Rod Dreher

I live in a fairly prosperous part of the Philadelphia area. It’s not obvious at all here who is suffering from unemployment. In fact, I wouldn’t even know the man I’ll call Dave is part of the long-term unemployed if I hadn’t met him at a neighborhood bar, where I’d gone to watch a Saints playoff game on TV, back in January. Dave was sitting next to me, and we got to talking. He’s about my age — early to mid-40s, I’d say — good-looking, well-groomed, polite (even modest) and quietly good-humored. I asked him what he did for a living, and he told me he had been a banker, but was now unemployed. Downsized. He’d even lived overseas for his bank for a time, traveled, did all kinds of fun things. Now he had moved back in with his parents. He seemed slightly ashamed, or rather, he seemed like he had once been ashamed of this fact, but by now was starting to come unraveled, such that he didn’t care if people saw his tattered cuffs, so to speak.
I bought him a drink and we talked for a while after the game. Then I said goodnight and went home. That was six months ago. Since then, I’ve seen Dave on the street with his dog about once a week, sometimes more. He’s always sitting on a bench, reading, or at a coffee table on the sidewalk. He’s put on weight. His face is sagging now. His eyes look pouchy and sad. He’s not unkempt, but you can tell he’s letting himself go. He doesn’t shave as often, which is startling on a former banker who, in conversation six months ago, came across as an easygoing sophisticate.
Dave doesn’t look so sophisticated these days.
I never seem him with anybody, and I keep wanting to stop to talk with him, just to check in on him, and give him some company. But every time I run across him, I’ve either got one of my kids with me, or I’m on an errand and have to get back home. This weekend when I saw him, I thought that I should make a point just to go out walking one afternoon after work, with nowhere to go or to be, and look for Dave. Like I said, I never see him with anybody, and I bet he’s all alone, and friendless. I can’t remember if he said he was from this neighborhood or not, but even if he were, and even if his friends from childhood were still around, it’s not at all clear to me that a man like him would want his childhood gang to see him like this. I mean, he’s a single man in the middle of his life, and he lost a good job, and had to suffer the humiliation of moving back in with his mother and father. And he doesn’t seem to have any friends to help him through this time. And yet, he’s luckier than many unemployed men. He has a place to stay, and seems to be in no danger of hunger or homelessness. He doesn’t have children to support. The destruction in his life from unemployment is chiefly emotional and spiritual, I’d guess. But still, that’s a lot.
All weekend I’ve been thinking about that sweet-natured guy, and what it must be like for him to have gone so long without work (he’d told me back in January that he’d been trying and trying, and there was nothing). I’ve read about the sense of despair and worthlessness that overtakes people, especially men, when they’re unemployed for the long term. I feel that in some small way, I’ve seen that on Dave’s face, which seems to have melted a bit more every time I pass him sitting quietly at a table on the street, alone with his thoughts and his dog, unnoticed by most of us who have somewhere to go.

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