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Good Things in Bad Times

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Message Allan Goldstein
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Spring came late this year.  Winter was long and bruising, it tried our patience and tired our spirits, the leaves turned brown and dropped off, our greenbacks turned brown and died, we’ve grown weary, so weary, waiting for the thaw.

The World Baseball Classic, delightful as it was, with its glimpse of what the grand game would be like without HGH and Macy’s parade balloon-muscled freaks, delayed opening day until April 5th.  But the real reason for the late season was that we weren’t finished with our long winter of discontent.  We had a lot to learn, and we hadn’t learned it yet.  We were living in fantasy land, until this long, hard freeze.

Status junkies or bling addicts, real estate frenzied or QVC crazed—we all had something.  And like all out-of-control serial abusers we had to hit bottom before we could begin to turn things around.

That took time, subprime time, foreclosure time, cold-turkey-on-the-Visa time, time for the horrible lessons to kick in.  Success and $ucce$$ are not the same thing.  We are not our possessions.  Life is not a consumer choice.

We were all sick, sick with unnatural lusts and greed.  Our souls were so sour we spent time watching Donald Trump squinch up his evil-baby face as he told hapless schmucks and third-rate celebrities “You’re fired.”  That was entertainment to our cash-sick, hocked-up-to-our-eyeballs souls.  That was funny.

It’s not so funny anymore, is it?  Not since those words got turned on us.  Humiliation has lost its charm, and that’s a good thing.  And it’s not the only good thing to come from these bad times.

We’re soaking wet from a drenching winter, but the rain washed away more than just our illusory wealth, it washed away a wealth of illusions.  We’re better off without them.

It’s not a bad thing that a house is back to being a home instead of a lottery ticket.  It never really was an ATM with hardwood floors, sprouting second and third mortgages instead of second and third kids, we just lost our way for a while.

The American dream is not a securitized tranche bundled for the amusement of debt traders and other financial brigands, who somehow manage the trick of being too big to fail and beneath contempt at the same time.

It’s a home again, and suddenly even cops and teachers can afford one within turboprop distance of where they work.  That’s a good thing in bad times.

A whole class of people who thought it was “coming to them,” found out it’s not coming anymore.  It turns out that greed isn’t good; it isn’t even greedy.  Greed is pauperizing.

We’ve discovered new truths in old clichés:  The problem with the rat race isn’t the race, it’s the rats.  Our mistake wasn’t building castles in the sand, it was thinking we had to build castles.  And, most shockingly of all, the currency of happiness is not dollars.

Trite stuff?  Yes, so trite we learned it way back in the 60s.  But not so trite that we didn’t forget those timeless lessons in less than forty years.

We’ve been relearning them, all through this long winter.  But soon, the Spring.  The clack of bat on ball.  Green scents of chlorophylled air drifting in open windows and sunshine until 8:30.  There are still good things in bad times.

We will, most of us, find a place to sleep.  We will, nearly all of us, have enough to eat.  Our clothes are a year out of style but we’re not naked and cold.  We have everything we need to live.  If we can remember how.  If we can fill the emptiness that was nothing to begin with, nothing but merchandise and trinkets.

We’ll come back.  We may come back without GM and Chrysler, but they stopped making De Soto and Hupmobile years ago and we’re still driving.  Toyota is as much Fremont as Fukuoka anyway.  They make cars in multiple continents these days, presidents and shortstops too.

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San Francisco based columnist, author, gym rat and novelist. My book, "The Confessions of a Catnip Junkie" is the best memoir ever written by a cat. Available on, or wherever fine literature is sold with no sales tax collected. For (more...)
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