The idea of hard-working Middle-Class families is one that is bantered about by politicians of all persuasions on an all too regular basis but isn’t that being a little too optimistic and frankly too simplistic as well? I mean honestly aren’t there a fair number of Middle-Class families just getting by- coasting that is and not exactly busting their humps every day?

Let’s be brutally honest, can we? There are plenty of lazy people around that are going along for the ride and doing what they can to get the most return for the least amount of effort. It happens every single day and you get to pay for it.

All men may be created equally but not all families are not.

When I grew up- I noticed plenty of houses that were ok and had a decent car in the driveway but I also saw the clutter and the trash. I saw plenty of folks who were getting by and that was good enough for them. The family of my best friend growing up was on welfare. Everyone knew it but nobody ever dared to talk about it. Back then it was looked down on. “Welfare rats, white trash and dirtbags were terms thrown at those getting government checks.” He told me once (I won’t use his real name out of courtesy- he died a few years ago. I will call him Tom.) that welfare was there for people “down on their luck.”

I didn’t buy that. He wasn’t dumb. In fact Tom was one of the smartest and most insightful people I have ever known. He had a great sense of humor and people really liked him. However, he was not driven at all. In fact I think it’s fair to say he was lazy. He rode my bus until we were juniors in high school. By then however the bus had run by his house without stopping so many times because he wasn’t there- he flunked out. He had a myriad of excuses as to why things were unfair or how this teacher or that hadn’t treated him right.

I didn’t buy that either. I knew better because I had watched him slide though life on too many occasions to think that somehow he was getting cheated. I figured out he was cheating himself.

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I graduated a couple years later and lost track of Tom for awhile. One night back in my hometown I heard he and his girlfriend had an apartment nearby so I dropped in.

He was glad to see me as the pot smoke rolled out the door when he opened it up. The apartment was a typical low end flat properly decorated with ash trays and empty beer cans on the floor. A couple old pizza boxes filled in the cracks for the complete picture.

I had been away at college and was working a job or two to make the tuition payments. Tom told me he couldn’t afford college because it was just too expensive. He told me things had been tough for a while and he finally had to get on welfare. Welfare? I was stunned. After all he was only about 20 or 21 at the time. He told me he was just “down on his luck.” The same thing he had told me about his family several years earlier.

I went back to school a few days later and drifted into the world and lost track of Tom again. I held down two jobs for much of my early adulthood and would often get bored if I only had one. It’s true- ask anyone who knows me. Business partners would get irritated on occasion when I would start up something new while still working with them. They thought I was somehow cheating them when in reality I had carried them as far as I could. I was bored.

A few more years drifted away before I got a phone call that Tom had suffered a heart attack and died in his apartment. He was 40 the day he died.

Tom had a big smile, a lot of dreams and was always on the verge of seeing his ship come in- but somehow it never worked out and he was ‘down on his luck’ far more than anything else. He was perpetually short on success but he was never short on excuses.

Funny how he could always afford the weed and the beer but just could never get ahead or keep a job.

I think about my friend Tom now and then when I hear politicians say they need to do more to help “hard working Americans.” Trust me I realize there are many who do their best and still fall behind but I also know there are a whole lot of Tom’s out there with plenty of excuses and their hands out waiting for you and me to put something in it.