What's the matter, patriot? Don't enjoy seeing your stock portfolio slashed in half for greed-obsessed reasons beyond your control? None too pleased with how much of your 401(k) account has burned to a crisp, like John McCain's ethical boundaries? Home worth a fraction of what you paid and the neighbors have all moved away as squads of homeless people now squat in the 350K tract-McMansion next door, staring a mite too hungrily at your dog?
Housewives! Have you taken to the online message boards recently, posting bleak, depressing notes of fear and uncertainty after your husband lost his job of 20 years and the kids are asking uncomfortable questions? Or maybe you're one of the super-wealthy, quaking in your Upper East Side Gucci riding boots over the collapse of your family fortune and self-esteem and who, pray who, will polish the fleet of Aston Martins?
Or perhaps you're none of these, and you're just a sweet young thing, still in your what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-the-world phase, with no real idea what the hell a "portfolio" or "recession" or "hedge fund manager" actually are, but it doesn't really matter because you're still stuck with this sinking feeling that Something Is Deeply Wrong.
Do you know this feeling? The sense that the bumbling, squinty-faced dude in the White House is about to step down, and this wrecked economy, this decimated nation, this toxic sickness will be his final parting gift, like some sort of nasty STD he and his cronies passed on to you, while you didn't even realize you were getting royally screwed?
Well, enough whining. It's time to buck up and hunker down and tighten your belts and employ all those other metaphors that indicate frugality, squeezing, smallness, bitterness and frustration and Zoloft and mom 'n' dad sighing heavily at the kitchen counter, staring at a stack of bills and then over at their kids' evaporated college fund and saying, well, I guess community college won't be that bad.
Yes, despite how our most powerful leaders and supposedly rock-solid institutions have failed us completely, just remember, there is still good news to be had. No matter which side of the political aisle you're stuck to, this historic recession has its bright spots, its upside.
Well, sort of.
Liberals get to be happy about the meltdown because, at the very least, it means no new wars. Hell, right now we couldn't afford to invade Kentucky, much less Iran. Turns out the Bush Doctrine ("Bomb First, Ask Questions Never") is just wildly expensive. Who knew?
As Obama blearily points out, right now we're headed toward a trillion for Iraq and $700 billion in bailouts and $10 trillion in overall deficit, thanks to Bush's historic ineptitude. Whipping out the checkbook to nail Pakistan to the wall? Out of the question.
(Side note to China: Those secret plans to invade America? Now is the time. We're totally helpless. You own most of our debt anyway. Can you bring extra iPods and some decent dim sum? Thank you.)
As for Republicans, well, they have good reason to smile, too, even if it's one of those creepy sidelong sneers akin to Dick Cheney eating a live cobra.
For one thing, the global production slowdown means oil prices are suddenly half of what they were just a few months ago. Translation: Gas prices are back to around 3 bucks a gallon for perhaps the final time in your lifetime, cheap enough that you can load up the Avalanche one last time and take the rugrats on one last cross-country hunting trip this holiday season because, well, it's not like you can afford any Christmas shopping anyway.
Another small victory for peevish Repubs who are about to lose the White House and go down in history as the most failed leadership in decades? Global warming. Turns out we can't afford that right now, either. Or rather, we can't afford to pass any costly, enviro-friendly legislation that might destabilize energy prices, because no one wants to be caught trying to save the planet when many Americans can't afford hot water. Isn't that nice?
Even the evangelicals get a piece of the recession action. Because you know who's back? God! Church attendance is up right now, I hear. Nothing like fear of losing it all to make the wary masses and the banking CEOs stagger back to the church and drop to their knees and offer up their firstborn in exchange for a serious uptick in GM stock prices.
And finally, we have the universal panacea, the Great Equalizer. Can you guess? The single cheap, friendly cure-all everyone turns to in time of need and fiscal downturn, even more than God and porn and basic cable? You got it: Booze. Watch for a nice surge in alcoholism rates and sales of giant gallon drums of vodka from Costco. By the way, now might be the perfect time to open that dive bar you've always dreamed of. Numbness is in. Especially for you doubly decimated Republicans.
(Oh yes, the cake thing. Let me just say, the Safeway Bake Shop must be making a mint right now, what with all the meager farewell parties going on at downsizing companies nationwide. The Chronicle alone has been veritable cake factory this past month, following the paper's latest miserable round of buyouts and layoffs. There you have it: Booze and cake, America's true economic indicators).
What, too bleak? Probably. But really, when it comes to the economy, it's tough not to be just a little bitter right now, to wallow in a bit of morbid humor.
To be honest, there really are some genuine upsides of a recession. We use less. We become more aware. We drive less, walk more, produce less crap we don't actually need, churn out fewer pollutants, become highly attuned to waste and excess, dial into opportunity, travel locally, skip vacuous trends, become less fickle, appreciate bargain wines, breathe cleaner air, save, appreciate, savor.
Then again, recessions are also playgrounds for the paranoid, Slip n' Slides of undue fear. Fear of losing it all. Fear that maybe you shouldn't be quite so generous anymore. Fear that now is not the time to be interesting or atypical or bold. The kind of fear that leads to constriction, constipation, Dick Cheney. You can cling and clench instead of breathe, shrug, move though.
Which I suppose is the gist of it all, right there. It can't be all bad, if you think about it. At least we still have a choice. Don't we?