It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

STAR Tannery, Virginia – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke announced last week that the recession is over.

Excuse me if I don’t start kicking up my heels.

You know what this announcement reminds me of? Remember in the movie Poltergiest when, with the help of a clairvoyant, the parents pull their lost daughter out of the dimension of the dead, ostensibly preventing the dead from seeping into the dimension of the living? Remember what the clairvoyant says as she smoothes back her hair?

She says with certain finality, “This house is clean;” the idea being that all the scary stuff is over – no more kids being thrown into boy-eating trees; no more creative kitchen chair stacking; no more strangling clowns; no more “TV people.” We can all relax because the one in charge has removed her goggle-like glasses, set her chin and announced, “This house is clean.”

And then all hell breaks loose.

The kids are being vacuumed into the vortex of their cluttered closet, dead people pop up out of the ground, and the entire house gets sucked into a cloud.

So when Ben Bernanke smoothes back – well, something – and announces that “the recession is very likely over,” all I can think to do is duck and cover.

When the guy at the top announces that the country’s economic status is okay, all that means is that the people he comes in contact with – the financial movers and shakers whose greed got us into this mess in the first place – are now “confident” enough to start moving their money around.

I’m sorry. Did you envision ex-Merrill Lynch executives shopping the Salvation Army Thrift Stores with the rest of us? Did you picture them out in their backyards with their little hoes, cultivating the soil for their recession gardens?

Sure, they opted for a Caribbean vacation this year instead of Europe. They may have even been forced to give their kid a domestic car for a graduation present, though I doubt you’ll find them under said car in the driveway changing the oil themselves.

The little things the rest of us have sacrificed – first run movies, anniversary or birthday dinners at a restaurant with servers that take your order at your table, professional haircuts, running the air conditioner even though the thermostat has dipped below 85 degrees – they have continued to enjoy without a second thought.

Oh…maybe a second thought. You know, perhaps over cocktails (downgraded from full dinners because – you know – the economy) a reference might be made to those who lost everything over the course of the last few years. Everyone will nod their head silently for a few seconds, meditating on the The Poor, until someone says (and I swear I heard these exact words on at least three occasions): “Well! We all learned something, didn’t we?”

The question was meant to be rhetorical and, indeed, on all three occasions, everyone just nodded their heads in agreement. As merely support personnel in these situations it was inappropriate of me to ask them what, pray, had they learned?

I know one of them learned she likes the real estate business now that you can snap up any number of foreclosed homes for a fraction of their value, though she was disappointed to find out that “not all the houses are like those McMansions everyone talks about.”

I swear I wasn’t the one who drained the battery in her car.

No. I’m afraid it’s business as usual among those for whom the recession was merely a brief interlude of “toning down” the conspicuous consumption and, maybe, snapping up the deals as Linens and Things and Circuit City went under.

But the rest of us have “learned,” haven’t we?

We’ve learned that our best resource against disaster is each other. Forget stimulus money and federal mandates. The rest of us survive through the good graces of a single person deciding to do what is right instead of just what is profitable: the local car mechanic who doesn’t run his numbers “through corporate;” the doctor who manifests “free samples” for uninsured patients; the landlord who had every reason to turn down a prospective renter but instead “goes with his gut” and leases to a family in crisis.

I’ve personally benefited from people like these, an experience that made me realize that our salvation is not in huge, grand gestures by condescending politicians; but in tiny, single decisions by a compassionate neighbor.

In which case, it doesn’t matter whether it’s true that the recession is “very likely over.”

Or not.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.


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