Posts Tagged ‘recession’

Tale of Two Towns: Living the Great Recession, July 10, 2009

July 11, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns
Living in The Great Recession

July 10, 2009

For those who follow closely, you will have noticed there was no missive last week; it was the 4th of July weekend, there were masses of papers to be sorted through for work and there just wasn’t time for everything. It was a quiet 4th; the holiday night was spent with a friend at Tannery Pond, listening to exquisite chamber music where the fireworks were aural rather than visual. Particularly wonderful were several Beethoven from the early 19th Century. Following, at home, I continued the path of solitary thinking that has been part of my spring and summer – assessing life – mine and the world in which I find myself living.

It is an interesting time, the one in which we are living. The economic malaise has now become an ongoing reality of our lives; it is more a chronic illness than a transitory one. As I write this it is a weeknight and I am at the cottage – a rare thing now for weekdays – but our train crowd gave a “furlough” party for our friend Ty West who works on a PBS Production. Donations and corporate support are at a nadir so it has become incumbent on their survival to furlough employees and it is Ty’s time. He is, being the man he is, taking the difficulty with good grace and understanding. I suspect it is not easy for him; it would not be for me.

His story is one of many that I know; pullbacks are everywhere. The friends who went down with the LPD bankruptcy are all still “on the beach” looking for the next thing, which is elusive. It underscores the grace under which I have been living – a fact that plays into the contemplative state in which I have been living since that shutdown.

On the party train tonight one of the “regular” passengers who joined our celebration was a young stock analyst from one of the boutique firms that inhabit “Wall Street.” As I tended bar [my task on train parties (for each one I must come up with a theme drink, tonight’s was the “Furlough Tini” a mixture of vodka, lemonade, crème de Framboise and crème de cassis, producing a concoction that had shades of pink [pink slip] but wasn’t quite, hence: furlough – an unpaid absence from a job with the opportunity to return and a clear indication of a sad economic reality], this young man opined that the market was headed lower and that at the end of the day it would all be better in some future we aspire to. It made for poignant conversation regarding depleted portfolios, delayed retirements and returns to work from retirement by men such as his father.

We are living in a poignant time. On many levels, individuals live as they always have though comprises are everywhere. Retirees return to the work place, home buying is deferred, roommates are taken in, purchases and vacations deferred or downsized, friendships matter more and values are reevaluated. Friendships feel more potent; what are we without people, people who love us.

In this current economic crisis, the most profound since the Great Depression, we are all in trouble. Yet our trouble is still quite modest compared with much of the world – the world in which 60 to 70 % of its population must walk three hours to find fresh water. It does put it all in perspective, doesn’t it? When I got off the train tonight I left behind three sinks full of ice, unused, melting into oblivion and completely normal for the western world in which we live. It was the young stock analyst who pointed out to me that the majority of the world is desperate for what we take for granted – still.

What gnaws at many of us is that there may soon come a day when we can’t take for granted the ice we’ve paid for melting casually in any kind of sink… Everyone I know senses some new day ahead of us. While unsure what that day may be, more people seem anxious than eager while also suspecting it might just be a time with sounder values.

A week’s worth of thoughts…

May 19, 2009

Letter From New York
May 18, 2009

A week’s worth of thoughts…

There are, here and there, some brighter spots in the economy – a sense we might, at last, be bumping along the bottom – certainly not out of the woods but with a sense we might actually be halfway through the dark forest. Searches online for luxury goods have gone up while those for flea markets are down.

A commentator last week noted that, perhaps because of the financial crisis, few have made much about the fact Obama is African American – ethnicity of the President is less important than the handling of this great crisis. For the most part, Americans think he is doing well while, at the same time, it appears he is now engaged in the delicate balancing of National Security issues.

Obama has been forced to look at some issues differently now that he is in the White House — what to do with those folks in Guantanamo? Right wing pundits are saying this is casting a better light on Bush’s legacy. To me, it is simply another sign of the disastrous situation in which we have found ourselves as a result of the Bush idiocies. The profound failures of the last administration would have left any new President in a quandary as to how to handle them. It is not easy to undo the Gordian knot of Bush’s regime. In this delicate world we do not have the luxury of doing as Alexander did and simply using one’s sword to cut through the knotted rope.

In New York City, Swine Flu is rearing its head. A well-liked educator, Assistant Principal Mitchell Weiner, has died from the H1N1 virus [a renaming has been going on in deference to both Mexicans and the pork lobby]. Five more schools have been closed and the number of suspected cases has been growing just as the world was beginning to breathe more easily. Upstate the flu news is calmer and locally in my part of the Hudson Valley there seems to be quiet on the flu front. It is, however, not over until the fat lady sings and she hasn’t sung yet.

Spring will not settle upon the Northeast; it has been unseasonably cool and wet. An occasional day of warmth arrives only to be followed by a week of cold and damp, with spirits following the weather lead. The never-ending winter has most everyone testy and annoyed, holing up at home as opposed to venturing out into the streets. It was, at home in Hudson and Claverack, a brutally quiet day for shopkeepers on Saturday, normal business off dramatically with a walk up and down Warren Street almost as depressing as the weather – the number of empty storefronts is growing. That’s happening in Hudson and it’s happening in the city. New York real estate is suffering and rents are falling, actually so much it is encouraging people to stop fleeing to the outer boroughs, either to remain or return to Manhattan. The impossible is happening and there isn’t much joy in Mudville these days except for those who are able to take advantage of the travails of others.

Out in space a final repair journey is being made to the Hubble Telescope, an observatory that is giving us glimpses of the magical beyond of deep space. After this mission, no more will be made and when it begins to fail again, Hubble will be allowed to drift down and burn up in the atmosphere having more than served its purpose. For the scientists who have nurtured the observatory through its life, it is hard to know it will go – a bit like having a terminally ill child who may laugh and play now while all the time you know the end is approaching.

The entire Hubble adventure has been an example to what can be accomplished. Early, almost fatal flaws, were rectified, software adjusted, work done, repair missions flown. Hubble has always seemed to me to be a living example of what Browning was describing in his line: Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

Professionally young in Cloud Koo Koo Land March 31, 2009

April 5, 2009

A long time ago, in the primordial soup that was my youth, I played a character in THE BIRDS, authored by Aristophanes and translated from the original Greek by a classmate of mine, Jeff La Count, who had a mastery of ancient languages even in high school. He created a simple and wonderful adaptation of Aristophanes’ play.

The first line of the play, which I spoke as the character of Euelpides, was: here we are, ready and willing to go to the birds – and we can’t even find the way! He and his comrade, Pisthetairos, were looking for “the birds.” If they could find the mythical kingdom of the Birds all rules of life could be overturned. Ultimately finding The Birds, they created a place called Cloud-koo-koo-land, where all the normal rules were abrogated and new ones created, ultimately upending the reign of the Gods.

Interpreted in the 20th Century it could have been a Laurel and Hardy vehicle.

I am thinking of this because we are in the process of finding our way out of our own Cloud-koo-koo-land. Just as we the country responded to the horror of World War I with the party called the Roaring ‘20’s, we responded to 9/11 with the irrational exuberance of the last years. We took all the normal rules of finance and abrogated them with new ones that made no sense and ultimately that brought us down. Cloud-koo-koo-land can’t last forever…

This train of thought was reinforced standing in line for a newspaper while surrounded by the magazines that feed off our addiction to celebrity. There are such a staggering number that in many newsstands it is almost impossible to find a news magazine; they’ve been relegated to the back rows. One “Special Issue” magazine recently was a paean to celebrity beauty, a detailed scrutiny of the evolution of physical charms among male and female celebrities. More than one nose looked rather different between now and then. Standing there, looking at this catalog of physical charms, it crossed my mind that most of these people are practicing the art of being professionally young, a quality that has been ascribed to our nation, another aspect of the Cloud-koo-koo-land we have been inhabiting.

We are a country that has been playing perpetually youthful, as we have been moving into our middle age. Youth and youthfulness are attributes we have ascribed to ourselves; it has been our trademark since our founding. Young, brash, overcoming all odds, rising to the occasion, winning World Wars, first to the moon, leading the world in our productivity and our enthusiasm, populated by youthful, exuberant individuals who can defy age and time.

May be relentless youthfulness is not the best thing we have to offer anymore. Perhaps we gained some wisdom in our youth and can call upon that now as we work to take our place in this new, strange world in which we find ourselves – the world of The Great Recession, insurgencies, wars, travails and troubles.

Perhaps the thing to do now is to acknowledge we’re getting a bit longer in the tooth and that all the energy used to stay professionally young might better be spent in just being professional. We have had a grand party but perhaps now it’s time to do the Twelve Step meeting thing and figure out how to live in sobriety.