SCRATCH-OFF NATION is now a hardcover book.
“Jarring, humorous vividity.”
Patrick O’Connor, Founder – Outlaw Blues Society, Wichita, Kansas
Scratch-Off Nation is a Black Comedy that examines the poignant scars, the tangible aspects and extant artifacts, that decades of economic flatlining have left on a huge portion of the population. The work speaks to the nature of humor, as a shield to carry in a “fórlorn world”.
The project began during a visit to my boyhood home in Maryland. I took a fortuitous drive one day onto US 40, that led me by my childhood Shangri-La: the Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City. The place was one of those Disneyland knockoffs that sprouted up in the fifties, this one being organized around a Mother Goose theme. It was April 2006, the Enchanted Forest was being demolished to make way for a shopping center. I “was meant to be there” as a Determinist might say. It was a stroke of luck for this photographer, even as there was a lump in my throat, watching the playland of my innocence meet the wrecking ball. Could the demise of the Enchanted Forest serve as a perverse metaphor for the state of the national mind and the excesses of “late-stage” capitalism? What sort of society destroys a children’s theme park to build a shopping center? Underneath it all was a feeling of anguish.
Back home in the Mohawk Valley of New York, I continued looking for photographs that existed in that strange, slim netherworld between sad and funny. As the lyric goes, “I’m laughing to keep from crying”. This has been my credo since I was in swaddling clothes and will be my credo until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil. This attitude has gotten me in plenty of trouble over the years, but it’s also saved my ass on a number of occasions.
An Economic History of the USA Since 1963
You may be wondering why the book is called Scratch-Off Nation. To answer that I need to digress into a brief and slightly wonky economic history. Some of this history I’ve researched and some of it I’ve lived.
The assassination of JFK on 11/22/63 – and its aftershocks – brought the post-war American Golden Age to an end, though we didn’t know it at the time. Within two months the Beatles came on the scene, seemingly overnight. Looking back, perhaps we needed them.
The middle class began a retreat in the seventies that continues to this day. Usury – the charging of excessive interest – prohibited by every major religion – was effectively legalized in 1978, by an obscure Supreme Court decision called Marquette v. First of Omaha. Citibank was the first to move its headquarters to South Dakota where it could charge 20+% interest. Smart money poured into the financial sector. Credit cards became universal in the eighties. Manufacturing globalized, unions tanked, jobs evaporated, schools declined, incarceration rates exploded. Also in this period, health care costs began to spiral out of control. By 2000, tens of millions of Americans wallowed in debt servitude. America became Flint, Michigan. Economists call these downward trends Neo-feudalism.
The Growth of Lotteries
A cascade of states legalized lotteries in the seventies and eighties. I remember returning to Maryland around that time after a lengthy absence at college in Wisconsin, being astonished to see a long line of people in the liquor store on a Friday afternoon. They’d just been paid, they were buying lottery tickets, and they were spending ten, twenty, fifty dollars and up. This was all new to me. We had become… Scratch-Off Nation.