"[My relationships were] like I was in these movies where the script was only half-written. When I’d get to the end of this half-script, the other actors wanted me to ad lib. But I had never gotten the hang of that. That’s why these movies were always box-office failures. Six of them in the past twenty years. I always blew the lines." ~ from my horrible first novel "Learn How To Pretend." (unpublished)(obviously)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Just Because the Grass Isn't really Always Greeener, Does That Mean it Can't be Sometimes? Part 2: Personal Freedom in the Land of the Free

I want to address a misconception about living in America. Our freedom here may or may not be an illusion. Our freedom of movement, anyway. 

I don't want to sound like a tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist, or a 99%er -- even if I am assuredly the latter, and on occasion a bit of the former.

Sometime last Fall, when I was out living on my own, I had a conversation with a friend -- one that turned somewhat bitter in the end. 

"I'd love to move away from here.I feel so trapped."
"Why don't you?" the friend asked. 
"They don't call New Mexico 'The Land of Entrapment' for nothing," I said half-jokingly.
"What do you mean?" he said. "If you want to go, go." He said this in the same tone of people who tell the homeless guy on the corner to 'just go get a job.'
"It's not that simple," I said, unsure if I even had a valid rationale. 

Since 1973 I'd lived out of state for only seven years -- while I was in the military and a bit after.I'd never actually *tried* to leave. Not seriously. But part of that was because I'd lived, for the most part, paycheck to paycheck for so long. Sometimes not even that. Sometimes there were weeks in between with nothing. Living on food stamps/ Weeks of ramen for dinner. Eating potted meat product. 
Even when I did have a bit of a cushion in savings, I was loathe to spend much of it -- and there was never enough of it there to live on for more than a month or two. I guess there was always that idea of being so close to living on the street.

"I'm talking about packing up and leaving," I said to my friend, clarifying things.
"Of course it's 'that simple'," he said."Sure, you'd have to save up a little money before you went. But you can just do it. Hell," he added. "I've done it myself many times."

And maybe he was right. Maybe at one time you could do that. Save a bit of money. Rent a U-Haul and drive to a new city. And I suppose that if you wanted to renounce your worldly goods, you could up and hit the road. Hell, it's how I wound up back in Albuquerque in the early 19802. My first wife and I, tired of living in Tacoma, Washington, packed our 72 Pontiac Bonneville to the point that the tires were scraping on the wheel wells and left town within 24 hours of making the decision. 

Something was telling me that this was not possible now. Something was telling me that our movements were being subtly controlled. At least those of us on the lower-end of the economic strata. 
Now, I'm not dirt-poor, though when I was single, even as a University adjunct faculty member, I was living below the poverty line.

As an aside, I'd like to say that I really am not about the whole wealth thing. If you've read anything else in this blog, you've probably gotten that point. So this is not about me being concerned about lowering my standard of living... Though it may, in fact, be about me (us) and attachment.

My friend and I came to a tense agree-to-disagree standoff. Neither of us had the will to prove our point. I think that my friend felt like he had freedom of movement because he traveled a lot, visiting different countries, hiking and camping around the U.S. But the (relative) freedom to travel is not the same as freedom of movement.

In my previous post, I told how my wife and I decided to move from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Fort Collins, Colorado. We assumed it would be simple. We sell our house here, use the equity as a downpayment on a new house up there. A simple exchange. 

Enh. Not so much. We hit a roadblock right out of the gate when we talked with a realtor. We were informed that, in order to get a mortgage these days (since the lending fiasco of a few years ago) you have to have at least a one-month paystub. Mortgage companies were no longer just handing money out. Forget the fact that we've had a mortgage for 9 years with no late payments. My wife has stellar credit. Doesn't matter. Well, we were moving without having actual jobs in place -- we weren't going to have that paystub for a while. 

But that's not saying we couldn't get one. Just that we'd have to move us and our kids into a temporary living situation -- an apartment or house rental -- until we came up with the jobs.
BUT, the house rentals are much more than a mortgage payment -- so we were looking at digging ourselves into a hole while we waited.
If we'd been making another 10 or 20 grand a year, we might have been able to had a bit more in savings. 

The second roadblock came in the form of something we honestly did not anticipate; the inability to sell our house. We're baffled. It's not that people see it and find it lacking. It's that they aren't seeing it. We've had maybe six or seven people come to have a look. The place shows well -- every realtor has said that. Few people are looking at it online even. I know that one couple was not interested because we'd refinished part of the garage and they wanted a two-car garage. Another couple got priced out of the market when the new mortgage rates went into effect. I imagine that many people just don't want to live on the West side of town. I know I didn't. If I had to live on this side of town, though, this is were I'd want to do it. 

So, yeah. People aren't coming. It's disheartening and frustrating.
I guess, in a way, my friend was right. We could probably sell the house for what we owe on it. We could go up to Fort Collins and find a small place to rent that won't care that we don't have jobs yet. In effect we would have moved to Fort Collins. But what then? The questions is really, can you pack up and make a lateral move?

I imagine it's possible for many people. I imagine people who play the corporate game, who have a lot of money in savings. Lots of liquidity. Noose-wearing shirt-tuckers. Them. They've got that back-up money in savings. They've got the assets to be able to buy a second house in the new city while they sell this one. They work at places where they can just transfer to the new job with the same company, therefore, they have a paycheck to give the bank.

I'm not saying I'm jealous of them. I'm not jealous of the mobility. I'm angry at the way that those of us not interested in playing the game don't get to move so easily. We are, in a way, being punished for the sins of the bankers. Because they made shitty lending decisions, WE can't get a mortgage in a new town. They got bonuses and bailouts. We got... Albuquerque.

Sure. It's their money. I understand that. And that's part of the reason that we made another housing decision, one I'll talk about later. But the whole thing has somehow left me feeling that escape is not an option. That the government does, to a degree, control our movements. I have moments recently where I've felt like I'm in some weird blend of "The Matrix" and "The Truman Show." Like it's just a matter of waking up to the reality of the situation; the reality behind the reality. 

I was listening to an podcast interview with Noam Chomsky this morning. In it he talked about how Alan Greenspan considered one of the crowning achievements of his tenure at the Fed as having made the average American worker fear the loss of his job. (It was Greenspan, no doubt, that coined the phrase, "You're lucky to have a job.") It's that same sort of thinking that got the proletariat believing that we have true freedom of movement. 

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