December 3, 2008

Brother, can you spare a 50 inch high definition plasma screen TV?

With apologies to Yip Harburg who penned the Depression-era anthem made famous by Bing Crosby ….

* This morning’s mail brought a stack of catalogs and circulars featuring suggested Christmas gifts including a bathtub tray which has holders for books, cups, snacks, etc. Others included digital photo frames that hold 200 photos, laptop desks, electronic toothbrush sanitizers, wireless terminals for stocks and sports scores, comfort items – special thick slippers and heated socks, heated massage chairs for auto and home, and various I-Pod holders in every size, shape, and color.

* On “Black Friday” shoppers trampled to death a 34-year-old man in a Big Box store, supposedly gunning for a $399 plasma TV. Two thousand people stood in the cold waiting for the 5 a.m. opening. The unruly mob pushed so hard that the steel and glass door frames were bent and shattered. The man who died allegedly put himself in harm’s way to assist a pregnant woman.

* And finally, an acquaintance was telling me how excited she was over her daughter’s 16th birthday – she took daughter and 7 friends to a spa for massages, facials, and manicures in a extended, white rented limousine.

Last week America learned that we have indeed been in a recession since December 2007. The three automakers announced that October sales were way down. The job loss numbers are massive and don’t include those who are underemployed or who have quit working. But the “wants not needs” catalogs and the Big Box anecdote and the Sweet Sixteen Spa Day makes me think we just don’t get it.

Okay, stop, wait a minute, Raven. I sense you are sitting in your gadget-filled home office wearing last year's Christmas "memory foam" slippers -- are you suggesting we’re moving into another Great Depression? Get down off your pedestal, a real raven might dump on your head.

No, I’m not suggesting we are headed for Great Depression II. In a recent column in the WSJ, Peggy Noonan (Bush the Elder’s ghost who wrote “thousand points of light”) said that people in the 1930s looked “like a catastrophe was happening”. I agree with her. My own father’s family pictures make the iconic Dorothea Lange photograph of “Migrant Mother” look like Ginger Rogers. But America has real trouble today, despite it not quite living up to the Great Depression reputation.

I recently read “The Worst Hard Times” by Timothy Egan after watching a History Channel special about the Dust Bowl and the subsequent poverty it wrought. I recommend this book – while it is primarily about families in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, my father found it reminiscent of his own experiences in a creaky turn-of-the-century era farmhouse that once was a corncrib (before his mother and three sisters cleaned it up for a home after the family lost its farm). This book will help you understand how these individuals lived through that terrible time with no social safety net at all.

My Beloved Nephew and I have been jawing about the economy. We both agree that our country is not in Great Depression II (and he feels that is a stupid thing to call it). But where we disagree is that I think most of society has its head in the sand. To paraphrase an old saying, “If it is your neighbor, it’s a recession, if it is you, it’s a depression.”

Today I’m employed. Today the Love of my Life is employed. Today I have health insurance. Most likely, if you have broadband and a computer on which to read this blog, you are not standing in a bread line.

Many people are standing in today’s version of the bread line. Food pantries in our community and around the country find empty shelves much earlier in the month. due to greater demand. Those of us who enjoy the blessings of the middle class are often blind to the possibility that we may be next when we are unable to distinguish our wants from our needs. Quoth the raven.