It’s Bad…It’s Bad?

When there’s little to look forward to next week than the autopsy photos of Michael Jackson surfacing in the tabloids as inevitably as oil globules from an ambushed battleship, one would conclude we’re in a pretty grim run.

Indeed. I’ve seen little over the past few weeks of encouragement. The media has hung onto to the exploits of a freakish family of 10 where the micromanaging mother is obviously insane and the milquetoast father understandably wants out. A U.S. Senator who cuckolded a member of his own staff. A governor who tried to turn down stimulus money for his beleaguered state but was more than eager to use taxpayer bucks to visit his mistress in Argentina, then lie about it.

The economy bobs a little up one week, but down the next. Pundits have been guessing whether it’s hit bottom for seven months now. It might be going somewhere – in two years. But no one’s taking any bets.

I wonder what Walter Cronkite, the one remaining symbol of post-war rectitude, might make of all this. However, he’s apparently on his deathbed.  Ensconced in the next life, he might have the opportunity to ask Jacko what the hell happened. However, celebrity interviews were never his forte.

We could ask Walter Cronkite what he'd make of this, but it's probably too late.

We could ask Walter Cronkite what he'd make of this, but it's probably too late.

On the microcosmic level, things aren’t much better. I’ve been all but berating clients to pay me so I can keep up. A dear friend, my daughter’s godparent, just underwent surgery for cancer that’s proven to be nearly as tough as he is. Given I am what Southern author Walker Percy would refer to as a lapsed Jew, I’m not buying into the power of prayer pitch. But I am beginning to comprehend why gentiles drink so much.
Yet despite the grimness, I feel there is a spark of optimism. Maybe all this mayhem, Jon & Kate Disintegrates, the King of Pop as Elvis redux, is the beginning of the end of obsession with celebrity, a tacit acknowledgement of how toxic it actually is. The fact that the savings rate is up for the first time in nearly two decades is astonishing to me – an apparent overnight reversal of the spend-now, pay-later culture we’ve been buying into forever.

And the bleak circumstances also forced me to rethink my business. I’m now focused more on publishing than piecework. It’s an odd thing, having spent 20 years as an obscure writer, suddenly doing graphic design, compiling mailing lists, and “dialing for dollars” from potential investors and advertisers. It may not work, but I suspect it will. If it does, it will put my family and myself in decidedly more stable finances in the long run. And like the rest of shell-shocked America, we’re no longer going to be snapping up every bauble that bewitches our vision.

“No man can ever truly be secure until he has been forsaken by fortune.” That’s from Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, the early Medieval work that every English major is forced to read when studying Chaucer. Yet the major themes of the work resonate today: good luck and bad luck comes in cycles. You only have to last long enough for things to change.

The Boethian worldview and changes of fortune was the bulwark of another Southern author, one who wrote in an absurdist/comic vein much like Walker Percy. But he was not nearly as prolific as Percy, primarily because he killed himself when he couldn’t find a publisher for his first novel. Years later, the author’s mother all but stalked Percy to get him to read the dog-eared manuscript. The novel, “A Confederacy Dunces,” brought author John Kennedy Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Price. He should have tried to hang around a bit longer.

My family and I spent today driving out the country, where we picked cherries. They’ll be used tomorrow in the dessert we’re cooking for visiting relatives – the kind of relatives we actually like. They’re little things. But they’re enough to make us want to hang around, knowing that it can’t stay this way forever.

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Filed under Media and politics, The economy

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