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

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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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