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Caller ID immediately identified the ring.
“Might as well put the meatloaf on hold,” I nodded to my bride, who was laying out placemats, “it’s Barney from New Jersey.”
Barney doesn’t call as often as he once did. It is just as well. He likes to gig me about what he perceives as New Mexico’s shortcomings, and it gives me indigestion.
“Well, small world,” Barney opened. “Met a New Mexico guy down at the coffee shop and he was talking about a two-bit columnist out his way. I figured there can’t be two of you.”
“Barney,” I said, “you always know how to prop a fellow up. So what’s going on in your world?”
“I didn’t call to talk about my world,” he said, “but from what this guy was saying at the coffee shop, seems like your world is all screwed up.”
“New Mexico has no more problems than other states,” I protested.
“Really!” he mocked. “Tell us about income distribution.”
I knew right away what Barney was talking about. The Associated Press put out a story that said the gap between New Mexico families with high income and those with low income is growing faster than in most other states.
The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. It is an unfortunate image for any state. Only Alabama and Mississippi had higher gaps between the families who earned more and those who earned less. I tried to put the best spin on it.
“That’s an issue, Barney,” I admitted, “but keep in mind our governor is working hard to bring together disparate factions to fashion a malleable health-care program that will take care of poorer people.”
“‘Disparate factions to fashion a malleable’ program?” he snorted. “You’ve always been a George Will wannabe and it’s just sick. Look, you’re not a smart guy, so don’t try to fake it.”
Ignoring this latest jab, I tried introducing other positive New Mexico developments, but Barney was having none of it.
“I can see why you guys need to do something about health insurance,” he said. “It’s one of the most dangerous places in the country to live. Do all of you drive blindfolded?”
Oh, boy, I was in for it now. Barney had obviously read Olivier Uyttebrouck’s story in the Albuquerque Journal. It wasn’t the sort of thing the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce will be reprinting for a mail-out. Turns out that Louisiana was the only state with more injury-related deaths in 2005, latest year for which statistics are available.
From 2001-2004 New Mexico had the sad distinction of leading the nation, but took a second to Louisiana in 2005 only because of Hurricane Katrina. One of our problems, I explained to my city friend, is many of us live in rural areas with no public transportation. We spend a lot more time speeding down the road.
The Journal story included the New Mexico argument that we do a better job of reporting injury deaths, and maybe that is why we have such a poor ranking. Barney wasn’t buying it.
“Don’t you have anything good going on in New Mexico?” he wondered. I told him there was a real good chance we might get a nifty new multi-million dollar taxpayer-supported Spaceport.
“Well, that’s just dandy,” he said. “Maybe you can give space rides to poor people if you can get them there without killing them off first.”
My stomach was growling, patience thinning and the meatloaf was waiting. I hung up.
Ned Cantwell – firstname.lastname@example.org – always wonders how anyone from New Jersey could possibly make fun of New Mexico.