..O'er The Land of the Free (--free money, free mortgages, free food..)

–Or, how the Gravy Train barrels right down your own quiet street.

She’s an attractive young lady–don’t get me wrong. But, being attractive doesn’t mean you always attract the right things.

Around these parts, we have a particularly large employer that caters to the needs of a very exclusive and wealthy clientele. And this particular youngish lady worked for them, and was obliged at times to make the occasional trip to LA, or Miami. Several summers ago, she made a visit to London with her coworkers.

It was while there, away from her husband and her then six-year-old son that she met a Brit, a nice fellow with a couple of Bentley’s. When she returned stateside a few days later, she noticed her husband, a stolid sort, was no longer as exciting as he once seemed. Even her little boy was a tad more annoying than before the trip.

We shall call this woman “Linda”, primarily because that’s her name. One thing lead to another, and Linda decided that the fellow from London whom she met (-and bedded, of course) was really the man for her– despite the fact that the FIRST “man for her” was still sitting at home, watching their son. Eventually, she moved out, ripped her home apart, and devastated her husband –who sat watching his marriage explode like a Chinese miner.

When Linda came to my wife’s and my attention, she was answering our classified real-estate rental ad. We own a nice duplex, and she came over in her brand-new Saturn SUV to inspect the place during one of it’s occasional vacancies. She told us then that she’d come close to buying a house, but our rental seemed better suited to her. So, Linda signed a one-year lease, gave us our security deposits, and moved right in to our little duplex, along with her son.

She told us she was getting a divorce. Whatever. Her boy was in the same class with one of our sons, and they knew each other in the manner of second-graders, and he vouched for Linda’s son Carson. “He’s a nice kid” our son said. And Carson was.

Linda went right to work on the place, planting new bulbs in the flower beds, putting out nice deck furniture, buying custom-made window treatments. All for a rental. But, hey, I owned the rental; who was I to look a gift gladiola in the stamen?

She was seldom there, and Carson (-the little boy) spent most of his time over at his father’s place, which was right through the woods in the back of our property. Linda had few visitors to speak of. Her mom showed up now and then in her new white Lexus.

Less than a year later (-remember, she signed a one-year lease), Linda told us that she’d bought a house around the corner, and was was moving out of the duplex posthaste, and would be gone before Thanksgiving. We told her we had no problem with a sub-lessor, but the rent was still due when the rent was still due: It was her responsibility to either find a tenant, or pay the rent as she agreed. She said that would be no problem.

Now, anyone that’s ever owned a rental home or income property knows that the absolute worst time to find a tenant is in the weeks before Christmas. Most everyone has their kids settled into school by that time, or they are busy with the holidays. It’s a horrific period for trying to establish a new hearth and home. After all, how can Santa find you in a new house?

But, hey, Linda said it would be “no problem”.

Well, of course, it was. Eventually, after she moved out, we settled into a routine where we telephoned her at her new place every day, and she wearied of it, and finally she paid about three-quarters of what she owed us. By March, we were more or less settled. Finally, in the spring, we found a new tenant.

My wife and I would see Linda at the local Pak-N-Sak inoccasionally. How’s Carson, no big deal– that sort of thing. We’d smile and exchange perfunctory greetings.

We live in a county in northern Michigan that has fewer residents than some apartment buildings in New York City. Pretty soon, you recognize everybody’s car, where they work, and so on. Also, when you read the Magistrate or District Court Proceedings in the local bugle, you usually are familiar with a name or two.

In this manner, another section of the paper became interesting when the housing boom went bust a couple of years back. Suddenly, where once there had been page upon page of real estate listings, now there was page upon page of default notices. Eventually, a shrewd reader knew right where to look in the byzantine legalese to find out which of your neighbors had a mortgage in default.

Sure enough, a year after Linda moved out, she defaulted on her mortgage.

My wife saw her not long ago, once again at the local convenience store. My wife, (-who is no shrinking violet) asked her straightaway where she was living, since she’d lost her home: “Oh,” Linda said, “I’m still in my house. The government is paying for it,” she said.

So: You can cheat on your husband, get a brand new car, buy a new house, not pay for it, and stick the American people for the tab. Even if your parents drive a Lexus.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. The neighbors on the other side of our rental duplex are nice folks. A little unconventional (-the now-typical chaos of triple-blended families), but nice. They aren’t seemingly rolling in dough, but they drive a late model Volvo, a newer Jeep, and a minivan. Also, they own a duplex, and their early-elementary children both attend private school. But, in spite of all of this material wealth, I know they aren’t loaded with money.

When I noticed a well-drilling truck parked on their front lawn, I inquired about it: The husband told me their old water-well had just failed, and they needed a new one. Pronto. “Oh, man,” I said, in neighborly commiseration, “That’s gonna break the bank”.

Oh, no, he said. A state program was paying for it.

So: You can get divorced twice, own two homes, three cars, have two children in separate private schools, and then have a new water-well put in at taxpayer expense.

Which got me a-thinking: Our neighbors across the street (she, a maternity-ward RN, he an executive chef) purchased their home with an “affordable housing access” program. Around the corner live a retired couple, who enjoy their Northern Michigan idyll courtesy of the pension program of the Southfield Public School District. Farther up the drive is another neighbor who is going on his fourth or fifth month of unemployment compensation. We have a total of five public school teachers, and two administrators in our subdivision. Another couple works for the county (he, for the Road Commission, she for the Sheriff’s department).

To top it off, I found this out a couple of nights ago:

Our eldest boy, who is in fourth grade, started attending something after-school called the “Lego Club”, which, to my uninitiated sensibilities, seemed like a good thing: They are given challenge goals (like supporting a twenty-pound weight, and must build a Lego structure out of a given number of pieces to support it, and so on). New challenges, new friends. Sure, my wife has to make a new run up to the school at the end of the day to pick him up (my wife is one of the few stay-at-home moms left at the school), but, so far, he seems to enjoy it.

I found out that “Lego Club” is actually supported by a State grant for “After School Programs”, and that the sponsoring teacher does it only because she makes more money running the “Club”.

The gravy train runs down the street and right through my living room.

And this is the nub of the Great Unspoken American Problem. Nearly everyone is on the dole, in some manner. S-CHIP, Pell Grants, pensions, disability, “Making Work Pay” credits, and on, and on, and on. And it all has to stop. Now.

Many years ago now, in an attempt to research the opposition when I was a candidate for the local school board, I attended a seminar by the Michigan Education Association about how to pass local bonding or millage increase elections in your district. Their main advice? Make sure to throw a bone to every conceivable constituency in the community: Build new athletic facilities, add onto the auditorium, enlarge the music rooms. Create larger art rooms and computer labs. Don’t leave anyone out. It might cost more money, but the more people you throw goodies to, the more people will vote for it– especially if they don’t pay property taxes.

This advice is crucial now at all levels of government. Throw goodies to everyone, and those in power will remain in power. It is diabolical, sick. And getting worse by the hour.

“Lego Club” today is being paid for with money stolen from my son tomorrow.