Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Rigor Mortis Chronicles

My ‘day job’ has me traveling today.  I am in rural MA, but I could be anywhere.  Looking at this hotel and the surrounding…um…civilisation, I am actually nowhere.  That has nothing to do with the city, though.  It has everything to do with the effect this economy is having on the people.

I’ve traveled for business for a couple decades now and I have this habit of getting up at the crack of dawn, showering, getting dressed and being the first one down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  It gives me a little mental edge to know that I’m prepared and ready for the day and I avoid any risk of becoming – that dumbass that rolled into the meeting late with his necktie crooked and his cell phone unmuted.

In my sunrise dining, I am always alone at a table, eating every possible thing of interest to me.  I act like an immigrant uncle that survived a war and who hits a free meal with all the zeal of someone about to cross the sahara on camel for 40 days.  It’s probably a good thing I am alone, because I am no doubt, repulsive to look at in my free food frenzy.

My solo epicurean excursions also make it easy for me to eavesdrop on the conversations around me.  I listen to what people might be in town to sell or work on or to see on vacation.  I like to piece together where they are from, what products they are talking about or what I think of the personalities of the people I am listening to.  For the last two decades of such anthropological data mining, I have seen nothing new.  I can typically count on some blowhard opining about how the world is and some poor sap having to sit there and agree with the gasbag out of some ranking and pecking order arrangement between them.  Sometimes, there are more intimate conversations like a festering argument over money, family or the passiive-aggressive ballet of two people angry at each other while going through the motions of having a pleasant breakfast converstation.  I must confess that too much exposure to the last example, makes me automatically wish that I was at a bar, well into a dozen Manhattans.

Today marks my first trip during this economic crisis, and I am surprised at how different things are.  The faces of people are washed.  There’s no life in them.

  • Solo diners used to chime in, practically whistling Dixie as they went about their mini-vacation that work was paying for.  Today, they look nervous and frightened, just moving in and out with wet hair and not a smile to anyone.
  • A table of engineers talking about selling some measuring equipment.  Those conversations used to be peppered with NASCAR references and tales of other towns and other projects and the names of people they all know that did good things.  Today, just going through the motions, exchanging data and no excitement.
  • The lobby in the early morning is usually abuzz with early risers staking claim to choice chairs for people watching, drinking coffee, reading a paper and looking for friends to walk by and socialize with.  I am sitting here in my hotel room myself, after looking over the scene downstairs.  It is like sitting in a mortuary that has been closed for about two years.  Not even scary, just morose.

Last night, I ate at a Texas themed steakhouse in the middle of MA.  What should have been a funny experience in the clash of two completely different cultures was more like a parade of plague survivors bathed in the glow of beer signs and drenched in easy-listening Country music.

If anyone wants to know how the economy is affecting people’s lives, go on the road.  It’s like Mad Max, set in a mall parking lot.

I did meet one man, still breathing, yesterday in the queue to board the plane.  We struck up a conversation about the trade show he is attending.  He was obligated to the venue already, but the site wanted him to pony up $80k for a deluxe booth.  He told me that he can either spend the money on a booth or not fire one of his employees.  The choice is either one or the other.  He’s keeping the employee and for one more day, he breathes the air of the living.

– gadfly


  1. I sense the same implosion of confidence in many parts of London, especially bars and restaurants (closing down now) which were frequented by bankers, estate agents and lawyers.

    But there’s another side to London, and I suspect in many places in the US. In the East of the city, long down at heel, with its mixed populations of young and economic migrants, I don’t sense this pessimism. In fact I sense a bubbling air of creativity. Perhaps this is always the lot of the young, to revel in the demise of the middle aged (I certainly did in the crash of the 80s). I also hope, that with their exuberance and lack of material investment, they will create new innovations, styles, industries and employment.

    My hope is that this young generation, resolutely post Reagan now, are the hope for better times to come.

    But big kudos to you Gadfly. How you manage to combine your life on the road and serious business meetings with blogging your amazing diaries defies belief. Do you ever sleep? Can I have some of what you’re on?

  2. Jjc2008

    these days.  He truly was a “live in the moment” type of guy, which sometimes frustrated my mother.  My dad once told me, many years after he had been widowed, and just a few years before his own death, that had it not been for my mother, we would have probably not have had a home.  He learned early in their marriage it was best to give her his paycheck and she paid the bills…and gave him an allowance.

    My dad had lived on the road as a young man during the depression, riding the rails, living in hobo camps, working in carnivals and eventually ending up in CA working in the vineyards with migrant groups. He was the second of 11 children, and there was no work, and his decision to leave PA to look for work was his reasoning.  

    Eventually he went home, married, went to war and raised two daughters.  I called him an “earth father” for though he was extremely bright he had no ambitions in terms of “work”.  He loved his kids, his garden, the newspaper and books.  At the end of his life in 1991, he was living in a one room efficiency and his income from SS was about $400 monthly.

    He did odd jobs for extra cash.  And he was the happiest person I knew.

    My sister and I were doing well and often wanted to buy him a new television, or a new sofa or something which he adamantly refused.  He told me one day, “All I need to be happy is some time with my kids and grandkids, good friends, good food, a good book and sitting by a lake with a fishing rod…and I don’t care if I ever catch a fish.”  I lived 1600 miles away and he never failed to call me every Saturday.  

    Though I had an MA and was making 10x his highest salary ever, he never failed to say, “Do you need anything? I can send you a little money if you need it……..remember that. I love you”.

    He did not think stuff was important.  Could care less about clothes, cars…and when he did make a little extra money he would buy a bus ticket, and come visit me…..

    I offered to buy him plane tickets whenever.  He refused most times because he loved riding through all the small towns, stopping in diners, flirting with waitresses and listening to stories.  

    When I was little our “vacations” were that on his “day off” he would take me in our car and we would drive through the country side of PA and he would tell me stories about area, about his life, about the war.  

    Sometimes with one of his brothers and my cousins, we would head down to the shores of NJ or DE and we would go crabbing or fishing.  He and his brother would recite poems…like “The Cremation of Sam McGee” or “The Face of the Barroom Floor.”  Or make up songs about us.  

    On the days he worked, (and my mother was a factory worker so she worked every day), and my sister and I were left alone, he would list our chores in the form of poems. And then during his patrols he would check on us.

    He would take me to places insignificant to most people but by the time we got there, he had me convinced I was visiting one of the seven wonders of the world.

    In this troubled time, I think of him because when I look back at the numbers, I knew we were very poor, the poorest in a neighborhood filled with Steel workers.  Dad was a cop, back then poorly paid. Yet, I never felt poor or needy.  

    I wonder now, in this time, if people will begin to understand the difference between need and want.  Perhaps   a life lived simply is a happier one.  Maybe we can all get back to a simpler life and focus more on what we have than on what we do not have.

  3. Someone, I think it was chrisblask or brit, once said that the comments on the moose are better than the diaries on some other blogs. I agree. We get some diary length comments in most discussions. A lot of those would make good diaries. I’m pretty guilty of that myself. I don’t think I have time to write a diary and then I write 2 or 3 500 word comments. 🙂

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