After They’ve seen Paree
January 28, 2009 § 2 Comments
Old Post Office, Washington DC
Gray day, light snow and eddying pools of slush at the corners of 6th and 7th avenues. I walked in a daze—I had left the apartment in desperation, hoping that a long walk would energize me—and my neighbor John had to jump directly in front of me waving his arms to get my attention. Even then it took a couple of seconds to recognize the man with whom I’ve shared a wall for 25 years.
We talked about the people we know: those with no money, those terrified of losing their jobs, and those for whom this is a wonderful shopping opportunity. The easiest way to tell about someone’s finances now is to ask about the summer. When they say, “I can’t look that far ahead,” you understand perfectly and change the subject to the unlikely possibility that Obama will fix things really quickly.
In the mystery bookstore two people were arguing about whether a certain author was a high-level CIA agent or just a good at doing research. The bookstore proprietor remarked that when he met the man, he commented on how legibly he signed his name, and the author replied, “Probably because I invented it recently and haven’t gotten bored with writing it yet.” I fantasized about pseudonyms, which used to seem risky—you think you’re anonymous, publish things you don’t want to be known by, but you’re not safe, someone always finds out—and now seem more like Internet dating. When I first tried that, in 2000, several of my girlfriends were worried. In the end the only risk was love. The ‘stranger’ part of the equation offered novelty, entertainment, hijinks like those I hadn’t indulged in since I was 15—intrigue on the cheap.
My friend Jocelyn remarked last night that in the Great Depression, at least people could go back home, live on the family farm and grow their own food. I said that a lot of people had had no farm to go back to. She conceded this, but still thought it was an option for more people then than now. But we have far more wealth in this country than we did in the 1930’s. There are plenty of houses. Some people are going hungry but most are losing their dreams—their own home, college for the kids, a safe retirement…all the province of the upper classes in 1932.
Still, it feels like the perfect storm. Ice, snow, freezing rain; the great sinkhole of the summer when the cash runs out; the post office wanting to eliminate Tuesday.
I’m ready for a new identity.
Tenantless farm, Texas, 1938, Dorothea Lange. Public Domain.