Standing at the Edge
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I don't know about you, but even though the world is coming to an end, I haven't yet noticed any despair on the streets. The people I run into seem curiously upbeat, in fact unusually free with their smiles. New vitality has entered social gatherings. A strange optimism. Maybe that's because every time one world ends, another begins, and who knows—the next world might be better.
Okay, you might argue, it's just that the election has raised some hopes. That the coming hard times haven't quite hit. That we're witnessing nothing more than the kind of giddy, childish excitement that comes from standing on the edge of a cliff.
Still I was amazed by an upbeat mood the other evening as I cruised a Westside party featuring a pleasant mix of social classes.
Outside, not just night was falling, but mortgages, markets, currencies, CEO's, political honor, journalistic standards, and the price of oil. Soon, meteors and fiery hail. But inside, the only glum face in the room belonged to my friend Sol, an accountant who bears a terrifying resemblance to Alan Greenspan, and knew the personal finances of half the people in the room. "They've all been living on second and third mortgages," whispered Sol. "How else did they go to Hawaii? Pay for those schools? Just now," he added darkly, "a lot of the people you see in that buffet line are under water."
"But they all look so happy," I replied, recalling that accountants are pretty much paid to look glum. In fact, as I left Sol and circulated with my paper plate, I noted an unmistakable loosening of social boundaries, a remarkable fluidity in conversation, a perceptible heightening of personal warmth.
People seemed…nicer. And I thought about all those black and white movies from the 1930s, like Holiday or You Can't Take it With You. How they imagined things changing not just for the worse, but for the better. Naturally, I recalled that this week brings the actual anniversary of the crash of '29.
Sure enough, when I brought up the crisis with adjacent friends, I thought I caught a certain relief on their faces that the big show might finally be ending. You know, The Big Show: that extravagant Broadway production of clothing and cars and kitchen remodels that we've all been working so damn hard to produce for so long. In fact, I wondered if maybe, with the collapse of the global economy, the "Need to Keep Up" Index might already have dropped by, like, 50%.
Yeah, I'm pretty sure if you Googled it, you find there is an index that tracks the Need to Keep Up. No doubt everyone sighs with relief when that graph dips, even a little.
My friend Barbara pours herself a glass of wine, and says with élan, "No one knows what's going to happen." And the Urban Man finds himself surprised by the unintended music in her phrase. It's not a "what the hell" kind of music, but an unacknowledged joy in the possibilities of a new world.
And for a moment, I foolishly give myself to that same joy. Standing in the midst of a pleasant hubbub, I allow myself to imagine a life less dominated by oil executives, insurance companies, and hedge fund managers: A world requiring less money and status. For a moment, I participate in the childish pleasure of looking way out over the edge of the cliff, and like some misguided depression-era movie director or activist, I nourish a tiny, rebellious hope that the end of one world might allow a better world to be born.
Don't worry, it was only a brief and giddy moment. Soon I recovered, took my paper plate, and went back to sit with my friend Sol, the accountant. There I allowed him to get me more appropriately…depressed.
Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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