A regular coffee drinker at my favorite lunch counter was trying to tell his friend that some kind of government rule he couldn't remember had forced companies to hire people who weren't qualified.
He saw me, a familiar face, and asked me if I knew what it was. "You may be referring to affirmative action," I ventured, "but ... "
"Yup, that's it," he said, turning to his friend with the new ammunition. "They had to take guys who didn't know from nothing over guys who deserved it. But they ended it a few years ago."
I listened with my head in my soup. My dejection wasn't aimed at him. It was the reminder that the war on poverty and the determination to right the wrongs against blacks and native Americans exist mostly as fragments of memory, consigned to a far distant past.
Recent official figures paint a bleak picture of poverty, and things are getting worse. More and more people straddle the line between bare economic survival and hunger pains. Unemployment and homelessness are frighteningly common.
Yet I suspect that for most affluent Americans, the specter of this suffering continues to recede into invisibility. Out of sight, out of mind.