June has had damp cool about it. The sky, for most of the month, scallop and oyster clouds. Congealing bruises showed at intervals beneath the marine layer, a kind of lividity: the chill skin of spring’s cooling corpse. June gloom and May gray merged with each other seamlessly, informing the county with a kind of perverse, hypermanic cheeriness to belie the weather, the economy, the unemployed hours. It is what we do in San Diego. Everything’s okay, America. It’s all good, right?
Are the weekends any different? You feeling a sense of release? A license to indulge? But your budget constrains your golf game to municipal courses. Your entertainment: 50-cent borrowings at the library for movies you’ve already seen. BBQ hot dogs, not sirloin. Smile getting strained? Toothy? When asked, how’s it goin’, does your now stock answer — “If it was goin’ any better, I’d have to be twins” — come out with a constipated and rictus grin?
A random and unscientific polling of San Diegans over the weekend brought to mind the phrase “plucky in the face of adversity.”
Gayle says she’s 35 years old, but I think she’s lying because I told her she could. She is waiting for the Sprinter at Palomar College with her friend Glenn. “I just want to see a comedy tonight. I need a comedy because there’s a lot of stress in my life. Something where I can laugh my heart out and not think about what’s going on right now. There’s a lot of stress in my life. I can’t mention what it is — a lot of personal stuff. I’m gonna try and go to a movie theater, but whatever I can find… I’m gonna try to have a good day, go to lunch, Japanese food, maybe go shopping. I’m not working now, but when I do I’m an LVN.”
Is it a function of the economy that she’s not working? “Yes. Yes it is.”
Her friend Glenn is also out of work as a welder/fabricator and living on disability insurance. He is 54 years old. “I like to go to coffee houses with, like, a free open-mic night. I don’t know of one though. I don’t get out much.” I recommend Escondido Joe’s.
I ask Gayle, “What do you like to do Friday nights, the weekend?”
“I’d like to get on a plane. It’s the weekend so I couldn’t go to Spain. Maybe Hawaii. No, New York. Yeah, I’m from New York, so I’d go there. Do all the things I couldn’t do when I was a child. Party, see the city, go to clubs.”
Bobby is 40. Shaved head, long goatee, kind eyes. He and friend, Andrew, at a North County bus stop. “Can’t do what I used to do. What I’d like to do. Gotta save money for bills. I’m in flooring, and I’m out of work. Looking. I’ll just stay home, watch TV, movies, whatever.” A more-than-common response this weekend in mid-June.
Andrew is 21, bed-head, punk hair, quick smile. “I work sometimes. I worked Friday. I test radios for Sony. There are 15 of us, and we walk around Rancho Bernardo, space ourselves and report in our positions.” Walkie-talkies he means. “Radios, headsets. It’s a one-time thing that might progress into a long-term video-game-testing gig.”
“Good luck.” I mean it. It’s the only hope for my son’s employment outlook if such a job exists.
Micah Saiz is 27 years old and looking for work as a waiter. He’s checking out Craigslist job listings at a computer in a coffee shop. Free with a $1.70 cup of Calabria joe. “About two months I’ve been looking. No luck so far. I watched a movie over the weekend, Office Space. That was pretty much it.” Saiz has lowered his employment expectations recently. “I’m gonna start looking at smaller restaurant businesses, like Sizzler. When your neighbor’s out of work it’s a recession. When you’re out of work, it’s a depression.”
Three very shy 18-year-olds in front of Palomar College. None of them want to talk, although one of them allows that she’s studying criminal justice. I tell her I think it’s a sensible choice, given the times. As if in precognition of the next brief interview, I say, “A lot of people might turn to crime before things get better.”
Anthony is 38, tattooed, ginger sideburns, and visibly weary. “I’ve been looking for work. Anything. I was in construction; I can’t even find a house-painting job right now. I might have to jack a convenience store.” He grins to let me know he’s kidding. His smile fades as he looks away beyond the Vista Transit Center. “I promised myself I wouldn’t do that any more.”