Chapter 32

Copyright© 2009 by Lazlo Zalezac

After returning from taking Trupti and Melissa back to the dormitory, Jack headed over to the community house. He entered the house and took a seat at one of the tables. They still had to decide if they would offer Trupti the chance to enter the commune. Thinking nothing about it, Jack asked, "So what did you think of Trupti?"

"She's a nice girl," Liz said getting nods of agreement from Claire and Bev. She was ready to have the young woman move in with her. Of course, half of the reason was that she didn't want to live alone any longer.

"I think so, too," Jack said. Looking around the room he noticed that his words weren't received with much enthusiasm. He frowned.

"She's small," Wanda said as if seeking something positive to say.

Surprised by Wanda's lukewarm reaction, Bev said, "I kind of liked her."

"She seems harmless enough," Laura said with a frown and wrinkled brow.

Knowing what bothered Laura, Dave decided it was up to him to give voice to her concern. He said, "I only see one problem with her joining the commune."

"What is that?" Jack asked surprised to hear anyone object to Trupti joining the commune.

"She's a foreigner," Dave said looking around the room to see how his comment was received. He knew that it wasn't a politically correct thing to say, but the past few years had been filled with stories about American companies outsourcing to India. He didn't like the idea that American companies were helping foreigners when Americans were out of work.

Listening to the conversation, Mary frowned while considering if she should say anything. Knowing that if her words ever got back to the library that she'd probably lose her job, she said, "I kind of wondered about that. Wouldn't we rather help out an American rather than a foreigner?"

"I hadn't thought about that," Jack said. The whole topic of discussion had taken him by surprise. He wondered how Melissa would react to the conversation.

"I don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings," Dave said.

Laura shook her head and said, "You're right, dear. We've got to look out for Americans first."

"I don't think you are hurting anyone's feelings," Jack said. Dave was bringing up an issue that would have to be dealt with at some point in time. He looked around the room to see that nearly everyone was nodding their heads.

After glancing over at her husband, Cheryl said, "Rich is always complaining that his company seems to prefer hiring foreigners over Americans."

"They have a lot more control over the foreigners. They can't complain about having to work overtime since they have to go back to India if they lose their job," Rich said. When he walked through the engineering section it seemed to him that everyone was either Indian or Chinese. Looking a little ill at ease, he added, "It isn't that I'm prejudiced or anything, but they can always go back to where they came from. Americans can't do that."

Jack realized that Trupti was not going to be invited to join the commune. He wondered how he was going to break the news to Melissa. Dave said, "It would be different if she had been born here or was already an American citizen."

"I need a roommate," Liz said.

Jack said, "I'm sure that we'll be able to find one for you at the college."

"There's always Daryl," Mary said after thinking about it for a moment. She was pretty sure that he would jump at the chance to join the commune.

"Who?" Jack asked with a frown.

"The kid who does the computer training at the library," Mary answered.

"I thought he lives with his mother," Jack said frowning.

"They are losing their house. The family is looking to move in with his aunt," Mary said.

"I like Daryl," Dave said.

Jack's cell phone rang. The whole room turned to watch him when he answered it, "Hello."

"Jack, Trupti just got off the telephone with her father. She's going back to India," Melissa said. She assumed that her father couldn't afford to pay so much money every year.

"Okay," Jack said thinking that things were working out nicely. He hadn't been looking forward to telling Melissa that the members of the commune weren't likely to accept Trupti.

"She's crushed," Melissa said despite the fact that Trupti wasn't all that upset.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Jack said. He didn't like to hear about anyone losing an opportunity to improve their circumstance.

"I have to get back to her," Melissa said.

"Alright. I love you," Jack said. He looked around embarrassed at saying something like that in front of everyone in the room. She gave him her love and then hung up. Aware that everyone was looking at him, Jack said, "Trupti is returning to India."

"Now we don't have to vote on it," Claire said. She looked around the room and said, "Let's not mention this to Melissa."

"No problem," Dave said with a relieved expression on his face.

"So about Daryl — what are the odds that he would move in with me?" Liz asked still trying to find a solution to her problem. She hadn't thought about having a young man move in with her, but she was feeling a little desperate.

"I could call him. Maybe he could come over tomorrow," Mary said.

Liz said, "Call him now."

"I'll call him, but I have to go over to the house and get his number," Mary said.

Jack studied Liz for a moment and then said, "I know that you're afraid of staying alone at home, but don't rush into something out of fear."

"Liz is right to be concerned," Mary said. She had been reading some very horrible stories in the newspaper. The evening news was filled with horror stories of elderly people getting killed in their homes. She added, "One of the police officers stopped by the library today. He told me that some squatters moved into one of the empty houses a couple of blocks from here a couple of days ago. One of the officers was shot trying to remove them."

"Society is breaking down," Claire said with a frown.

Liz said, "I heard about people putting up fences around entire neighborhoods to create gated communities on the news this evening. Maybe we ought to think about doing that."

"We'd have to pay for a fence and hire a guard. I don't think this neighborhood has enough money to do that," Laura said.

"I would be willing to pay for that," Liz said flatly.

Jack went over to the kitchen and poured a glass of soda. It was one of the store brands that pretended to taste like a name brand. He returned to his chair and took a sip of his drink while thinking about the nature of the discussion that was taking place. It seemed to him that the country was falling apart. There had been a time when he could leave the house without locking the door. Now, he locked the door and set the security alarm even if he was visiting next door. Violence had increased nationwide and crime was rampant. Burglaries, rapes, assault, and murder had become commonplace. People who were viewed as rich were being kidnapped.

Homelessness was widespread. It wasn't the poor who had lost their homes since they hadn't had homes to lose. Before the economic collapse, those who had been the poor had rented homes or lived in public housing. Their circumstances hadn't changed. The big losers were individuals and families who had always viewed themselves as being middle class. There wasn't enough public housing for those who lost their homes.

One consequence of so many people losing their homes was that they lost respect for the laws protecting right of ownership. They felt that their property rights had been violated so there was nothing to prevent them from violating the property rights of others. Men who had fought eviction had discovered themselves in jail while their families were left to live on the streets without protection.

Jack could understand why the members of the commune had resisted having a foreigner join the commune. It was prejudice and that was ugly, but he couldn't condemn anyone for feeling that way when friends and relatives were losing jobs and homes. It was human nature to put those who you liked above complete strangers. Part of the problem was the general sense of fear that now pervaded life. He knew that it wasn't fair, but they were afraid they would be targeted because they harbored someone who might have displaced an American worker.

It seemed to Jack that half of the news consisted of reports about riots taking place in the large cities. There had been riots over the issue of American versus Foreign workers. One of the larger businesses that had just laid off a number of American workers had announced a need to bring in thousands of foreign workers. The riot had left buildings occupied by that company burning. Jack sided with the rioters on that particular issue.

There was a riot that resulted from a federal raid that rounded up over fifty illegal immigrants that were working in a local manufacturing company. In a very stupid move, a representative of the company complained on the news that they couldn't find Americans to take the jobs. Upon hearing that there were jobs available, nearly three hundred people showed up to apply for work. The crowd was met by a group of illegal immigrants who had come to get jobs. It had gotten very ugly very quickly.

Protests over high taxes had become a daily event. Each tax increase had brought about another round of riots. Each riot was larger and more violent than those before it. Detroit had burned for almost a week. Unemployed people facing a twelve percent sales tax were furious. Images of police in riot gear facing down crowds of middleclass Americans filled the news. Pictures of young men and women throwing Molotov Cocktails filled the space under headlines.

The only exception to riots resulting from announcements of new taxes was the tax associated with the proposed legalization of marihuana. That had provoked riots about legalizing drugs. There were complaints that the tax was too low or was too high depending on whether the person complaining was against or for marihuana use, but that wasn't the crux of the arguments that produced riots. Jack didn't know what he thought of that idea. He wondered if the violence would start to abate if everyone was stoned out of their minds.

He was brought back into the conversation when Cheryl said, "I noticed that the Taco Emporium closed."

"The job didn't pay well, but at least it was a job," Abby said. It hadn't even lasted three weeks after the Fat Tax had been imposed.

Shaking his head, Jack realized that the world had become very dangerous indeed. He interrupted the discussion, "Mary, can you check out what would be required to turn this neighborhood into a gated community? Dave, could you price out fencing? We'll need a heavy duty fence and concertina wire."

"Sure," Mary said wondering why he had returned to that topic.

"I can do that," Dave said frowning. The idea that they would put up a fence to hide behind bothered him.

Jack said, "We won't be able to do that immediately, but we should probably be prepared if it should become necessary."

"I agree," Rich said thinking that it was already necessary.

Claire snorted and said, "This whole evening has depressed me. What is going on in Washington? Why aren't they doing something about this?"

"I don't know what they are doing. For that matter, they don't know what they are doing," Jack answered. Trillions of dollars had been spent, but he couldn't see what it had done to improve things.

Mary rose from her chair and said, "I'm going back to the house to call Daryl. Are you ready to call it a night, Claire?"

"Yes," the elderly woman answered. She rose from her chair slowly and looked over at Jack. She asked, "Would you walk us home?"

"Sure," Jack answered. It was becoming a more frequent occurrence for him to escort the women back to their homes. He drained his glass and carried it over to the kitchen.

Frau Shultz took the glass from him and said, "Kommen Sie zuruck und gehen Sie wir nach Hause."

"Ja," Jack said tiredly. He knew that he was going to be making a couple of trips to and from the community house.

"Danke," Frau Shultz said feeling more secure knowing that Jack would walk her home.

Jack stepped outside of the community house and looked up at the dark sky. The sky was clear of clouds and the stars shined brightly. The air was cold and the wind biting. Frowning he looked around the neighborhood. The city had cut back on services and one cost saving measure had been to turn off the streetlights. The absence of lights in front of houses gave the neighborhood a dark sinister feel. His eyes sought out any signs of threats. There weren't any strange cars parked along the street. None of the doors of the empty houses were open. He looked over his shoulder waiting for Mary and Claire to emerge from the house.

Claire stepped out and took his arm. She smiled at him and said, "Thanks for walking us over."

"No problem," Jack said. The ground was basically clear of snow although there were little patches left in areas that didn't get much sun. He asked, "Do you think that we'll be getting snow again?"

"Yes, but it won't be as bad as that last storm," Claire said walking along beside Jack.

"Winter has just begun," Mary said although it hadn't officially begun. That would be in a few days. The astronomers might consider winter starting on the winter solstice, but she always felt that winter started around Thanksgiving.

"Winter started with that last snow storm," Jack said with a laugh. They reached Claire's house and he waited for Claire to open the door. He stepped into the house and looked around to make sure that everything was okay. Stepping back, he said, "It looks okay to me."

"Thanks, Jack," Claire said entering the house.

"Thanks, Jack," Mary said following Claire. She looked back at Jack and said, "I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Sure," Jack said turning to head back to the community house. He heard the sound of the door closing behind him before he had taken two steps. The sound of the deadbolt being engaged followed quickly afterwards. He took a deep breath and released it as if he was smoking a cigarette.

Fred, Bev, and Liz stepped out of the community house to head home. Fred called over to Jack, "Have a nice night."

"You too," Jack said while giving a friendly wave. He reached the community house in time to meet Ella and Frau Shultz stepping outside.

Giving him a worried smile, Ella said, "We were waiting for you."

Holding out an arm for Frau Shultz, Jack said, "I'll take the two of you home now."

As they walked, Ella said, "I'm sorry about Melissa's little friend."

"I know," Jack said patting Frau Shultz's hand and getting a smile in return. He could tell that she was worried about something.

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