As I took pictures at the university, along the wall on the opposite side of the zone, the view epitomized the way it was in places still on the outs with the Red State Government. It was clear that, for Cincinnati, it was probably going to stay this way. Simply said, going on fifteen years after the Black Crash, life in Cincinnati appeared to be jelling in a weird, marbled way. Life was normalizing to a degree outside the zone, surrounding the lower downtown district, but staying dark and dismal inside. I wondered whether the other zones were the same, or whether the rumors about Cincinnati were true. Cincinnati was a zone of its own, unpredictable, a time bomb ready to explode at any moment. I also wondered whether it all seemed crazy to everyone else, or just me.
“Do you think you’ll go to college one day?” I asked Maddy, trying to change the subject and divert my attention from the poverty surrounding me.
He responded by asking me the same, and I answered the best I could. “I think I will one day, but now with the National Jobs Placement boards running companies’ hiring policies, a college degree isn’t what it used to be.”
“But your father…the senator…will make you go somewhere, right?”
“He’ll try, but I don’t know how successful he’ll be. I can see me going somewhere; they say Vanderbilt is the place to go. The school is so big now and next door to the National Job Placement Center. It takes up half of West End. If you want a good-paying job, Nashville’s the place to be.”
Maddy reacted with a small snicker, and then replied, “I love how the new Red State Government took over Washington, to destroy large centralized government, and all they did was move large centralized government to its own anointed cities. What a joke.”
“We didn’t take over the government to destroy large government. It was Washington, D.C., the city, that needed to be destroyed. It had become D.C. against the rest of the nation. They made it that way. The political class, against us, the working class. It was out of control and had forgotten its place, and they wanted to keep it that way. Now Washington has to survive like the rest of us.”
I could have ended it there, but I chose not to. I was a polite Southern female, born and raised in the best, and by the best. I was raised not to talk smack, and not to pretend I had all the answers. Political wonks and their cronies are always around to do that. But I spoke the obvious every chance I got. “People in Washington have to work like the rest of us,” I added. “Their bubble burst on June 22, 2015 too. Their days of sucking on the teats of the taxpayers are over.”
“And here you are, looking at Hell Town—from a distance,” Maddy replied. “Later today, I have to go back to all this craziness. But you don’t. You can always walk away.”
“But I am not walking away. I am with you, for the long haul,” I shot back. “Stop being a blue-blood leftist and just be a person. Look at me. Do you really think I’d just run back home if things got tough? Why would you even say that to me?”
“I said it because it’s true, Mary Catherine,” Maddy shot back at me, trying to take my hands. But I jerked my hands back as I listened to his explanation. “You have a choice, and you have opportunities. I don’t.”
“Why don’t you apply to Vanderbilt?” I said, trying to show some semblance of excitement. “They’d accept you; you’re the smartest person I know.” I gave it a good try, but at the same time, I knew that fairness and IQs didn’t register in his closed-off world.
“Mary Catherine, people living inside the zone have to be invited to apply to Cincinnati University, and it is the only school allowed to accept us. They may take one out of twenty-five each year, to go here. Do you really think they’d put a liberal progressive wannabe like me in a government-controlled institution like Vanderbilt? It’s never going to happen, Mary Catherine.”
“But they might,” I mustered a weak reply.
“No, they won’t,” Maddy replied sharply. “What would I do down there anyway? The only jobs available for people like me are government jobs, and that’s so we can be brainwashed. You do your seven-year stint in a government job, and then you have to leave. That’s the way it is for everyone. Working for the government until the grave is over. Seven years and you’re out. After that, what company is going to hire me…a zone rat?”
“My daddy could help you find a job.”
“Your daddy helping me. I don’t think so. And even so….”
“Even so, what?”
“And, those who are picked never come back to the zone. They get their diplomas and travel papers, and then go to work someplace else in Ohio.”
I wanted to press the obvious, and wondered why it wasn’t obvious to him. Why would anyone come back to this place? There’s no future here. All of you need to cut and run. But I stayed nice. “But at least they’re working.”
“In factories, blue collar jobs, just like everywhere else in Ohio. That’s where they place people up here. Remember, Mary Catherine, revenge is hell, and in their view, we chose this. We chose to be poor socialists, and they’re just making sure we stay that way.”
“I know that,” I replied indignantly. “That’s the way they designed it. Angry people wrote and implemented the law. But the people in charge before the Black Crash were also angry. This nation’s been angry and split down the middle for a long time.”
I don’t wear goggles, and my head hasn’t been stuck in the sand for the last fifteen years. I could have easily continued my pitch. God knows anyone with half a brain could tell the difference, especially after the zone riots. The period between 2019 and 2029 marked the greatest economic recovery recorded since World War II. And it all took place in the South, where Red States decided they’d finally had enough. And what happened in blue states, the ones that didn’t wise up? They’re still struggling, and falling behind because they choose not to follow the right leaders. I could have said all that and more, but to salvage the day, I chose not to.
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