The Grapes of Recession

So Peanut and I were curled up in a large, comfy, red armchair before a warm, crackling fireplace of a hotel lobby yesterday. (I get more romantic moments with my kid than with my Spouse. Kind of funny, kind of creepy, kind of depressing.) Peanut was devouring grapes, and I was flipping through the Wall Street Journal. He still isn’t down with me reading adult material, but the fruit distraction helped.

He told me to stop reading. I asked which part he wanted me to read him. (I understand the “pay attention to me.” I won’t heed the “do what I tell you.” It’s a little game we play, where we both want control. And neither of us thinks it’s a game.)

He pointed to a graph of the Dow’s…um…progress over the past two months. “What dat?”

That, I told him is a chart that shows what people’s money is doing. Right now, I said, people are selling their money because they don’t want it. They don’t like to see money go down, down, down like this, and they are scared, so they’re selling their money.

“People scared…[he tried to find the words]…people scared ’bout money…[he tried to sign, but just kept repeating the sign for Roubik’s cube over and over]…people tell Peanut ’bout sad, scared, Peanut give them one grape, they no be sad, scared.”

I wanted to clarify. “So the people who are scared about money, sad about money can tell you that they’re scared and sad, and you’ll give them a grape?”

“Huh. And they be no more scared.”

“Honey, I think that is a great plan. That’s the best plan for being scared about money that I’ve ever heard. What a wonderful idea. We should tell this man about it [showed him Paulson’s picture].”

“hmmmm. No. No tell that man. Only tell people sad scared.” He popped another grape into his mouth and asked about an ad on the next page. I told him it was an ad, and he yelled NO at it, then turned the page with me.

So you heard it here first. We’re only telling you—the people who are scared and sad about the money graph—that you can tell your problems to our very thoughtful toddler, and he’ll give you one grape.

Only I don’t think he understands how many grapes that would be. The graph was small, and he must think that the scale is a bit more grape-able than it might really be. Then again, a sweet faced boy who really wants to fix your sadness with fruit…maybe that is the answer.

Psssst. Mr. Paulson. Mr. Darling. Mr. Lagarde. Mr. Manuel. And all other finance minister types. Don’t tell him I told you, but this guy has an idea to fix your…how do we put it…catastrophic international economic failure issues. Get this–a plan to stabalize markets and boost local, organic farm production. Win-win, no? Call us and we’ll give you details. Just be sure to spell the name correctly on the Nobel Prize.

Talk of the town

I’m not a people watcher. Couldn’t care less. Can sit in an airport or train station and never see the people around me. But I am a people listener. I hear the conversations behind me, in the stall next to me, at the table down the aisle. I listen, picturing how the people speaking could be in a novel, a play, a movie–what their whole story is and what moves them. I’m listening, empathizing with their plights, cheering their successes. I listen to people when I run, loving our new (if temporary) digs along the waterfront because I run and listen in on dozens of conversations from walkers, cyclists, and joggers.

And I have never, in decades of listening, experienced anything like this week.

Every single voice I heard, amongst those explicitly not talking to me, was talking about the economy. Every one. The ladies walking on the levee, the businessmen at the cafe, the family at Fleet Week, the couples holding hands at the library. Every, single non-me-focused voice is talking about the shitstorm that is our economy. How did we get here (that one I know…traunches); what is happening next (that one I know…massive recession); what is the government going to do (that one I don’t know…depends on the election, and neither option will fix things economically). And the people on whom I’m eavesdropping aren’t even in New York, looking at this.

It’s amazing to hear, for the first time, an eerily similar conversation from EVERYONE. (And really good for my novels, because people walking around just paralyzed with fear make for really good characters. I’m sorry we’re all hurting and scared. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s a major boon for my fiction.)

Check with The Fourth Turning, btw. This, even more than Sept. 11, puts us in another Crisis period; which puts me, as I’ve always suspected, with the Lost expat writers of the 20s. Our current generation of Hemingways and Steins and Fitzgeralds and Nins is working right now. And watch out–they’re listening when you go Rollerblading on the levee.