Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Signs of the Times

I try not to go to that “fear place,” but these days, the indicators of struggle are everywhere. It seems that the majority of apartment buildings on my block have For Rent signs out front. And on nearby commercial streets, there are more than a few empty stores. Other stores – not yet empty – soon will be. The large, brightly-colored notices of liquidation and huge discounts foretell their futures.

Must everything go?

As an independent contractor, I can only hope that the work will keep coming. Sure, I can take some proactive measures, and doing so might help, but there are no guarantees, and that precariousness can be a bit unsettling. Having an income that changes month-to-month isn’t new, of course. I’ve been self-employed, and therefore dependent on the needs of a collection of clients, for ten years. Some months are less lucrative than others, but I’ve always managed. And, until recently, I’ve never felt drawn to the fear place.

But, the unease is in the air. It’s around every corner. It shows up in facial expressions. It underscores overheard dialogues. It is the story behind the unprecedented number of signs placed in yards and windows.

Last Saturday afternoon, I decided to walk to my local triplex to see a 4:00 showing of It’s Complicated. When I called to check on movie times, I was grateful to learn that my neighborhood theatre has remained a place where one can see a matinee for less than ten dollars. And while the current $6.00 rate represents an increase over the $4.50 they charged for matinees six or so months ago, it still felt like a bargain. I’ll admit that the screen is not huge, the sound system is sub-par, and there was no usher to direct me to my pre-assigned seat, but the activity was well worth the price of admission. It helped take my mind off the signs.

Ironically, on my way to the theatre, I saw a For Rent sign that jarred me just a bit more than any I have seen since the downturn started hitting home. The sign was in the window of a small place on Franklin, just a few doors west of the Vermont Avenue intersection. For someone who is unfamiliar with this neighborhood and who hasn’t – as I have – walked past that property on a regular basis for more than fifteen years, the sign probably announces nothing other than the availability of yet another rental residence. But for me, the message was more specific. It told me that the Psychic Advisor has moved.

Seeing the emptiness of an establishment that once featured neon window dressing advertising Tarot Readings, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the lady who made her living envisioning other people’s futures. Did she not see it coming? Did she look at her palm with a new set of corrective lenses one day and realize, in that moment, that she never, in fact, had much of a wealth line? Or, was she running from litigious former clients whose own futures had not panned out quite as nicely as she predicted they would?

Of course, I could be wrong in painting the picture so negatively. For all I know, she might have cashed in her 401K and moved to Palm Springs. Or maybe she hit some lottery numbers and moved up the hill. Hmm… I’ll have to keep that possibility in mind next time I go on my mansion hike. Maybe I’ll see her neon sign in a bottom floor window of one of those houses that undoubtedly is equipped with no fewer than two elevators. And if I do see it… and if she’s still charging only $10 for a reading, I’ll invest in her powers.

But, I have a feeling I’ll never see her sign again.

(Call me psychic.)

3 comments:

nhollywoodred said...

Katie - it looks like I am indeed a follower on this site already - does this make me number 15? XXX D

raindance said...

on the other hand, when a neighborhood that never had a psychic or a check cashing place suddenly has both, it would seem the value of the neighborhood has gone down. at least that is the joke among my friends in NY!

dondo said...

Did she not see it comming....very funny!