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Us, Those, and Them

January 5, 2009

[Begun in journal, Saturday 3 January 2009]

Trying to make it a slow and easy Saturday morning. The coffee’s good. I slept pretty good.  The missus and I had a nice time out last night – we went to Wong’s – the best fresh Chinese food in Tempe – then the book store, and to see the movie Slumdog Millionaire , which I recommend to everyone.  It was our first date night in a while that didn’t involve going to the bar.  That seemed important to her – that we not go to the bar and that I not be drunk.

I guess I understand.  I DO understand.  My drinking everyday while I’ve been on vacation digs up all kinds of shit I won’t get into here.  Plus, it serves as a reminder that she shouldn’t drink anymore because it doesn’t mix with her blood pressure meds.  Besides, my bar tabs, while not large – at least not as large as I’ve had in the past – do add up. I’m not going to try and offer a sum… but I think I have managed to expand the definition of expendable income.   As a result, we’ve been living ahead of ourselves. Between catching up with the holidays and trying to adjust to getting paid every week as opposed to every other week, we’ve done some creative financial juggling of late. You’d think that getting paid every week would not constitute a hardship; but when your circadian rhythm of bills, obligations, and spending habits are geared towards a bi-weekly paid cycle, it’s an exercise that Atlas himself  would beg off in favor of a bag full of White Castle sliders and a Big Gulp from Circle K.  Besides, change is a pain in the ass.

We spend too much. I spend too much at the bar. We lose too much on the horses. Life is one long process of nickel and diming ourselves to death. These are simple facts. This is the THING THAT WILL NEVER CHANGE, I suppose. Probably.  That’s just the way it is.

Sometimes when I’m trying to figure out twenty ways to split up a penny, I take a break and imagine what it would be like not to have money worries.  What it would be like to be one of THOSE people. But it doesn’t take me long to look back down at the stack of bills on the kitchen table and remember that most of THOSE aren’t really all that different from US.  THOSE people usually have better credit – which means they have more credit cards and more credit debt.  This economy, built on credit and consumerism,  is a house of cards and it’s coming down on all of Our heads. We’ve been living ahead for so long that there’s no more room to move forward.  We’re out of concrete.  From here on out, the roads are dirt and mud and smell like cow shit and stale straw.

I’ve heard people say (and I’ve also said myself) that the economy is cyclical. When I think about that statement, I think about that old Blood, Sweat, and Tears song:

What goes up must come down
spinning wheel got to go round
Talking about your troubles it’s a crying sin
Ride a painted pony
Let the spinning wheel spin.

Cycle. It’s one of those words we use to describe the current situation without having to resort to words that carry a more unpleasant connotation.  Cycle instead of recession.  Downturn instead of panic.  The Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State recently referred to this particularly nasty “cycle” as an economic inconvenience.  Now THAT one made me scratch my head a little.  Just how inconvenient has the recession been for him personally?  I know he makes quite a bit more than I make. He makes more than my department chair makes, and he’s in six figures. (This is public knowledge, as is my income, because technically we are civil servants.) I’ve not been by his house, but I’d be willing to bet he lives in Scottsdale or Paradise Valley with all of the Phoenix elite.  Has he had to do a little belt- tightening? Take less extravagant vacations?  Maybe fewer shopping trips to the mall for Mrs. Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences? Maybe drive the same Infiniti for another couple of years instead of trading it in for a newer model? Delay that renovation of the ancestral manse?

The Dean and people like him are THEM. THEM people are beyond THOSE people, and certainly beyond US.  You know them.  THEMs are the ones who can hop a jet out of the country and watch the whole shit pile burn in the rear view mirror.  THEMs are the ones who have what accountants call liquidity – fast cash on hand. Many of THEM have last names we all know from having seen their screwed up kids on TMZ, ET, and Access Hollywood.  THEM know how to get out of DUI  arrests. THEM sell pictures of their new babies to PEOPLE.  The THEMs have Hugh Hefner on speed dial and own more shoes than Imelda Marcos.  The THEMs of the world hold all the keys to all the doors – and even if they aren’t all the fabulously rich and famous, they work damn hard to make sure that no one else is, either. It could be argued that THEM people have way more to lose. But the truth is, THEMs have safer econimic indicators than US or THOSE.  As a combined group, we US’s and THEMs know we’re fucked when the power gets shut off, the car gets repossessed, and we find an eviction or foreclosure notice taped to the door. The THEM know they’re fucked after the rest of US and THOSE are fucked first.

And it will be THEM who survives on a beach or in a well-constructed personal bunker while US and THOSE are here fighting over the scraps.  In the meantime,  I don’t see anything wrong with trying to take some fun and comfort when I can. Sure, we may be living ahead. But I’d rather live ahead than have to look back when I’m about to die and feel like I got left behind.


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