She was selling clothes she liked to wear, her children’s toys that they still wanted to play with, and her daughter’s bed. She got $15 for the bed. “Did she outgrow it?” Williamson asks. “No, no, she loved that bed. I’m desperate. She can share with her sister.”

The Fix Is In

Lutz, Florida June 23, 2011 3:10 p.m.

After having no luck finding a well-paying job, Greg Perrini made ends meet by doing yardwork. Then he learned that mortgage companies and banks need workers to maintain foreclosed homes.

Most of the houses that he keeps presentable are places where the owner was evicted or just walked away. The homes then fall prey to vandals and thieves, sometimes almost instantly. “I’m not going to lie to you. I’m doing better these days because somebody’s life fell apart,” he says. “But what do you expect me to do, turn down work? I do a good job, and I’m cheap.”

There are thousands of homes in foreclosure in central Florida where Perrini is based, so he doesn’t expect to be out of work anytime soon. “Look, I’m really sorry about this real estate mess. But, hey, I got kids to feed, you know?”

Window to the Future

Lavelle, Pennsylvania January 1, 2011 12:39 a.m.

Williamson left Shamoken, Pennsylvania, after New Year’s Eve. He was driving lonely backroads to the east and came to this town with a population of 649. A man smoking a cigarette outside this mini-mart was the boyfriend of Samantha Nevick, who cleans windows as part of her job as a clerk on the overnight shift. The boyfriend was there to protect her from drunks he suspected might be out on the holiday.

Nevick, in her early twenties and from a middle-class family, wanted to go to college to study forensic science, in the hope that one day she might be a crime-scene investigator. She had trouble getting loans and so her plans are on hold. Her family doesn’t have the money to pay for school. “I might just settle for working here,” she says, “and hope I make manager someday.”

Soap Opera

Lowndesboro, Alabama May 28, 2011 10:13 a.m.

After growing up in Arlington, Virginia, Sam Gordon came to live near his extended family in Alabama. He found a tight job market, so Gordon decided to create a job. He rigged a mobile car wash (pulled behind his truck on a small trailer) out of a 250-gallon water tank, a generator for a spray hose, various brushes, and a dozen different soaps and waxes.

When Williamson came across him, Gordon was on US Highway 80 between Selma and Montgomery, the route of the famous 1965 civil rights march. “For fifteen bucks, I will wash the holy heck out of your car,” he says. “Just a few years ago I could make a hundred dollars before noon. Cars were lined up; there was an hour wait. Now I only get about three cars a day. I understand it. I mean if money is tight, you’re going to wash your own car.

“You know, there is a byproduct of this recession people aren’t thinking about. There’s a demasculinization of the American male. The jobs that are available, they’re in fast food, cleaning motel rooms. Women get those jobs.” He emphasized that he was not against women working. “But a guy’s not being a guy anymore. There are a lot of households here in the South where the man is unemployed and is feeling worthless. People are underestimating what that can do to a culture.”

Sad Movie

Abingdon, Virginia June 18, 2011 9:43 p.m.

Barbara Faulkner, the general manager at the Moonlite Theatre, counts the evening receipts inside the ticket booth. She said that the Moonlite drive-in, built in 1948, has survived the advent of television, video, the DVD, and even the construction of the interstate highway that put it off the beaten path.

But what has her worried these days is the recession. “People are hurting because there are no jobs and gas prices are high. Going to the movies is a luxury, so in turn we are cutting it real close,” she says. “We have damage to our sign and screen from the last bad storm but right now there’s no money for repairs.”

She explains that the theater makes almost no money from ticket sales. The concession stand accounts for their small profit. “We don’t show ‘R’-rated movies because we need families to come here. It’s the young kids who want the candy. If they aren’t allowed in, we make much less. Half of the staff is volunteers because they love it here. Gosh, if we had to pay everybody, we’d be dark by now.”

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Dale Maharidge and Michael S. Williamson's latest book is Someplace Like America: Tales From the New Great Depression, published this year by the University of California Press.