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America 2.0: Chapter Three

"Mom lost her job".

That was William talking.

"She got some neat stuff. They gave her an extra computer for us to use. Wanna see it?" he added.

"Is Dad home? Does he know?" I said in a whisper as if he was standing behind us.

"Nope, but Mom was talking to him on her cell when she came in."

Mom went to the office that morning and half the cubicles were empty and the lights were out in several offices. The security guards let her in the office because she worked for that guy upstairs and he needed her help cleaning out his stuff.

The boss told my mom the company was going to declare bankruptcy in New York that afternoon. They had over 100,000 employees across the country and were going to reduce the staff to less than 10,000 within the next 30 days. Only the essential technical and accounting people would be left because they had so many customers and phone service to maintain.

We all know that did not work out and the company and the service went dark a couple of months later. My mom said the network is still there in most places waiting for someone to come along and turn it on again, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

My mom did two smart things that day she told me later. First, she downloaded all of her contacts (and her boss's) in Outlook. That included the hundreds of big wigs, their wives and their personal contact information.

Second was she asked her boss if she could continue to help him with any projects he may have for her to do. And she was willing to do it for whatever he was willing and able to pay. "Think of me as your Girl Friday" she told the guy. Being the arrogant, (and blissfully in denial unemployed guy he was), naturally he took her up on it.

My mom snagged some other good stuff from the office that day including a couple of laptops, a digital fax printer, a trunk load of copy paper, a box of USB dongles and a whole lot of other office stuff. Her boss said it was part of her separation pay. Mom even cleaned out the break room of all the snack food and sodas. Later, she wished she had come to work in a U-Haul and cleaned the place out including the toilet paper in the restrooms. Oh well, don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

My mom got her last check in the mail from that company a week later. It didn't bounce. We were lucky.

The next month, our health insurance ran out. My dad could not add us onto his because of some new law on insurance. We tried to get on something called COBRA which let you keep your insurance (for a lot of money), but the insurance company went out of business. The government had that Care thingee named after the president back then, but it was too expensive and there was only one company that sold insurance in our town. We couldn't afford it because my dad's income went up and down like a roller coaster.

Dad refused to put William and I on Medicare saying it was welfare and said we would use doc-in-the-box clinics and take our vitamins instead. I was scared to death I was going to get sick and have to go to the emergency room. How embarrassing.

Dad's company held on a while longer. Partly because it was a small business and because the trucking companies, especially the small ones, were still running. Dad did not sell many new systems, and money got even tighter. He ended up signing up for part time work with a company which tracked cars. Car lots put these tracking devices in cars and if the buyer did not pay their note, the lot could find it on the internet and go get it.

They sold a lot of those devices.

"What are those things?"

"Tracking devices.. they call them NoteTags."

"What do they do?"

"If the customer does not pay their car note on time, the car dealer can track the car on the internet and go pick it up. They can even turn off the ignition so the buyer can't drive away."

"That doesn't sound very nice, Dad."

"A lot of people are not paying their bills, Sophie. This car belongs to the car dealer until the customer pays it off. It's not fair if they take something that is not theirs is it?"

"What if the person has to get to work or is having a baby and has to get to the hospital?"

"I don't know. That's something they have to figure out I guess."

Dad made enough part time selling Note Tags that he spent less time on the trucking business and more time driving around to car lots making his pitch.

The lots dad visited were in rough parts of town. But then, the economy was getting worse and there were more rough parts of town than before. Dad started carrying a gun around then. Mom kind of freaked, but she knew dad would take care of himself and get out of any trouble before he would use a gun.

It had been six months since Dad had the talk with William and I. Two months ago, I gave up basketball and William soccer, both for good. Of course Grace Finley also gave me a hard time about the recital, but then her father lost his job. In fact, she transferred to a different school after her parents moved into an apartment when they could no longer afford their house. I don't know if Grace stayed in dance either.

My dad's job with the truck stuff slowed down and while he was looking for another job, he ran into an old friend of his online who was working for the company selling those Note Tags things. He told my dad there was an open territory in our area and to apply if he was interested. Note Tags didn't pay you unless you sold something, but the money was good and dad found out it was pretty easy to earn if you were willing to put in the time.

Of course, dad was gone more, and until my mom lost her job, that meant William and I were at home alone after school. My mom worried but there wasn't anything we could do about it. Normally, we could go to the neighbors, but on our street neighbors were getting scarce. There were three or four houses for sale on our street and nobody lived in them.

It was really scary back then. It got worse.

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