An Armadillo's View

People are not refrigerators. I wish our culture understood that better. In my lifetime alone it has become common to assume if something isn't working out for you in one place, you just up and move. Simple as that. So tell me, how simple was your first divorce? Or the first time someone really close to you died? Having to uproot and move on because of the economy is nearly as despicable as being run out of town for being Catholic, like my grandfather was run out of Lake Charles, La., before me.

I've lived in Port Townsend, Wash., for the past six years. It is the first time I could afford to live in a house since I stopped living with my parents some umpteen years ago. Like most everyone else in this community I have pieced together a nip-and-tuck livelihood from working multiple part-time jobs because there are so few full-time jobs. As a tourist town we receive over 2.5 million tourists passing through between May and October. This area has a normal population of approximately 8,000 people, depending on how many surrounding little hamlets you count.

The constant influx of California funny money prices is continuing to squeeze out families that have lived hereabouts for generations. Californians like buying here 'cuz it's so cheap to them. But then they want to charge rents that barely make sense in California, and are wholly unreasonable for this economy. The city gets a whiff of all these California rabbit dollars and wants to get in on the action too so property valuation shoots out the ceiling. Yokels can't afford these property taxes and residents can barely afford the $70-a-month water bills. (The city-owned water gets rate hikes every time there's an election, it seems.)

I've found myself here in Port Townsend. The proportions of the town are human and correct for me. I can leave my keys in the car. If I go to bed and remember I didn't check the back door, I don't feel like I have to shoot out of bed and lock it. My neighbors on either side of me have lived in their respective houses 20 and 45 years. Our lives intertwine but never intrude on each other.

My neighbors, both octogenarians, like having such a nice young person next door knowing if they needed something I would be over like a shot (but they are both to proud to ever need anything anyway). And as an independant woman (or a middle-aged spinster lady, depending what generation you're from) I like being the young pup between them. I get to keep an eye on how I could turn out, which helps me live mindful today so hopefully I can miss some of the more bitter aspects of a less-than-conscious life. And as a recent orphan, I love having people from my parent's generation in my everyday world. It's an honor I enjoy.

Last week one neighbor lady across the street went out of town for a few days and left me a note asking me to watch for some mail for her if any came and the week before the folks across the street came and returned two eggs they had borrowed while making a dessert one night. They even brought me some of the dessert.

Likely as not when I go to Aldrich's, the grocery store that hasn't changed floor plan or design much since it was started over a hundred years ago, I'm likely to hear a conversation about an eagle flying over town folks saw earlier in the day. Eagles and otters are a major attraction up here and spreading the news of one's good fortune to see one is worth sharing. This is quality of life way beyond commenting to the clerk how outrageous the tabloid headlines are.

Never did hardly feel so welcomed anywhere as I do here. Before, my feeling safe was a negotiable right; a climate fit for business growth being more important than whether or not the humans were or were not safe.

The rich can buy welcoming smiles when they walk into a store. They can buy safety and protection in the form of nicer neighborhoods, car alarms, house alarms, car phones, insurance of every kind, and beautiful places to live in. And I'm not saying they shouldn't -- I'm just saying that it isn't asking too much that we, the marginalized and disenfranchised, want to feel and be relatively safe in the course of our daily lives, too, as well as having a nice view. On one level, all security is an illusion, but in the common world a reasonable amount of personal safety is not too much to ask.

I moved here for the same reason I went to a liberal arts college: to round myself out as a human being (and as an antidote for the corporatization of city living). Jim Hightower calls it the new -ism in America; corporatism. He nails it square and proper in his book, There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos (1997, HarperCollins). He's more learned than I am, states a better linear case than I do.

I knew when I decided to take myself off to a small town to turn myself into a writer I was buying into a certain amount of poverty, but it was worth it to feel safe for even a while and have more of an actual life than just a career as I had had in corporate America. And to add insult to injury, the tax changes mean I actually owe taxes for the first time in my life, and I made under $18,000 last year! Percentage-wise I'm sure Bill Gate's little company wasn't taxed so heavy.

I know all the women who work at the local Carnegie library. There's a lady at the city who calls me when it's getting close to shutting off my water to warn me to pay up. It is a friendly call, too. Nobody introduces themselves based on what they do for work; folks here are more interested in what your dreams are and what you are doing to make them come true.

Seventy-six years ago my father's father got run out of Lake Charles, Louisiana for being Catholic. We've come a long way, haven't we? Used to get pushed around by thugs like the KKK. Now we're pushed around by the thugs of legalized crime, corporatism. Now that's progress.

Delia A. Yeager is finishing out a temporary job the first of June, wondering how she'll fund a move to a place that has jobs. E-mail:

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