The Paragraph Stacker

Uncensored columns from an exiled newsmane

I ate a bowl of macaroni and cheese with a club sandwich at Jethro’s one recent evening. I sat around after hours to drink a pitcher of tea and chat with the staff in between glances at the NBA playoffs on one of the TVs above the bar.

Things wound down about 11:30 p.m. I shuffled out to my car and pointed it toward home. I picked up my mail at the end of the parking lot. I received a package. I tossed it and a couple bills into the passenger seat and found my spot.

I pulled my keys out of my pocket. I keep a small multitool on my key ring, mostly to open packages. I opened my box, admired the contents and flipped through my mail.

I set the keys in the front seat next to the box. I made a mental note not to forget them when I got out of the car.

I received a text. An old friend was having some troubles. This started a lengthy text exchange. I shut off the car. The night air was cool and dry — pleasant for late August.

I did my best to be uplifting to my friend. She cried at one point. She described it as a “good cry.” I am dubious of the good cry, but multiple sources confirm it is a good thing.

Our exchange ended around 12:30 a.m., maybe 12:45. That seems long, but conversation where you type everything with your thumbs take longer than talking. 

I gathered up my package, locked the car doors and walked to my apartment. I reached into my pocket for my keys and immediately learned my mental note was forgotten.

I walked back to the locked car and saw the keys in the passenger seat. I tried the door handle in vain.

I have three extra key fobs in my apartment. Alas, the keys to my apartment were also on the same ring.

Maybe I would get lucky and someone would be coming in and out of my building and they would just let me in.

But no one did.

I finally called a locksmith shortly after 1 a.m. The man who answered the phone was pleasant. He arrived in less than 30 minutes.

He wedged some sort of device into the door frame at the weather stripping. He pumped an air bladder that looked like thing they use on blood pressure cuffs.

He fed a thin-but-ridged blue wire through the space he created and pressed the button to release the lock. I retrieved my keys and, despite social distancing protocols, vigorously shook the man’s hand.

“That will be $100,” he said.

That was the late night rate, he explained.

I grimaced. I quickly checked my bank balance. I had $87 and change left after buying supplies for the upcoming school year, buying groceries, paying bills and having dinner. Unemployment covers survival. Just.

I admitted to the man that I didn’t have it. He agreed to take $80. I thanked him for his kindness. He said it happens all the time, especially now in the middle of a pandemic with people unemployed all over.

Still, I felt shame. Our economic system values buying power. Buying stuff makes up more than 70% of the nation’s economy. So an individual’s purchasing power can feel like a statement of their moral worth.

It isn’t, but it feels that way. A person who is frugal and always has savings to cover crisis is lauded in society, even though 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved, per GOBankingRates. 

The rich are envied.

The poor are often viewed as failures.

In that moment, and in many moments since I lost my job, I felt like a failure. I’ve felt is if I wasted 23 years of my life on a career that got a little bit worse every year I practiced it.

I’ve cursed my past mistakes. For example, I would be doing better financially and physically if I hadn’t wasted so much money earlier in my life treating mental health problems by buying things and eating things to make me feel artificially better.

And I felt failure when I accepted the kindness of the locksmith.

I know that I should not have. Always accept kindness, especially when it comes from understanding. There’s not much of either in the world. Enjoy the rare treat and look for your opportunity to do the same for someone else.

As for my failures, well, the past has passed. 

I can only look at how I deal with things going forward.

Now I take pills and go to therapy to seek healthier ways of elevating my mood. 

I decided to go to graduate school rather than keep looking for corporate jobs I didn’t want.

So I’ll be thankful that there was a good man at the towing company willing to help a fellow human down on his luck.

I’ll be thankful, too, that I hadn’t blown that last $87 and change on comic books and ice cream.

I’ll be thankful there’s a program that lets me continue on unemployment while I work through graduate school.

And I’ll make two mental notes:

  1. I’m doing the best I can.
  2. Don’t forget your mental notes.
Daniel P. Finney covers the scratch-and-sniff sticker industry for ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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