Thursday, March 12, 2009


There was money. And then there wasn't. Simple as that. There was this nice number; not a huge number, not a rich person's number, but a number that I could use, that could help me out, that could make things easier. Right there, in my bank account. A surprise, yes, but not impossible in the fickle business in which I work. Money comes in dribs and drabs, sometimes when you expect it, sometimes not. So it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility. And after making a couple of phone calls to check it out, it seemed more than possible. It seemed probable.

But then: poof. Adios. Gonzo. A computer blip. Human error. Bank mistake. The having it, not the not having it. It was never mine to begin with. A fantasy. A chimera. A cruel joke.

And boom: I got an up close and personal experience with this, our second Great Depression. There was money. And then there wasn't.

That's pretty much it, right? The Dow is at 14,000+, then it's below 7,000. Where did it go? Citibank is worth 60something a share, then it's worth less than a biggie pack of Orbit White Bubblemint. Say what now? Investors have millions with Bernie Madoff and then they're paupers. Howzzat? And just like my 'phantom money' (that's what I call it; the phantom money) this is my belief: it was never there to begin with. We all acted like it was there, we felt cozy and comfortable like it was there, we spent like it was there, but it never was. The "money" we thought we "had" was just a bunch of black slashes on a white computer screen.

Look: Donkey. <-- That is not a real donkey. That is just some black slashes on a computer screen that looks like 'donkey' and makes you think 'donkey' but it is not actually a donkey.

Now, I'm a fantasist; I admit it. For the few days I (thought I) had that money, my life was swell. I exhaled. I actually felt a sense of calm descend, an unexpected smile curl the corners of my mouth. I even toasted with friends. I thought I was about to live a life (relatively) free of stress and worry and bizarre nightmares of becoming a crazy homeless woman living under the 405. I actually imagined...buying things. Books from the bookstore and not the 'used' section of Amazon. Getting a facial. A cloud of equanimity even settled over me, in place of my worst fears: if my computer continues chipping off little pieces of itself and finally there's nothing left but the F9 key, my life won't be over. The new 17inch environmentally friendly Mac will be mine.

But that's me. I make shit up for a (sporadic) living and I'm afraid of math. But can everyone in the country be fantasists? Can our entire economic system be an illusion? Can all those smart young best and brightest master of the universe Turk-types on Wall Street be delusional or liars--or both? Apparently, yes. We all believed. We believed in "Zero interest for one year!" on over-stuffed sectionals from LivingSpaces. We believed in "You've been pre-approved!". We believed in "No money down mortgages". No money down mortgages. Didn't anybody think, "Um...that...can't be right. I mean, for an entire house? Seriously?" Apparently not.

This fall I did some canvassing for Obama in Las Vegas. And in the worst neighborhood you could possibly imagine--an arid, flat, chained up mongrels, surrounded by used car dealerships Appalachia kind of place--people would open the doors of their small, sadly shabby homes and inside would be...a 52" flat screen TV. Flat screen TVs in every house. Two, three thousand dollar TVs. Everywhere. People bought those TVs--poor people, people who were un-employed or under employed or barely employed, people with too many bills who lived paycheck to paycheck--with money they didn't have. Phantom money. Black slashes on a white computer screen.

If we get through this in any kind of intact--please, let's get through this--I just hope we can all remember: This is not a donkey.

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