November 24, 2008

Citi was a group... it's two suits holding hands on a high floor of the Citicorp building, wishing the windows would open so they could jump.

As I may have observed before: the only reason they aren't on a street corner selling apples is because the corner vegetable vendor slot is occupied by someone for whom English is a second language. Yes, we've managed to outsource apple selling.

Every day I turn around and the economy hemorrhages more red ink. Planning for the future has become an utter crapshoot: sure I'll plan if you want to pay me, but honestly? You would be better off going to the movies and getting some entertainment value for your dollar, not to mention a couple of hours of distraction.

More and more, the concept of financial planning is looking a lot like writing fiction. Since no one knows what's going to happen, I can make up any scenario I want. I'm writing if you're buying. Actually, I'm writing no matter what. I can, after all, still construct a sentence.

Thanksgiving is fast upon us, and all the food has been ordered, set for delivery tomorrow. It's the one day of the year my mother cooks, and should I try to deviate from her menu even by one ingredient, I will hear about it. It's easier just to buy the food, point her toward the kitchen, and follow instructions to the letter.

For someone who otherwise can scarcely apply heat to food, my mother is far more opinionated on how things should be prepared than anyone might logically expect. For her, there's the right way, or the doorway, even in matters about which she is completely uninformed.

How do you raise a mother? You just let her do what she wants, and duck if you don't want the fallout to hit you.

I'm too old or too tired to argue -- not just on the family front, but on the we-can-change-the-world front. There was a brief, shining post-electoral moment when I felt an almost orgasmic rush of hope suring through my body.

It has since retreated, to somewhere in the far back of a closet, behind the lightbulbs and the printer paper, between the assorted extra computer cables and a year-long supply of laundry detergent.

I wish I could say I felt more optimistic. At the moment, though, I'm feeling a lot of empathy for those two suits on the high floor of the glassed-in office building. I'm just grateful I'm not up there with them, tempted to imagine myself as Superman. Right now, Underdog is more my style.

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November 11, 2008

A guide to living in reduced circumstances

Alice is sad to report, it has come to this. She would much rather produce a guide to living under better circumstances; however, in this climate (read, economy tanked), it seems inappropriate.

Until the recent, shall we say, unpleasantness?, Alice made a living, as they say, from offering financial advice, a field whose existence appears rather tenuous. Thus Alice will offer a few words on the way she lives now.

It may be ordinary for some folks, but for Alice, it is not business as usual, not S.O.P. by a long shot. Alice is a baby boomer, part of a generation that has been known to act as if instant gratification takes too much time.

Food: Alice has rediscovered her kitchen. She markets -- in ordinary grocery stores, where she watches for good prices. She is applying heat to food on a regular basis. A prescription for burn cream has been filled, and Alice slathers it on with abandon.

Clothing: Fortunately, Alice was never much of a clothes horse. Now, she is not even a clothes pony. More like a clothes shih tzu, if that. So much for predictions of pricey underwear. It's strictly Hanes -- her way or the highway. As for outer layers, good-bye catalogs; hello, thrift shops.

It's time for pre-owned clothes. Pre-owned shoes. Maybe freebies from craigslist, or bargains at a church rummage sale. (Do they still have rummage sales? Does Alice know how to rummage?) The lipstick factor is prominent in Alice's toiletry plans.

Might even be time to relearn to sew, although that could cost Alice a finger or two, which would push health care out of reach.

Shelter: At least the mortgage is paid off. There will be no improvements to shelter short of hanging already in-house paintings and reorganizing the bookshelves and closets.

Heat may be curtailed, although Alice will be damned if she's going broke in the dark. Perhaps she will rearrange the living room furniture. Or would that be the deck chairs on the ship that may remain nameless?

Travel: all air travel has been postponed indefinitely, with the exception of tickets procured with frequent flyer miles to places where Alice may stay with friends. Inter-Wonderland transit has gone public.

It's subways, buses, and trains. Au revoir les taxis, those little yellow vehicles that have sped Alice from one part of town to another on a regular basis in the past.

Entertainment: Welcome to free movies on demand. Let's watch all DVDs purchased but still sealed against thievery. Read all books acquired with spines still uncracked. Can Alice interest you in a game of Monopoly? (Read about its ironic history here.) Anyone want to ante up for a game of nickel-dime-quarter poker?

Who cares if you lose? It's only money, right? Isn't it? asks the financial planner. What she really wants to know is, how far can we go before we hit bottom? Are we there yet? Please? Even the Wizard off Wall Street, major shareholder in Capitalist, inc., seems a few steps off. (Damn it, Alice should have remembered white men can't dance.)

Is there a 12-step program for the global economy?

Contemplating what to defrost for dinner, Alice is profoundly depressed. Previously she had never considered the freezer section a home for much more than ice trays, nukable proteins, extra smoked salmon, bagels, butter, and coffee.

Now she has said adieu to her menu drawer and has wrapped various meats, first in plastic wrap, followed by aluminum foil, labeling the packets with indelible marker by contents and date received. In the 'burbs, growing up, Alice remembers seeing her father do this with entire filet mignons he had cut into portion size.

It feels different now, and part of Alice is relieved her beloved Daddy isn't around for this 21st century meltdown. On the other hand, he taught her that life was a banquet. It's just that Alice hadn't planned on getting the check.

Here's to hoping the light at the end of the tunnel isn't an oncoming train.

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November 05, 2008

Rearrange the world...

it's dying, to get better....

We might just make it after all!


November 03, 2008

Eastern Standard Time: a brave new world

The sun set at 4;49 this afternoon, one day into spring forward, fall back, the changing of the clocks that I forget, season after season. This autumn, however, is different. Oh, we have fallen back -- in so many ways I don't care to enumerate them.

All I can do is hope that tomorrow, this country springs forward. Please, let the map turn blue. Let's have a president before midnight, the one, for once, whom I want.

It seems that recently, I can remember 40 years ago and my third-grade class better than I can what I told my best friend on the phone yesterday. As daylight shrinks, so, it seems, does my capacity to hold on to anything more than, say, the fact I am growing my hair to donate it in memory of Dona, my dear friend who died of cancer last Halloween.

Then, there are my menopausal marches, those hours in the park that I am free from computers, telephones, any form of electronic connection to the world. Mile after mile, all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other, check my pedometer for speed and my heart rate monitor to see if I'm in the right zone.

Sometimes I think I hit my zone in the last century. So much about me remains twentieth century, and damn proud of it. For example, I am not a willing member of the DIY economy. Specialization of labor had its good points, and with the computerization of the world, we appear to have lost it.

I particularly liked the part where human beings answered telephones and it wasn't considered outre to wish to receive physical bills in the mail. Then of course, there is the lost travel agent. I preferred it when I was not in charge of booking tickets, screening hotels from Web site descriptions, and guessing which company had the best tour guides. I liked a little knowledge from those who possessed it and were happy to share it for a fee.

But that was then and this is now: let's just hope that our brave new world brings us something genuinely for the better. If not, I fear we are, how to say it delicately? no, no way -- just about doomed.

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