Storms A-Brewing

Often the weather can mirror my internal workings. A sunny day gives me a sunny disposition. Barefoot in the wind can be invigorating. But coatless in the rain can allow the gloom to set in.

There have been storms brewing in the house, swirling and rising in eddies up to the plaster ceiling roses, tugging at light fittings, disturbing cobwebs snug in corners.

The economy is like a bear trap left wide open, waiting, just waiting with its brazen shininess to snap shut and sever a limb.

My friend, Adrienne, closed her shop a couple of weeks ago. My husband might be next on the list. Sydney is a ghost town. The thriving, bustling main drag of George Street wouldn’t be out of place in a Western where tumbleweeds spin up the street.

Where have all the people gone? I was speaking to a bus driver the other day who said his fares were down by 50%. A hairdresser I know did one haircut last week. One haircut! She has had to let three of her staff go, all of whom have mortgages, kids, and no savings to fall back on. The sandwich bar round the corner, usually booming at lunchtime, is dead quiet.

There is a sense of unreality in the city right now. As if things are happening at a distance. The government has offered a stimulus package, reassurances, but all of us fear it won’t be enough. That the fat cats will get to any offer of aid before we do, because after all, small business is completely insignificant in the eyes of the mighty corporation. We have no influence upon government policy except for the fact that we pay tax, employ people, abide by the law and yes, we vote. However, the ability to vote seems to count for nothing when the only voice that seems to be heard is the grating, whinging voice of the corporate CEO who’s going to miss out on his bonus.

I did a quick straw poll of  business owners I know in the Sydney CBD the other day, asking them what it would take to keep them going for another year or two without any worries. How much?

Some said as little as five thousand dollars. Some said twenty. The highest amount was one hundred thousand. One hundred thousand dollars to keep a business and all its employees afloat for up to two years. Chump change to a CEO. Probably not even an eighth of his bonus.

Such small amounts of money could make such a difference. But we, the people, the backbone of the country, are ignored, left to flounder for answers in the dirt.

My husband became ill towards the end of the week. His face was ashen. He was having trouble enunciating. Stress, the doctor said.

I feared a stroke or another heart attack. The body can only take so much, but sometimes the mind can take even less. A fear like a hand round my throat has gripped me for days. I cannot bear to lose him because of the greed of others.

I have dreams that make me smile in my sleep. Of vigilante groups, headed by Uma Thurman in her Kill Bill attire, waiting outside offices in Wall Street and taking the CEOs out one by one. Their blood when it spills is black and viscous. When their chests are cut open it is revealed they have no hearts. It becomes apparent that they were never really human at all, just money-making machines.

I dream of days full of light, of all men being equal, of real people being emblems of hope. I dream of revolution.

Then I wake to a morning like wet stone, feeble, worn thin. There is a silence that aches like the end of the world. Once more I ask: Where have all the people gone? No one seems to know. Perhaps this is the closest I will come to witnessing an apocalypse.

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22 thoughts on “Storms A-Brewing

  1. I can’t imagine how scary it must be… Right now I feel out of sync with everything that is going on because i am sick and not working. I try to make ends meet with my disability cheque but I do worry at what will happen when I finally do have to work. I have heard that many of the part timers only do 12 hours a week – how do you make it on that! I still wonder if I will be making the right decision by going back to school, will there be employment for me when I graduate with this economy?

    This economy is making so many people stress out, you hear about so many foreclosures because people can’t afford to make their mortgage payments. I can’t help but notice how many for sale signs are going up. People are going back to renting since they can’t afford to own a house…

    Like I heard the radio announcer say – the rich will keep getting richer and the poor just poorer and the middle class with this economy will no longer be middle class but will teter on the border of becoming poor… that is scary to hear.

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  2. What I don’t get is the banks saying ‘Cut interest rates! Borrow money! Buy stuff’! and I thought the intitial cause of the trouble was American banks with only the most perfunctory checks as to whether the borrower could pay it back.

    One thing I have noticed, though, is we no longer get those irritating ads from debt management services: ‘We will negotiate with your creditors … ‘ ‘Using Government legislation, we can get three quarters of your debt written off’

    And, I agree (so does the Government, but they seem to be doing little about it) that the banks shouldn’t be paid Government money so some braying nincompoop can buy another watch that’s worth more than my car is, while small businesses go to the wall.

    It makes me want to run the next Porsche I see right off the road!

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  3. As you know my husband just lost his job and I am sick with worry that in this terrible economy he won’t be able to get another one. I know how worried he is so I try to hide my fear but it’s like being sucked into wet cement. The company that let him go is a massive well known mining identity and I figure if they can’t afford to keep employees what hope has he got. It’s hard to stay positive but I’m trying.

    I hope your husband will make it through without that most precious commodity of all, his health, being compromised.

    These are scary times. I hope we all make it and live to fight another day.

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  4. Selma I’m so sorry about your husband. People’s stress levels everywhere are through the roof. Please- he must find someway to deal with it. The biochemical reactions that take place in our bodies because of stress are scary. When I am completely lost with worry, I always try to think of the the very worst thing that can come from that particular stress. Then I ask myself – can I handle that? Once I can say YES- I’m set to face it, and the stress dissipates.

    I also find the audacity of these CEO’s murderous. Can any one of them step up and say ‘ We caused this mess’? They caused it- we all pay.

    Can you spell coward?

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  5. Oh Selma, this was so difficult to read. I am so sorry for all the challenges you are facing but you and your family have a lot of company. It’s a global crisis that shows no sign of letting up, at least for now. I am grateful that we are debt-free (what a feeling!) but we are all far from secure these days. Stress….don’t get me started. When it becomes all too much, BREATH…it is truly the breath of life. So many people hold their breath unconsciously to grave consequence. I guess that’s why yoga is so popular, breathing is an integral part of it.

    Hugs dear Sel to you and your husband. Hang in there. G

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  6. wow selma.. it is so strange to hear this evidence of the economies demise on your end,, as i have been wondering where it went.. our little town is packed to overflowing with tourists so much so that i cannot park to get my mail,, and i would be nothing but thrilled if they all went home,, or could no longer come and spend their dollars here (please note i am not a shop owner)….

    i certainly hope this is a calm before the storm and they figure out that they don’t have to sit on the assets they have left to make this thing work its way out… i think so many are fearful of spending that we may never be able to dig ourselves out of this mess… but then an economic adviser i never intended to be….

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  7. The increasingly destructive fires all over the US always make Global Warming much more immediate for me and apocalyptic. We all imagine an apocalypse with fire. I took a cross-country trip that was basically determined by reading fire-maps to decide where we could and could not travel that summer depending on where the fires were from day to day, and visibility from Yellowstone was the worst in history. So that alone was terrifying, and I know you have just been through that trauma. So on top of that, you are all the more sensitized to the economic traumas that are gripping the world, some pockets much more severely than others, Sidney sounding like one of them, though small stores around here are shutting down daily as well. CEO salaries are obscene. The Bailout of the Bigs and not the Littles, assuming there will be Trickle Down seems insane to me, but what do I know? I’m just, as you said, a voter. Please remember that you and your family and city right now are doubley traumatized and so, I can only hope, as the traumas of the fires fade, people will find a way to rally around the economic situation. There are rising voices of protests all over the world. Your Kill Bill dreams are your rage. Use it creatively. It is your power.

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  8. TBALL:
    I think the economy will pick up world-wide but as to how quickly it will happen, I have no idea. I know people existing on 12 hours a week too. It would be easier to go on the dole (unemployment benefits). Despite all the scary news out there I do think you should go ahead with your studies. I think you are very talented and would make an excellent designer. In the long run it’ll work out for you – I just know it!

    TRAVELRAT:
    Oh, absolutely. You hear the stories of companies getting a bail out and going and buying a private jet. It is beyond infuriating. I hope that we all learn from this that the banks, finance companies and filthy rich don’t care about anyone but themselves. It has opened my eyes.

    Run the Hummer’s off the road, I say. I saw one the other day and nearly had a fit. The guy driving it was about 25. He probably put the whole thing on tick and lives with his Mum. She probably used her house to guarantee the loan. What a world….

    ROMANY:
    Like being sucked into wet cement is exactly how it feels. You try and tell yourself everything will be alright but when you see people you thought were secure losing their jobs or their businesses – it’s scary. I hope we all make it, hon. Surely being a good person must count for something?

    LAURI:
    Stress really is hard to get under control sometimes. I’m worried because he had a heart attack a year ago. It was mostly due to smoking for 32 years but also due to stress. He no longer smokes but the stress is still there. It can be hard to talk someone down from that mental ledge they put themselves on when stress hits.

    Oh yeah, coward – I don’t think any of the CEOs can spell that one. Or integrity.

    JONAS:
    Who would have thought the effects would be so far-reaching? I had no idea at all. It’s financial terrorism.

    GERALDINE:
    Unfortunately, we do have a lot of company. We do tend to get through things but I worry about other people who perhaps have limited options. I will remind myself to breathe. It’s very important. Thanks for the hugs.

    PAISLEY:
    You might not be a trained economic adviser but many of the things you have said in the past have made much more sense than those guys with MBAs. I am intrigued about the tourists. Is that usual at this time of year? My parents used to live by the beach and hated mid-summer. There were people everywhere. Ironically, it was quieter in the city!

    QUERULOUS:
    That is just about the most profound thing anyone has ever said to me. Use the rage creatively. It is your power. Thank you for your valuable and much needed insights. I am very grateful!!

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  9. Tball is so right on the money. Middle class is purposely being snuffed out, to create a new aristocracy. Be watchful.

    I know how horrible it is to watch your husband become weakened with the stress he feels over providing for his family. My sweetheart has never had a heartattack or stroke, but one time he allowed himself to get so depressed he stepped out on Snake river (it was frozen over) with the intention of ending his life, thinking we would be better off. He, of course, thought better and snapped back to reality of what a devastation that would be to us, and has never allowed himself to become that depressed again.

    I keep thinking of history. Times that have been as bad as these. Oh yes, I know people think they were isolated incidents, but I am finding this is not so. I wish I had studied World History instead of World Geography in school! In the 1920’s while America was experiencing the roaring 20’s, Germany was going through an interesting change, where those who speculated with shares were rich overnight, and those who refused on sound basis (and they were right) became dirt poor and beggars due to runaway inflation. Suicides and deaths due to exposure became the norm. I know a woman who immigrated to the states from China – she and her husband own our favorite Chinese Restaurant – who told us of the insanity of the Cultural Revolution – and the economic devastation. Again, history repeating itself.

    The good news is, people survive. Somehow, we rally around each other and keep going. Sometimes we have to do what we don’t want to do, and sometimes we have to fight to regain ground lost, but we do survive. I hope our husband gets better very soon. I send you both hugs,,, and your son too, because it’s not easy to watch Dad groan under the weight of such an oppressing worry.

    Where did all the people go? It sounds like Idaho. I can’t tell you how many families are bailing out of this state in hopes to find work in another. A man tried to get my husband to work in the oil fields in SD – and now they’re laying off people as well. Good thing we didn’t take that route!

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  10. PAUL:
    I’ve been thinking of that John Cougar Mellencamp song ‘Jack and Diane’ for days now. The chorus is stuck in my head :
    ‘Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone…’
    Very true. But another line from the song is ‘We walk on.’
    I’m gonna keep walkin’.

    TEXASBLU:
    I am sorry to hear Redbeard was so full of despair. My heart goes out to you both. Sometimes life can be so hard.

    It’s true what you say about history. Funnily enough, the lady who owns the burger bar up the road is Chinese and she has told us some shocking tales about the Cultural Revolution. A lot of women her age (mid-fifties) can’t read because it was thought women weren’t worth educating. Can you imagine?

    WOW. I wonder what the future for Idaho is with all those families leaving? Scary times. We’ve all got to stick together and offer one another support. Thanks, hon!!

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  11. So sorry things are rough. I still have a job and my company is probably one of the best prepared in the tech industry to weather this storm. So I count my blessings… for now.

    It becomes apparent that they were never really human at all, just money-making machines.

    Unfortunately, greed is very much part of human nature.

    I hate these entitled, undeserving elites. I hate the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. I hate that the people who really need help are not the ones who will benefit the most from whatever measures are taken.

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  12. The recession is hitting most places and it certain cases it is bad. In India it’s the corporates but I have one thing to mention. Upper management is sitting pretty, still getting their perks, flying first class, staying in the best hotels, eating expensive meals & everything else. The rest of us have been denied our due hikes & promotions. I keep reading about my company getting a good profit this quarter but I’ve been denied my hike & grade change inspite of promotion (in work & job pressure only). So are others.

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  13. >>the banks, finance companies and filthy rich don’t care about anyone but themselves<<

    Absolutely! I’ve never (even before the recession) fathomed out why anyone on an annual salary of more money than many people would see in a lifetime would NEED a bonus.

    Unless they’re like my wife, who receives an annual productivity bonus, but spends most of it to pay for treats, outings and Christmas presents for her staff.

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  14. INGRID:
    The growing gap between the haves and have-nots bothers me too. I am also upset that those who need the most help may not get it. However, i am very glad your job is safe!!

    ROSHAN:
    It’s such a shame you’re not being rewarded for your efforts. I know how hard you work. Upper management, eh? In a world of their own.

    TRAVELRAT:
    I know people like your wife; thank goodness they exist. I don’t get why people on million dollar salaries need bonuses too. How much money does one person need?

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  15. Economic pain is the worst kind because it hurts the most people. Just be glad you don’t live where I do – cold, grey and rain define most of it. A guy I know is planning on moving to a better climate because ours brings him down so badly.

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  16. RICHARD:
    Oh yeah, it’s worse than a flu epidemic. I know what you mean about living in cold, wet climates. Does make things a little bleak. Yet there are days when I long for a bit of cool weather. Go figure…

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  17. Just now getting to this post of yours, Selma….I posted earlier this morning (Thursday, March 5th) about the economy–in a positive way! Keep the faith. It’s difficult right now, but we’re (economy-wise, world-wide) at a fork-in-the-road, not a dead-end…
    It’s nearly 6:15 A.M. now, in Georgia, USA, and I’m headed downstairs to make potatoes, fry turkey-bacon(I cannot eat a piggie!), and eggs, and make some chai-tea. I’ll be closing my eyes, imagining your (Sydney, Australia)summer,/readying-to-be-fall-weather(we’re approaching Spring over here) and your afternoon(it’s late there now, yes?)by the sea.
    Peace.

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  18. LISA:
    You make a very important point about us being at a fork in the road rather than an end point. That’s how we have to think. But people are panicking. It’s hard to talk them out of their gloom mentality. Maybe most of us are just waiting for the end of the world in some form or another!

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