The Washington Post has been running "an occasional series of stories about how Americans are coping with the ongoing recession and its deepening fallout." Yesterday's profile started out promisingly enough to make me wonder if the paper had finally found its "Queen For A Day," and would finally be awarding that new Maytag dishwasher to the lucky recessionista.
He wears no coat though it's freezing, shines no light though it's near midnight, carries no shotgun though he's tramping on the pine-needled tracks of black bears.
He wants to be lost in these woods.
Oh me, oh my! Who is this poor soul, wrecked in the economic free-fall, forced to wander the woods like a latter-day Jack London, building fires, dodging bear leavings? Someone on the margins of society, finally pushed out into the wild by unemployment? A member of the modern middle class, temporarily resorting to the skill set of his pioneering ancestors?
No. It's... Neel Kashkari? Oh, for frack's sake, Washington Post!
That's right. This weekend's Face Of The Recession is Goldman Sachs's own Kashkari, late of the U.S. Treasury's Office of Financial Stability, where he was in charge of the implementation, such as it was, of the Troubled Asset Relief Program that funneled $700 billion to Wall Street banks in exchange for them maybe not collapsing the economy completely under the weight of their own stupidity. Now, he's washed up in this Post profile, driving the paper's own journalistic conceit many miles beyond the limits of human understanding.
The moon hits his stubble, which is six days old. And the sweater he hasn't changed in three or four days. His BlackBerry -- he can't kick it -- rang once today. A year ago in D.C., it buzzed every few seconds. All night, he'd roll over to its bluish glow. His Treasury Department assistant slept with hers, powered up, on her pillow.
"It's like a dream," Kashkari says, his work boots crunching pine cones. "Sometimes I think: Was it real?"
You would not believe how hard the stubbled-but-not-unBlackberried Kashkari has had it since he left Washington, because seriously, you simply do not care. But the Post tracked him down to Nevada County, California, where he built a shed in the middle of the woods in which to encase all of his remarkable pathos. That shed was on his "list of the things he wanted to do." Also, his list of things he could afford to do, because he is wealthy enough to have some sort of self-indulgent Christopher McCandless moment while the rest of the country looks for an actual job:
"I had to do something with my hands. It's a big amorphous unknown -- what's going to happen to our economy. And the shed is solid, measurable. I can see it, I can touch it. It's going to be around for the next 30 years. It's the opposite of amorphous."
Yes. The recession can be boiled down to one man's struggle to find something in this world that is the opposite of amorphous, and save the economy with his shed.
Now, six months later, he is almost done. He is nearly better, nearly free of Washington, D.C. Tonight, Kashkari is out walking his dogs on a mountain, listening for the coyotes that sometimes shadow him. The wind washes through the treetops. It sounds like rushing water. Kashkari pivots between two thick, rough trunks. His shaved head, his broad-brush eyebrows, his blackest-brown eyes -- all turn sharply.
He opens his hands into the darkness:
"This makes $700 billion seem small."
Excuse me, whilst I hold back my quickly rising gorge!
Now, see here! Kashkari needs to go into the woods. He needs to build this shed. Because people in Congress were mean to him, with their questions, and their hearings, and their two-facedness and their hostility. It wasn't like Wall Street, at all. There, the world is filled with rainbow smiles, and the bears you must dodge don't leave actual poop on the ground. Washington was just too much for a man who "fell in love" with the city during the Iran-contra hearings (?!?), and decided that it was a "glamorous" (?!?) place.
Again: he concluded that Washington, DC was glamorous, based upon the Iran-contra hearings. And now?
In the taxi, Kashkari rides past the Washington Monument and the White House. "I'm so happy not to live here," he says. "Zero longing." He doesn't see anything out the window that he misses, except maybe Chipotle.
Chipotle. MAYBE. O, District of Columbia! Will you ever be able to live with yourself, for what you did to this man?
UPDATE: Well, apparently this Post story arrives at the tail end of Kashkari's "Thoreau moment." According to FT Alphaville, he'll soon be quitting his Sadness Shed to go work for bond-trader PIMCO. Dealbreaker's Bess Levin has the memo from PIMCO, which reads, in part:
In addition to hiring a top equity team, we have also recognized the need for an experienced person to work closely with PIMCO's Executive Committee to lead our entry into this and other new businesses over time. Accordingly, Neel Kashkari is joining us on December 14 to lead new investment initiatives. Neel will be based in our Newport Beach office.