With Thanksgiving around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to take stock of the stockless. To check in with the realities of a crippled economy and how we are coping with this big ole reality check.
I have talked to friends from all over the country and all over the financial map and it is getting really tough out there. Things are not going according to plan. That money we had so carefully put away for retirement? Gone.
The real estate we purchased because real estate is such a good investment? Not. The annual pension statements which used to make the future seem all warm and fuzzy?
Ice cold. The new plan is that there is no plan.
Many of us are learning the hard way that our upward mobility was subjective. We invested our way up the ladder and it gave way beneath our feet. We counted on institutions which were "solid as a rock" and "strong as a bull", only to see them brought to their knees by regular old greed and stupidity. We worshiped "Rich Dad" who created his own wealth and felt contempt for stupid old "Poor Dad" who just worked for a living.
A good friend of mine finally packed the two kids off to college, just in time for her husband to get laid off from his job on Wall Street. It is important to remember that not everyone involved in the markets is a robber baron or some mustachioed villain. Most of them have never seen the inside of a private jet. They are just folks trying to raise their families and pay the note on their home. My friends had most of their money invested on same said street and took a big hit there as well .So this couple who had it all figured out now get up every morning and wonder how the hell they are going to pay the mortgage much less 75,000 dollars a year in tuitions.
Another friend in Real Estate is having a terrible time of it. He has had six deals fall apart in the last three months, plus his investment properties went upside down and took his nest egg with them. So at 43, he is seriously contemplating a seasonal; stint on the sales floor of Macy's.
Still another couple finally finished restoring their beloved brownstone in New York City only to discover they can no longer afford to live there. It is for sale now and that makes me sad.
I live in a modest neighborhood which is surrounded on three sides by housing projects. Everyone here works their tails off. One fellow across the way rises before dawn each day and gets behind the wheel of his Super Shuttle bus. Another starts his trucks at six AM and head off to tend the lawns and gardens of the Beverly Hills set. I walk my dog past the projects every night and there is one young man who arrives home at 5 PM and rushes inside to change out of his auto mechanics uniform before hitting the streets pushing an ice cream cart. He does this with a smile. On Sundays there is a bent mostly toothless old woman who roams the block selling home-made tamales out of a rusted red wagon.
These folks do not lie awake at night wondering how to pay outrageous private school fees. They could not dream of it. Many have never been inside Macy's and could never conceive of working there. Most will never own a one bedroom condo, much less an entire brownstone. Yet their lives are rich in many ways and so will ours be. We will thrive with or without our 401Ks. We will have to work harder and longer than we planned, but so what? Come on admit it ... golf is boring and there are only so many times a person can snorkel. Plus if things get worse we can all take up smoking again on the grounds that we can no longer afford to get old.
So as we gather around the table to give thanks, let us remember what richness lies in the soil and the soul of this nation. Let us give thanks for California artichokes and Florida oranges, for Chesapeake crabs, New York cheesecake and Boston lettuce. Let us give thanks for ball parks and concert halls and 10 dollar bottles of wine. I personally am very grateful to whoever invented Scrabble and to my sister for always agreeing to play it with me even though it drives her batty. Finally I am very grateful to be an American and I am in love with every single person who stood in line at the polls this year. Maybe we are all going to the poor house ... but we are in good company. I have no idea what the future holds but I am grateful to be alive at this moment in history. I have a lot less money these days, but, maybe for the first time ever I am feeling pretty rich.