Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gaining and losing a home

Last week I celebrated American Thanksgiving (look closely - this turkey already has cooking utensils with it. How convenient!). This is a holiday that celebrates appreciation and thanks, and the historical trade in which indigenous people in what is now the U.S. showed settlers how to fish and hunt and in return were given the gift of whisky and syphilis.

But for most Americans, this holiday is about family (be it good friends, neighbours, family members) and home. I was fortunate enough to spend my thanksgiving with extended family near Sacramento.

I was worried a little bit because my expectation of this holiday was that I was going to eat until I could no longer move, and then pass out, pants undone and drooling in front of some American football (if the food didn't make me pass out, the football would). But then I was told that the people hosting tended to be "healthy" people, and I feared we would be given sprouted mung beans and a slice of apple for dessert. Not that these things aren't good, but really, I'm living in the fattest nation in the world, and I feel I should do my part to pack on as much poundage as possible while I'm here.

I needn't have worried. The overloaded table groaned with appetizers, rich bowls of potatoes, yams, gravy, beans, warm baskets of bread, a huge, tender turkey, cheesecake, fruit, pie, and fruit custard cake. It also happened that the host grew his own grapes and was an amateur wine maker. So, only to be polite, I threw back several glasses of very good wine. I recognized then and there that Thanksgiving could become one of my favorite holidays.

However, thanksgiving is also the day before the most horrific day in the United States - Black Friday, a massive consumer holiday where people push, shove, and pepper-spray each other to get the "best deals" so they can carp to their neighbours on how much money they saved. The irony of this being that in fact, they did not save money - they spent it. If you save $100 off a $400 his and hers matching chamber pots, you've still spent $300. On matching chamber pots.
This year especially, this massive consumeristic holiday is particularly disturbing. As a Canadian, I read about people losing their homes and their savings but it was never that tangible and being in San Francisco, I hadn't really thought too much about it. But over the few days I stayed with my relatives, they listed off five or six families who have had to move into apartments or friends' and families' homes because they lost their own in the recession. And the saddest part of this is that this group included a young family, a grandmother, and a couple in which one worked as a successful architect, and some of these folks had been in their homes for decades. It doesn't seem to matter who you are - one wrong turn and, because of a recession caused largely by corporate greed and irresponsible government, anyone could have ended up without a home, not just those who made poor financial decisions around new mortgages.

In an age in which people are not only losing their homes, but it is happening enough that almost everyone knows of several people who are desperately looking for a place to live, I find Black Friday not only troubling in of itself, but an affront to all the people who are now suffering through bankruptcy, homelessness, and shame.

But hey, at least we all have the God-given freedom to purchase as many Star Trek Pizza Cutters as we can get for 75% off at Wal Mart.

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