October 17, 2008

Dazed and confused...

as the song of 30+ years ago says. No, I don't know what to do. Not a clue. I attribute this state of being in part to stepping up my migraine preventive drugs to new heights of spaciness and also to the current state of the economy. Finally, my lack of time, energy, finances, and interest in business school have paid off. I don't know any more than those Wall Street M.B.A.s, but it didn't cost me a dime not to know it.

Ever so proud of the money I saved, I do does wonder how I will make my so-called living as the months unwind and the market tanks quicker than a crack addict's high evaporates. The pace is stunning. Fortunately financial planning is holistic (dreadful but applicable description). It's not just about investments. If it were just about managing money, Alice would be screwed. Talk about your ballroom days being over.... This brings Alice to her next theme.

Chaos: It's not just a theory, it's a way of life. Apparently it's the way that Alice has signed on for, whether she realized it or not at the time. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose? Alice wouldn't bet on it. Her theory on the lack of suicides in the financial district is that most of the newer office buildings have windows that don't open.

You would have to be very determined to that break glass in an emergency, and Alice doesn't think the I-bankers have the upper body strength. She could, of course, be mistaken. She is certain, however, that street vendors whose native language is not English have already cornered the market on vegetable and fruit sales. Depression-era apple selling set up shop years ago. For immigrants, it beats dish washing, and it's an all-cash business.

All-cash businesses are, well, priceless. And everyone needs to eat. The folks in Alice's upscale apartment building are all planning to apply heat to food on a more consistent basis. Say good-bye to last-minute restaurant dinners; say hello to home cooking. Alice's freezer is well stocked with bargains on meat, fish, and poultry. A year ago, she wouldn't have known a good price if it bit her on the ass.

These days she takes great comfort in her menopausal marches around the reservoir. Finally, Alice and nature are on more than speaking terms. Turns out she loves walking and even running under the trees -- far from the sound of the phone ringing or the computer chirping. She doesn't understand the multitasking walkers who have a dog leash in one hand and a cell phone in the other, or the mommies jogging behind a stroller outfitted with two children.

Domestic incompetence is looking increasingly less attractive. Still, Alice can't open the cap on a bottle of soda, much less change a light bulb or do laundry without turning everything pink. You can bring Alice into the kitchen, but you'd better bring the burn cream along, too. Given how flaky her thumb tendons are, Alice wouldn't mind a sous chef, but she suspects that position has been lost to what is most assuredly a recession.

On the money management front, Alice as family CFO has been bailing out of financials for the past year, a move not taken with any prescience about the fall of Lehman Bros. et. al, but one that looks pretty damn good no matter what its impetus. Still, it looks like that retirement Alice was dreaming of will be postponed for the indefinite future.

She is, however, keeping her carbon footprint small by not attending any financial planning conferences this year. A week in Whistler with the socially responsible folks, and Alice would have gone postal. (They seem to respect trees more than intellectual property, and Alice has a big problem with that.) A trip to Hershey to discuss baby boomers retiring, and Alice would have been puking chocolate for days.

We baby boomers are, not to put too fine a point on it, fucked. All those great plans we had, the country houses and the sojourns to foreign countries, well, not going to happen -- not unless great Aunt Matilda conveniently leaves a seven-figure cash inheritance ASAP. In real life, half the boomers Alice knows are scraping together college tuition money or shoring up their own finances, and another, larger-than-expected portion are supporting one or more parents.

Remember Goldie Hawn as Private Benjamin? She signed up for the Army with the private rooms and maid service. Looks like we're all joining her in the barracks, at an age when the kindergarten virtue of sharing has long since paled.

Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night.

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