Volume 22, Number 3

Sadie, Jack and Fluffy Go On a Trip: A New Normal Primer

Dennis James

“Today, the U.S. economy is in free fall. Republicans and conservatives are calling upon Americans to tighten their belts and accept wage cuts, higher levels of unemployment and a declining standard of living. They have labeled this “the new normal.”
                  —Thom Hartman

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
                  —Yogi Berra

For many years, Sadie and Jack and their dog Fluffy lived in a small but cozy house in Hazel Park, Michigan. There was a front porch where Jack and Sadie sat and drank beer and talked to their neighbors in the evening, a backyard where Fluffy could play or lie in his doghouse, and a garage for the big old car they drove. Fluffy loved to go for rides in the car, sticking his nose out the window and barking at strange dogs. They had an old black-and-white TV, which Fluffy loved to watch. Sadie would set it up so Fluffy could watch Sesame Street while they were at work.

Jack worked at a hardware store on Main Street in nearby Royal Oak. Sadie worked in the ladies’ wear department at Walmart. She complained her feet hurt when she came home but said, “A job’s a job.”

They did not make much money but they were happy most of the time. And when they were happy, Fluffy was happy.

But one day Jack came home early from work. The hardware store had closed because a big Home Depot store opened next to it and took away all the business. Every day after that, Jack tried and tried to get another job but nobody was hiring. Sadie had more problems with her feet and could only work part-time.

One day a man came and nailed a piece of paper to their front door while Jack and Sadie were not home. When they saw the paper, they were very frightened and didn’t know what to do. A month later, a truck came by, four big men got out, walked into the house, carried all the furniture outside, put it on the lawn, chased Jack, Sadie and Fluffy out of the house, put big locks on the doors, got in the truck and left. Jack, Sadie and Fluffy sat on their couch on the lawn until their neighbors came home from work. Then a neighbor brought over what looked like a giant toenail clipper and cut the locks off. All the neighbors helped carry the furniture back in the house. That night everybody came over bringing pizza, beer and ice cream. Fluffy ate the pizza crusts and licked the ice-cream containers.

But a month later, the big men arrived with a police car and this time they took the furniture and put it on the truck. The policemen stayed until Jack and Sadie packed everything they had into the car and drove away.

Jack and Sadie didn’t know where to go so they drove around and finally stopped at a motel in Detroit. They stayed there until their money was almost gone.

Then they drove around looking for just the right kind of motel—one where their room was a long way from the manager’s office. They would stay a week or two, pack the night before leaving and drive away real early in the morning without paying.

Sometimes they couldn’t find the right kind of motel and Jack would be very tired and had trouble seeing through his old eyeglasses, and they would go to a park or under a highway bridge and sleep in the car. Often a policeman carrying a stick would knock on Jack’s window and say mean things and make them drive away even though they hadn’t had enough sleep. Fluffy would bark at the mean man. Even worse, sometimes bad men would try to get into the car, and Sadie would scream, and Jack would yell, and Fluffy would bark as loud as he could, and they would drive away, yelling, screaming and barking.

But more and more they had to sleep in the car as Jack’s eyes got worse and worse. Sadie couldn’t drive because her swollen legs hurt so much she couldn’t work the pedals. When Fluffy was a pup, Jack and Sadie used to go to a doctor just like Fluffy used to go to a vet. But after Jack and Sadie stopped working they didn’t go to the doctor or vet anymore.

Fluffy had always had enough to eat. Sadie and Jack had kept a whole cupboard full of canned dog food. They would open a can of beef, pork, chicken, lamb or—Fluffy’s favorite—fish-flavored dog food, every day, and give Fluffy the whole can. But after they started driving around, Fluffy got only dry dog food from a big bag. Fluffy wondered what happened to all the cans of beef, chicken and yummy fish-flavored food until he saw Sadie and Jack eating from them.

Finally, one night, they drove back to their old neighborhood and went slowly past their old house. There was a sign on the front lawn and boards over the doors and windows. There were other houses on their block that had signs and boards on them too.

Jack got out of the car and went around the back of the house. Fluffy and Sadie could hear wood breaking. After a little while, the garage door opened. Jack hurried out of the garage, got in the car, drove it into the garage and closed the garage door. Home again! Sadie and Jack and Fluffy were so happy they all hugged each other. But when they went into the house from the garage they weren’t so happy any more. There were broken bottles and cans and big splotches of paint all over the floors and walls. Sadie started to cry but Jack went down in the basement and came back with a broom and dustpan. After the place was cleaned up they brought in their stuff from the car and settled down as best as they could.

During the day, they stayed indoors, only letting out Fluffy to “do his business.” At night, Jack and Sadie sat on their back porch and talked with their neighbors and Fluffy ran around the back yard. Their neighbors would give them bags of food and other stuff that people need.

Nobody bothered them but the weather became cold, and there was no heat in the house. They huddled together under some old blankets on a mattress the neighbors gave them, wearing their clothes. Sometimes it was too cold to sleep, and they had to stay up all night, walking around to stay warm.

Sadie cooked food on an old camp stove, like people did in some of the other boarded-up houses. Then one night, a boarded-up house down the street caught fire and burned to the ground. Two days after the fire, a man came and nailed a paper to the front door of all of the boarded-up houses on the block. Jack and Sadie looked at the paper and were very sad. The following week, a big machine rolled up to the other boarded-up houses on the block and knocked them down. A truck hauled away all the bricks and boards and nothing was left but holes in the ground.

So Jack and Sadie packed everything into the car again, said goodbye to their neighbors and got in the car. The car started but when Jack tried to move the stick behind the steering wheel the car made a terrible grinding noise and wouldn’t move. So they all got out of the car and went back into the house. The next day the big machine came to their front yard. The neighbors came out and shouted at the man in the machine and threw rocks at him. Soon police cars with noisy sirens drove up and many policemen got out and chased away the neighbors. A policeman talked to Jack in a very mean way and pointed to his watch. The police cars drove away.

Jack and Sadie were very sad. They hugged each other for a very long time and hugged Fluffy. Then they all got back in the car. Jack rolled down the windows and started the engine again. But this time the garage door was closed. Fluffy knew it should be open for the car to drive away and barked at Jack to warn him. But Jack just held Fluffy in his lap, and Sadie and Jack held hands. Soon they were all asleep. And they slept and slept and slept.