Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The Debt Lifestyle

Some trends I don't want to miss. I completely fell in love with the internet when it first arrived, and wanted to work in the industry, which I got to do in the late 90s. I'm glad. I remember thinking: I don't want to get old and tell my grandchildren I wasn't "there."

I did not get rich. Lots of my friends--many of whom did not work in information technology--sort of did. I can't really tell. But they would say things like: "I can't live off of $70,000 a year!" when in the company of working musicians (translate: that was clumsy) or "It is impossible to live in New York City on $250,000 a year!" which I thought was really clumsy.

And now here we are, a nation in debt. This morning I listened to a program on how to prepare "Depression Era Food." Suddenly we are going to become a nation that saves bacon fat, ie, we will learn to do our own cooking. Maybe we will even learn to clean our own houses! Or hem our own pants!

Last night I went to the opera to see the new production of the Damnation of Faust because I was curious about the video screen projection props and the music, with which I am not terribly familiar. I'll save my thoughts on the opera for a later date, because what I really want to say is that I was in standing room, with my binoculars. I used to go to standing room all the time when I was college, and often went alone. This didn't bother me. In college, I thought it was kind of a game. I usually ended up with a seat anyway, and I even met and made a life long friend. My parents met in standing room. I am and was unembarrassed by standing room. Plus, if a production sucked--as it did when the Met put on this ridiculous Freudian interpretation of Lucia di Lammermoor in which chorus members sang while gripping red poles (the audience booed)--I could leave and not worry about how much I had paid for my ticket.

But. I did wonder, as a student, what it would be like to show up at the Met with my season tickets and my fancy coat and SIT DOWN. Only, there I was last night, still in standing room.

So what in MY life is going to change now that the recession is on? Am I going to start cooking Depression food? It seems to me that I have been doing just that for years, and that this is how writers and artists have always lived. I guess I could completely give up standing room and going to the opera all together. I could give up buying books. I could give up taking dance class. But how much would I really save? It's not like I have a golf club membership, or a nanny, or a housekeeper, or an expensive gas guzzling car, or any of these things that are supposedly the hallmarks of a successful lifestyle.

And as I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that I have completely missed the economic boom that everyone has been enjoying for the past 15 years (okay, not everyone. I know our middle class is dwindling). I have completely missed driving up my credit card debt. I have also completely missed making any money, but I also seem to have missed the emotional highs that would come from having lived on credit.

I do worry. The person who struggled to live off of 250k a year is going to lose some money this year, but she's also probably going to be okay because, well, she has that much more of a cushion. What happens to the rest of us who have always been buying our clothes on sale and killing our own bath tub scum? We don't have too much of a distance to fall. Such, I suppose, is the price to pay for choosing to live a creative life over a material one (and not that I'm complaining, mind you, because I do have a lot more than many people and am conscious of this).

I had a strange experience a few years ago when I worked on a freelance project for a guy who wanted to write a book (which never got off the ground). He had been some high level exec who had lost his job and was going through an existential crisis. He lived in a wealthy community just outside of New York City and said: "My wife doesn't care what I do, as long as we keep the lifestyle." I thought, how fascinating! I've heard about people like you and your wife! I've read about people like you and seen you on TV. And here you are, actually real, actually trying to find another way to live your life, while your wife worries about the country club membership. How amusing.

Anyway, there was this brief period where he wanted to know how I shopped. He wanted to try to buy clothes at my thrift store, and he did. He was incredibly proud of his thrift store purchases. I was worried about the shirts he chose. The collar was frayed. "No, I like that," he said. It was like some kind of badge of honor for him. He was really getting into this alternative lifestyle thing. And while I have no problem with buying things from thrift stores, I usually want to find something that is either 1) unique or 2) looks brand new. I am not interested in showing off my alternative lifestyle purchases. I shop the way I do because I don't think it makes sense to walk into a department store and pay full price. Like, ooh look at me! I'm a sucker for full price! I don't see the point.

He was briefly interested in writing. He thought it would be fascinating to dig into himself and express what he had to say. He thought it would be nice to read a lot of books and get all deep. As long as his wife could maintain her lifestyle.

And then, predictably, he got a job offer, he was able to afford normal shirts again, and the fascination with an alternative lifestyle came to an end. What he thought of as a fascinating "alternative," I simply think of as practical.

This much I do know; the minute the economy turns around, Depression Era cooking will end as a trend and everyone will go back to eating out in restaurants that serve truffle salt or whatever else. And this self-flagellation will end and clothes will once again be too expensive . . . and food will be cheap.

Bacon fat has many uses, but I most highly recommend Jiffy cornbread (Southern-style, not the sweet Yankee kind) made in a muffin pan greased it.
Bacon fat has many uses, but I most highly recommend Jiffy cornbread (Southern-style, not the sweet Yankee kind) made in a muffin pan greased it.
Wait. MAUD NEWTON just commented on my blog?

I'm down with greasing my muffin pan--cornbread is good for Thanksgiving.
Glad I'm not the only one killing my own tub scum and driving a 1998 car (though you NYers don't usually have cars - we have to in the Great Open Wild Rust Belt). I could never understand my coworkers who paid $200/month for a cleaning lady. Guys, it's only dust.
Hahaha! Yes! It's only dust! And chances are, it's dust you created, right? Are we above our own dust?
Wooow... what an amazing post!
well... you know I'm argentinian, and in the 90's Argentina "grow up" thanks to debts, to government services sold to private companies and to let foreign interest to invest and suck money out of the country. It was not a good time... people became much more individualistic. I was a child back then, or a teenager, bur my parents didn't make huge money or travel around the world as other people. But other really had a very bad time. At the end... on 2001, the economical/political crisis started at was terrible. High classes didn't have much trouble as always, but middle high or middle low had, and the low class works and for middle class, and this people got the worst part. If you don't pay a nanny or someone to do this or that, this people will get even poorer than they are. On that year I see the worst misery in my life, and street violence became terrible too, and you can blame the thieves, as there was people taking out food from garbage bags on the streets. I don't think this will happen to NY actually... Argentina is what is called a "3rd world country". When I hear on the news "Spain and Germany started a recession" I think... woow... they stop growing as a country... but to stop growing german is like 10 times better than growing Argentina ^_^;;; And other thing... you know the media works for political interests... so, to show nothing is happening or to say everything will go to hell makes me think of someone trying to make people don't or do feel panic.
Nowadays that the economy in Argentina isn't so bad as it was in 2001, people started spending more money, but I fell that is not the "I just care about myself" motif what is inside argentinian mind. It was not a revolution, but it was a change. If done well, some people might learn something, and others... well... they will not ^^;;;
Maki--It's funny, I thought of you when I wrote my post. Yes, Argentina has had its struggles and it is always the people on the poorer people who suffer the most. I remember reading the news coverage.

Who knows what will happen in New York? The banks have really made a mess. I think in our case, nothing will really change until our new president takes over, but even then there is a lot of work to do.
Hi Marie,

The thought has crossed my mind that one possible silver lining to the recent financial mess is that it might, as it embellishes the natural recoil from the previous generation's agenda, it MIGHT serve to reverse the pathological fealty to luxe bands so prevalent in the youth of today.

It was bad enough when we were at Stevenson, right? And so much worse now. Maybe Brands/Labels/18-year-old in a $80,000 car will be so uncool as to render them, finally, as intolerable to young'uns as we fogeys have long wished it would be. Does that make any sense at all?

I don't know. I do know, however, that soft scrambled eggs cooked in bacon fat are a wonderful thing.

So there. Hi! How are you? Isn't the internet simply marvelous?
Oh. My. God.

Is that really you?
Well either it's me, or Alan A. or Andrew R. is impersonating me.

Who would say they were me who was not?

So yes. In answer to your query, It's me. Honest.

I will take it on faith that you are you.
You sound like you! And, yes, I am still myself.

How nice to hear from you. Are you in touch with Alan A? Someone ran into him a while back and said he looked well. Not sure who Andrew R. might be. Where are you? What are you doing?
Where I am right now and what I am doing is flogging away at the office. It's crazytime for us currently.

There's got to be an email addy for you on this site somewhere, right?

If so, I will send something along when I get home. With the lowdown and everything.

If not, I will find another way.
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