I no longer dread the advent of another rosy dawn," writes Freeman. "As I stop struggling so with fear and simply accept the slow tempo of my days, all those inner resources start kicking in -- those soul-saving habits of playfulness, most of all: reading, thinking, listening, feeling my body move through the world, noticing the small beauty in every single day. I watch the worms, watch the hawks, watch the fox, watch the rabbits. I open my heart to new friends. I settle into my new home; its healing balm has been there all along, nestled in a sofa that beckons me to pick up a book, hovering outside the window inviting me to take a walk. I find room in my life again for love of the world, let the quiet of solitary moments steal over me, give myself over to joy. What a surprise! That I can cook a meal for my children, or take a long walk on the beach, or watch an osprey wheel through the sky, or set down a page of thoughts -- these are moments of grace. Old Testament loving-kindness, the stuff of everyday life."

Wow, that sounds fuckin' rough. But struggling to put food on the table? Yeah, that's not for Dominique--that's for the shit-shovelers in Seattle. For her, being laid off just means early retirement; I can barely hold back the tears. (By the by, have you ever met a Dominique who doesn't have a second home? Me neither.)

It goes against my better judgment to crap all over the NYT's mag. Usually, it's a wonderful publication, and I'm a devout subscriber. But Browning's is the most tone-deaf story they've run since Alex Kuczynski reminded America--which really didn't need to be reminded--where crass racial stereotypes come from.

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