Table of Contents
For Marilyn and Elizabeth
This book began as a series of posts on
, the economics blog. They began growing in length, and it was suggested I move them to another site and link back to them. This book was written and posted to the
After the Crash
blog site, and then moved to the
I wrote this “live.” I would write a section, proof it, and post it. I usually had no idea of what I was going to write until I started. The news of the current financial crisis influenced the direction, as did comments from the readers, and the comments in general at
When I say “comments from the readers” it does not convey the amount of inspiration and story ideas they provided. I could not have written this without their help and encouragement. I would like to thank, in no particular order:
Max, reticentlurker, FSHB, zapoteca, rsj, tj and the bear, bobn, LA Confederate, D^2, pdxr13, Lergnom, Mike in Long Island, unhappyCakeEater, Kevin John, Jim in Mo, Hoopajoops LTD, kidbuck, Joanna, CounterPointer,
The Notorious AIG, Jerry, TampaSteve, WWIRUgger, bohica, and everyone else. Thank you.
I would also like to thank Bill at
for allowing me to post my stories and the link backs without complaining. I would also like to thank him for providing the blog that opened my eyes to the world of economics, and all the people who comment there. You cannot mention
without mentioning Tanta, who is no longer with us, for writing posts that made my head hurt. Tanta vive!
Most of all I would like to thank Jon Dansie. Not only for his comments from the very start, but for the outstanding job he did in pulling it all together. Without his help, this book probably would never have happened.
Looking back now, it’s clear when I began to lose it—
being my grip on the American lifestyle. Previously, I would have said
but now I see we all have one. Even the six-year-old kid picking through the refuse dump outside some smoldering, intermittently powered Asian city has a life. Lifestyle—now that is different. Lifestyle, it rolls off the tongue, all cocky and aerobic; say it to yourself and smell the fine women, taste the magazine food, and imagine life under a roof that does not leak. Take away the money and you take away the lifestyle. What is still amazing, to me at least, was how much of my life then was really lifestyle and how totally blind I was to it.
Please, don’t get me wrong: I was never rich by the prevailing standards of the time. I had a job, a car, some cool toys, a girlfriend, and a condo—what I thought of as the basics of life. Nowadays . . . well, we all know; the standards changed—and changed so very fast. The “good old days” seem like a dream to me, as I am sure they do to so many of us. Some of us, especially politicians, seem to believe they will be coming back—or maybe they just
to believe that. Maybe they will come back, but not in my lifetime.
Have you ever been standing still, yet still you feel as if you’re falling? It is a terrifying and helpless feeling, especially when it is your life. You know it’s slipping away, but there’s nothing to grab on to. Being helpless makes you feel so small. That feeling of being helpless—it steals part of your soul. Partly because it leaves you feeling like less of a man; you end up wanting to embrace the tawdry, self-pitying idea that you were a victim, just another of Fate’s bitches. I told myself I could have done
if I could have only gotten a physical handle on it. There was no handle, there never is: a bitter truth—one that I found out the hard way.
I had this job—not a great job, but it paid the bills most of the time. Nowadays you find people who either do not want to talk about what they did or want to brag about from what heights they have fallen. Me, I dropped from the first step to the ground, and it still broke something inside me.
I was working for a financial company—never mind the name—doing tech support. Like everything in life, it had its food chain, and I was somewhere above the mail room and cafeteria help. Above, but not by much. The good thing was, I went everywhere. You called, and if they could not fix it over the phone, then I was summoned to take a look. Most of the time it was an easy fix, and I got to meet some very attractive coworkers. Not that my willingness to be affectionate was ever returned. Their attentions were bestowed on the guys pulling in those fat commissions. I used to envy those people.
Money raining down on them . . . nice cars . . . good drugs . . . beautiful women—it puzzled me then, and it still puzzles me.
I mean, I know I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but how did they do it? I know now: fraud, lying, easy money. But how did they personally end up sitting in a thousand-dollar chair, making it big, and I didn’t? They were not smart. God knows, that became obvious after my fourth or fifth call to go see someone on the broker floors. They were basically freaking idiots.
But I digress, which means I am also not watching my perimeter. Nowadays you have to have eyes in the back of your head, especially when you are out and about in the areas I frequent. Everybody carries maps in their heads of the areas they spend a lot of time traveling in. I never really moved away so I have my old map and my new map. My old map had where the nearest Starbucks was, where traffic backlogged, and where I could get decent Chinese. My new map has bike paths, bad areas divided into different types of bad, food—preferably free—and shelters.
Traffic is not something I worry about a lot anymore. Eating at least one meal a day and avoiding getting any open wounds—or getting dead—pretty much occupies my time. Sometimes I talk and hang out with a few of the guys I can trust. Today I am hoping to run in to Carlos. Word is he has a throwaway cell that he is bartering time for; it would be nice to call my mom and listen to the disconnected message again.
I am sitting on a milk crate. Milk crates are not comfortable to sit on. My ass probably looks like a waffle but I don’t have any cardboard handy to pad it with. My back is to the wall of a closed gas station and my bike is laid
down flat next to me. A guy I hung with for a month or two taught me to do that, back in the beginning, when I was a rookie.
He taught me a few other things:
Keep a low profile.
Don’t advertise the fact that luck favored you with something extra that day.
Always watch your perimeter.
Trust your gut
. Those were his rules, and they have become mine. Too bad he didn’t follow them. That’s all it takes: Screw up once, and you go down for good. No medkits, restarts, or extra lives in this game.
His name was Shaun. He was a pretty cool white kid who had it together, especially for so early on in “the Crash.” Back in the first days of the Crash, people were more likely to help each other out. That lasted, oh, about eight months or so. When the hope around here ran out, so did the caring and sharing. Kind of a bitch. It was the only thing that made my life almost tolerable on some days, especially since I don’t drink or do drugs. Shaun liked getting high and he liked women. So when the girl suggested that she knew a safe place where they could go and get high, well, he was all in. The rest you can guess—although I think cutting his head off was a bit excessive.
I’m waiting here to check the free clothing room at the shelter, hoping to score a pair of shoes. I’m not going for food. Maybe tonight I’ll come back for that. The shelter is county run so I won’t have to dance for Jeebus to get them to give me a pair. Plus, I have a friend there; that always helps. At the Salvation Army, well, Sally makes you listen to a prayer and a short sermon. That is as far as I am willing go—at least so far. Lately, the fundy-run shelters and food stops have been getting a little weird. They really push hard for you to come to Jeebus.
Actually, everything is getting a little weird. Some days I am not sure if I am crazy or the world just slipped yet another gear. I guess it will help if I explain what my little part of America is like today—with an emphasis on
, because who knows what it will be like in six months. One thing I am sure of: It won’t be better. So, what is the most important thing in my world? Water. It’s also my number one pain in the ass. Water is bulky and heavy, and it can’t be just 95 percent okay. Plus, you always need it, especially when you are using a bike for transportation. Come summertime, I need a gallon of water a day, and that’s just for drinking. I am long past pre-Crash cleanliness standards, although I try more than most people in my condition, I think. The only time you need to get really cleaned up is when you visit the “Earth People” in their natural habitat. That’s what we call those lucky clueless who still have a house and a job. They still live on the planet. We just kind of exist in limbo.
Water is important because you need it to live. That simple fact came as quite a surprise to a lot of people. There are still idiots and noobs who drink from the streams—them and people who came from countries where the water quality is even worse than here. The rest of us, well, who wants to spend a year with the shits when you’re homeless and your bathroom is the closest clump of trees? So yeah, water is a big deal for us.
We are not one mass of happy homogeneous poor; there are clans and groups—our own special hierarchy of poverty. The younger ones gravitate to the clans, especially the males; it is their old gamer world made real. The media calls them “gangs,” but when has the mainstream media ever gotten anything right? They probably wanted
to avoid the word
, as that still has a lot of baggage associated with it, especially among their viewing demographic. A lot of the younger ones are not wrapped too tightly. Once they lost high-speed Internet access, iPods, and texting—well, I think their brains crashed. When they rebooted them—and not all managed to do that—they did not come back quite . . . right. Sometimes, I watch them talk: Their lips move but so do their thumbs.