Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, March 19, 2011
When I hear the term “belt-tightening,” the first image I get is of my Auchter ancestors. Family lore has it that my great-great grandmother (a severe German-Catholic woman of the late 1800s) wore a rope with knots in it around her waste under the untold layers of Victorian clothes. Whenever she was feeling particularly sinful, she would notch the belt tighter so the knots would dig into her, the pain a reminder for being so awful. (Ah, yes — those wonderful, carefree days of yore when everything was so much better than today….)
The other image I get is of adolescent me. To say I was skinny is to say that salt tastes salty. With most pants, wearing a belt was an absolute necessity. Belts, I might add, that my Dad had to create additional holes on with a leather punch — the extra belt sometimes wrapped through two or three belt loops and ended near my spine. Because I liked to run and play and not have my pants slide off, my belt was often cinched to the last leather-punched hole to keep them tight. At the end of the day, the points of my hips would often be bright red and sore.
So for me, “belt-tightening” means something more than “a little snug.” And having lived in Michigan for the past 10 years, which has been one continuous belt-tightening, my hips points start to pulsate when I hear the term. That, and it makes me somewhat less sympathetic (no, make that “angry”) with those who don’t know what it’s like. Big oil companies, for instance. No matter what, they just seem to keep piling up the cash. And, yes, it’s a gross generalization, and I’m sure there much more to it than that. But I did write “seem to” because that’s the way it feels, especially at the gas pump.
I noticed this week that some sort of gas and oil trade group is running full-page color ads in the Grand Rapids Press. They extol the virtues of gas and oil and gainful employment with lots of smiling, happy people. I’d like to think this is in direct response to my cartoon. But I’m pretty sure it is part of a PR campaign developed long before. Well, I hope they are at least paying full price for those ads. A lot of belt-tightening at newspapers these days….