Wednesday, November 19, 2008


My grandmother was Mrs. McScrooge. Like most people who were young during the 1930s Depression she knew every dollar was precious. Deflation does that to people. All my grandparents accumulated nice piles of cash but you would never know it from the way they lived.

A lot of people in the old neighborhood were like that. Many of them were a generation or two at most from immigration. Nothing was ever wasted. There was an old guy in my neighborhood who collected hubcaps that fell off into the street and lay abandoned at the curb. He displayed them on his chain link fence where they caught the sun. It looked cool, like folk art. Do-it-yourself was a form of entertainment. My great-grandmother made floor rugs by cutting old coats and jackets into strips of fabric and braiding them together.

Paul Farrell on Marketwatch lists dozens of reasons why we are rapidly heading toward Armagedepression. Reason 29 jumps out at me: "Social Security, Medicare with $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities". Unfunded? Gee, what's that social security tax you pay every week? Oh, yeah, forgot, Congress borrows against that so the money isn't actually there. (Sound familiar?)

$60 trillion dwarfs all the other debt out there, I believe. Think, if every one over 55 conveniently dropped dead in the next few years, problem solved! Is this financial "crisis" designed to stress us into an early grave? Sometimes I wonder.

This is a good time to rediscover living in the moment. My grandparents' generation lived like that by necessity first, and then by habit. I think I have such clear memories of them because they were so consistent in their lifestyles. Every summer we picked blueberries in my grandmother's backyard, every Christmas we decorated the tree with the handmade ornaments she saved from the previous year, every time we visited in winter she brought out heavy ceramic mugs filled with hot chocolate, and every visit in summer she dished out the same brand of orange sherbet and poured grape juice into the cartoon glasses they gave out free at the gas station.

My grandparents were a consumerist's nightmare. Their certainty in taste sometimes veered into bigotry, I think, and may have been rooted in fear of the new. They travelled outside their comfort zone infrequently, and with the attitude of children visiting the circus freak show. I would have liked them better if they could have moved their center leftward a bit.

But without some sort of center you end up constantly seeking balance. You become vulnerable to flattery and manipulation by con men. The problem, as I see it, isn't with acquisition, or loans, or new things and new ideas, or with wanting more and better. If we face Armagedepression now it is because my generation never found our center over the last 30 years. If we are forced to slow down and reflect, this may not be such a bad thing.

I've been thinking I might even braid a rug like my great-grandmother used to. But the hubcap fence, probably not. Hubcaps today are not what they used to be.

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