The store window said 70 percent off. My son was getting a haircut across the street. I always enjoy chatting with the young woman from Boston who works there. Why not?
The woman from Boston was gone. Her replacement, older, a touch of an accent, was just as friendly. She had no clue who I was. Out of the blue, as I was modeling the now-affordable belt, she said to me: "I'm worried for our country."
She came to this country 20 years ago. Her husband is an architect who works for a firm with almost no work to do. She used to work down the block -- a job she had for 23 years -- until the owner told her, last Dec. 26, that she was closing the store.
She was not complaining. "It isn't about me," she assured me. She is lucky -- at least she is working. Her husband is educated. Eventually, he will find something because he is willing to do anything.
It is the country she is worried about. What is happening to America?
She is not alone.
In Washington, it seems, everything is a Democrat-versus-Republican issue. Winners and losers, the next election, the blame game.
One of my friends, a longtime journalist, lost her job last week while she was in the Arctic reporting. The last line of her message would be funny if it weren't so real: Anyone looking for a trilingual reporter with almost 40 years of experience covering everything from international politics to global warming?
I doubt it. No offense, but most of the reporters I deal with these days are about 40 years younger, and I can only guess how much lower paid. And that's just true across the board: younger people replacing older ones. As a teacher, I want young people to get every opportunity, but not at the expense of their parents, with families to support.
No matter where you look, fewer people are doing the work because fewer are out there buying, ordering, building. More people are spending their days worrying -- not about who will get blamed or who will get elected, but how they are going to make ends meet.
Do they get this in Washington? Do they feel our pain?
I know they all claim they do. But that is certainly not how it seems. It doesn't feel like we are being asked to pull together; if feels like we are being torn apart. It doesn't feel like the various "leaders" are working together, but like they are scoring points at one another's expense.
We're still a AAA country, the president says. I don't know what that means.
Of course we are still the luckiest people on the face of the globe. There are still plenty of people doing very well, but there are even more who aren't, and in the end, it doesn't matter how well you are doing if those around you are hurting.
I don't know what to do any more than the woman ringing up my belt does. I try to be generous. I encourage people not to give up. I search my Rolodex for contacts, rack my brain for ideas for friends. I know many people are doing the same thing. But the whole idea of government is that there are some things individuals can't do, some things we can only do together, some problems that are too big to solve one grain of sand at a time.
We are decent people, but we cannot do it alone. I am worried for my country.