22 February 2009

What's Good About Recession

In the midst of gloom and a growing sense of despair, there are, as always, silver linings, albeit small, if one pays close attention. For those of who have jobs and perhaps a bit of money in the bank, this recession offers considerable opportunities to soothe the anxiety within while also making a contribution to the collective good. There is some good in recession… consider these.

Friday night, 6:30 PM, a table at Cheesecake Factory can be had without waiting. That’s likely true at many favorite places, but it’s especially astonishing at this usually bustling bistro.
And, they have introduced a “Small Plates and Snacks” menu from which, because this chain doesn’t understand truly small plates, a lovely meal can be had at a very modest price.

In fact, at least a half a dozen fine restaurants in Laguna Beach, and I’m certain elsewhere, have either adopted [Sorrento Grille, Tabu Grille] or expanded [the always wonderful K’ya] their own small plates menu, or some version of that, as well as local’s night where one might dine at a considerable discount, and longer “Happy Hours” with extended appetizer menu’s. Creative marketing should be rewarded, and, while you’re enjoying really good food on a discount, you are also contributing to the economy, keep that in mind.

Capitalism, like it or not, is largely dependent on consumption, and all the stimulus packages on earth won’t work unless we go out and buy, preferably within our means, and ensure that businesses stay open, even if earning more modest margins, and employment doesn’t totally fall apart, which is perhaps the greatest danger we face right now. So those who have, even a little, get out and share, and at the same time, stave off the doldrums of these crazy times.

Everything is negotiable right now. Well, almost everything. Gasoline is not negotiable, although perhaps it should be, and utility prices not so, again, something for consideration. But purchases not controlled or fixed are up for grabs. I heard a story today of a shopper at Nordstom’s who told the sales manager that he really loved a certain jacket and would be happy to purchase it at half the ticket price, and the sales manager was smart enough to close the deal. Even at smaller margins or even at cost, better to move the merchandise. Smart business people understand this. My own landlord offered to reduce my rent to stay another year, or even more of a reduction if I chose to move just down the street to another of her properties that doesn’t as a rule rent as quickly as my place. I imagine many landlords or home-sellers are open to offers right now.

One of my neighbors manages mall properties and told me that any tenant who comes forth with a request for a rent reduction or a pass on a month or so, is considered honorable, and thus accommodated, while those who simply don’t answer the phone or ignore repeated rent reminders will be booted. Seems to me the banks might have considered such a move with their lenders in the hopes that over time everyone might make good.

It’s the Baileys versus the Potters all over again in this not so wonderful life. And yet, there remains so many wonderful options and opportunities if only we get out instead of hold back.

I had hoped that Obama might ask us all to do more in the sharing. Landlords reducing rent, bankers reducing mortgage terms, employers asking employees, as Governor Arnold aksed, to take a couple of days off each month without pay, rather than lose their jobs. Surely we might reduce hours at the library or the state park rather than shutter the doors? We can live without postal service one day a week. We can demand that CEO’sfreeze their wages and eliminate bonuses. Why don’t we re-embrace a day set aside for families and save everyone money by making retail a six day a week operation, so that everyone might rest and restore themselves the way we used to, not so long ago [anyone else old enough to remember most stores closed on Sundays?]

Perhaps we might turn off the television [and the computer] one night each week to gather instead with family and friends, and save a little electricity, to save money and help save the planet. Organize neighborhood picnics to share what we have with each other and begin to remember what matters most. That might be a real bonus of the downturn.

What’s good about recession in the end is that we might all learn to live with a little less, and limit the slaughter of some at the hands of others, and perhaps all come to a new place where greed is replaced by restraint and a sense of responsibility to each other. In the meantime, enjoy the perks.

09 February 2009


She came into my life unexpectedly, as so many good things do. I was visiting with a friend in La Jolla and at end of day, strolling down a shopping street, I noticed a few people clustered in front of a pet shop. I don’t really know why I looked, nor why I stopped, but it was a group from an animal shelter in Chula Vista and they were packing up after a day of trying to seduce passers-by to adopt homeless animals. Mona was the only dog still there, perched behind a make-shift fence, but there was no need to fence in this dog, she had already learned that there was no where to go. She looked up at me with eyes almost blue and I swear I heard her say, “I don’t expect much.” But you should, I thought, because I knew at first glance that there was an elegance to this short-legged barrel-shaped little mutt. I was smitten from the first. Frankly, I’m not sure which of us needed a friend more. No matter. I wasn’t allowed pets at my rental cottage but I talked my landlord into allowing her to stay and took her home to Laguna Beach where she found not only a safe place but a village, a neighborhood of dog lovers who loved and protected her and gave her the safety net I think she may never have had. She came to me openly and with hope in her eyes, but also with tumors inside that we tried to heal but they had staked their claim. 20 months was all we had together but it was a small lifetime. We’ll never know exactly where Mona came from, nor her full story. I can only conjecture based on the dog we came to know. She had never been neutered and had several litters, and at the shelter they had to sedate her to clean her teeth and clip nails, but somewhere along the line she had been loved, as she responded so well to it. I suspect her original family was poor, but caring. And she must have lived with children because the very sound of young laughter made her ears perk up and she always sat so patiently to allow them to pet her, as if a remembrance of a happy time. She came to me anxious and skittish after who knows how long on the streets and six months in a cage in a shelter plus one month with a foster family with alpha dogs, but she also came to me fiercely independent and determined and with a sweetness that is utterly indescribable. She was at first afraid of strangers, especially men, and also of shoes, which must have been at the bottom of feet that kicked her. Still, in a matter of moments, she seemed to know she belonged to me and adapted quickly to a simple life. She loved long walks, albeit slowly so that she might sniff every single low-growing flower and every post and beam. She loved car trips and would have been happy to wait in the car for me all day at work, as she never loved being home alone, although she never complained, only spun around in delight when I came to collect her, the same little dance she danced at feeding time, which was never often enough. She loved going out to breakfast or lunch and would wait patiently for her share, staring up at me all along, grateful for every bit of potato or scrambled egg or bagel. Pizza crust was the rare and most favorite treat of all. And before long, she relinquished her fears and stopped to examine every dog and looked up at every person who might have a treat for her. She loved her Uncle Byron, and Moose and Poppy who welcomed her into their home and made her part of the neighborhood pack. She loved her sitter, Auntie Louie, who she allowed to walk her on a leash after months of refusals, and wagged her tail especially wildly when she came into view, but still growled at her now and then to let her know who was boss. And after a few months of sleeping on a padded dog bed on the floor, she looked up at me one night and trotted over to me for a lift up onto my bed and never slept alone again. And I, who have slept alone for too long, will feel her absence most of all in the midst of night and again every morning when that little face looked up as if to say, what shall we do today? Rest in peace Mona Francesca.

03 February 2009

Late Life Lunacy

I am not a risk taker. I have always exercised good judgment and largely done what was expected of me. When others might ask why not, I have always demanded why, and labored over the answer to ensure that there was a carefully considered good reason for everything I have done. Sixty years of good judgments. My husband Rusty was the same way, and more so. He didn’t believe anything should be undertaken without careful consideration and without an exceptional reason. He believed one should never go from anything, rather to. The unknown was unknown to him. I loved him anyway.

I’ve never slept with a man without protection. I never eat raw meat. I only occasionally jay-walk, which is the genetic right of all New Yorkers, and I consider myself rebellious when I purposely neglect to wear my seat belt. I still blast rock and roll on my car radio. Overall, I make choices that I hope will set the right course and I aim to be a good role model for my daughters. Good judgment in my world has been defined as what is best for others or best for the common good. What is the most efficient use of my time and money? What is the choice that best avoids loss? I am frugal and thoughtful in all things. Waste not, want not is my motto. What however defines a wasted life?

While my dearest friends might describe me as bold, I have never been nor would I be considered audacious. I am rarely impulsive. Until three years ago when, my husband gone, my children grown and flown, I moved from conservative Connecticut to Laguna Beach, California. Not because of any ill-conceived MTV reputation nor even a real sense of adventure, but because the hillsides and sunshine called to me and the laid back atmosphere soothed the savage beast within. Frankly, I fell in love with a town, in a way that I have never fallen in love with a human being. With what might be construed as true abandon. But not without due diligence. I spent first a three-month winter sojourn, a sabbatical of sorts, [during which time I rented my place in CT to avoid excess out-of-pocket expense] and then a second winter, when I tried on for size the idea of living in such a place. I learned about tide pools and learned to love breakfast at outdoor cafĂ©’s. Climbing steep inclines I regained muscle tone I’d lost or never had. I discovered the joys of a nearly desert landscape and the thrill of dolphin sightings. However, I did not relocate to Southern California nor to Orange County, decidedly not; I moved to a funky hilly gorgeous beach town bordered ubiquitously by the Pacific Ocean and populated with surfers and artists, tourists and wannabe’s, and found in this place, so different from any place I have every known, the side of myself that welcomes a bit of risk and a decidedly Zen state of mind. I went back to listening to Joni Mitchell and reading Dostoyevski and studying Buddhism and rethinking every thought I’ve ever had. And now, three years later, I find myself reaching for risk, within reason of course, and wanting to experience more life, more possibilities, more experiences, before I am too tired.

I am sixty years old and I am willing to take a few risks before it’s too late. There’s plenty of time to sit on the beach or quietly by the fire, when the charge of daily living is sublimated to the very essence of aging. I am healthy and strong and my energy level is only slightly diminished. Perhaps I can take more risk now because there is so much less to lose. Whatever the case, call me crazy, but in the midst of a deep recession, and well before I can afford to retire, I would like to take off for a while, reclaim the nearness of loved ones and also to parts unknown, open to whatever comes next. The very definition of risk. Call me a late life lunatic, but, in the end, I can always find work, I can always settle down, I can always spend my nights with Netflix, but I can never claim what is still undefined and unexpected and oh so much more meaningful than the known. Bring it on!