Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Acting Out

For a few consecutive years, beginning in early 2002, my neighbors and I had a routine. It took place on the stoop in the courtyard of our apartment building. It involved Heinekens and raucous laughter. And it would go on and on, into the wee small hours. My then-boyfriend was part of the mix, and he’d occasionally add his guitar to the scene. So there would be strumming and… singing.

Often until two in the morning.

We didn’t care that we were loud. We were in our own world. And so, we only smiled and shrugged when we were scolded by those older, quieter neighbors whom we had woken. (Okay, we also said “sorry,” but doing so never prevented a repeat performance.)

It took me two or three years to step away from that self-involved behavior. It took me that long to realize how it had come on the heels of 9/11. It took me some perspective to believe that we were simply acting out.

I remember a thought that would occur to me during those years: I miss my country.

And by that, I meant that I missed the country I thought I knew.

… When I was in the first grade, we were let out of school early one day. And the mood was somber.

It was November 22, 1963.

I remember walking down the blacktop toward the parking lot. I remember embracing that sense of somberness, but not really knowing why. I remember hearing one third grader whisper to her peer: “Don’t tell the first graders,” she said. “They won’t understand.”

I resented condescension even before I knew the word, and so what I overheard that day will always stay with me. I’d also love to track down that third grader. I’m guessing she’s now 55.

So tell me, whoever you are at 55: how do you explain the Kennedy assassination? (From what I overheard that fateful day, you understood.)

… Last weekend, I took myself to the movies, but not because I’m a great date. I just felt like getting out, and I’d been intrigued to see Inside Job, the documentary about what led to the financial crisis of 2008.

So I took advantage of my local theatre’s still-reasonable matinee price and I forked over $6.50 for my ticket.

As I took in the film’s message, I can’t say that I was shocked. Rather, I was informed.

(And frankly, nothing shocks me anymore. I’ve done my “acting out,” thank you very much, and I’ve come to accept that we are all totally screwed.)

Watching the movie, though, I came to understand a bit more about the “derivatives” that NPR has talked about for the past year. And I saw how those bundled packages helped to create the mess that’s led to so many foreclosures. I also got a sense of how “credit default swaps” contributed to the meltdown.

As to what really brought on the meltdown? Well, it isn’t news that the groundwork was laid by Reagan, when he green-lighted deregulation. The first Bush kept it going, and Clinton was right there, too, cheering on the banks as they successfully lobbied against any suggestions for oversight. During those years, the game sort of worked. There were some minor financial crises, but we bounced back until…

It all began to really come apart after 2001, and here’s my theory: The banks were acting out. Located on Wall Street, where they lost their people and their towers, they just freaked. They didn’t know what hit them, but they realized their world was not the same. It would have to be every man for himself. And so, because it was their modus operandi to pursue the almighty dollar, they began to pursue it with a vengeance and with no regard for who might get hurt (or lose a job, or lose a home) in the process.

They didn’t care. They had watched colleagues leap to their deaths from fiery buildings, and they just didn’t care.

Acting out.

… Today, the same people who were there for the meltdown – and who let it happen ­– are still in charge of our government’s financial dealings. The Treasury Department and Obama’s circle of economic advisors are filled with guys (and a few women) who were once the “deciders” at such failures as Goldman Sachs and AIG. They were there when Bush II was our pitiable president, and they are still there. According to Inside Job, they’ve been kept on because it’s “too complicated.”

It’s too complicated, they say.

I feel like that first grader again, with the third grader whispering, “they won’t understand.”

Screw you, third grader!

I don’t believe it’s too complicated. It’s simply too inbred.

And until we start over with completely new leadership (something I hoped for, when I voted for Obama), we will continue to be treated like first graders.

I didn’t like it when I was six, and I don’t like it now.


Sioux Roslawski said...

What a great post...connecting something personal and small to a childhood memory and also to something large and adult. (I loved the ending. It brought it full-circle.)

W was a pitable president AND a pitiful one!

Cheryl D. said...


Martha Gates-Mawson said...

Wow...great blog. Really...

Anonymous said...

Yep, I remember that date in history. I was in second grade(I am age 55) and there was just quiet...lots of quiet, intermingled with some sixth grade girls crying. Obviously, they "got it" more than I did at the time. Of course, as an adult I clearly remember Princess Diana's demise and John Kennedy Jr's oceanic ending. I hate to say it, but had Dubya been shot (and I really don't wish even him that kind of demise -though he is a d**k and I'm surprised it didn't happen)I think I would have merely shrugged my shoulders, like we all do now at moon landings and the Kardashian sisters. Sigh. (Only the good die young?)

Samantha VĂ©rant said...

This was a great post! And, sadly, the meltdown continues. Hi. New follower, here.

Anonymous said...

I voted for Obama too, never dreaming he'd choose the very people who were screwing everybody to be his "advisers" and statesmen. I think politicians of all stripes prey on that first-grader idealism we Americans live by. Now we're witnessing how successful this approach is to that political predator, Sarah Palin.
Thanks for the post, Katie. We need to think about these things more, at at least harder than we are accustomed to doing.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Katie, both your wise words and the subject matter because just today I hear that in our own government, David Cameron's enterprise adviser Lord Young, has quit after claiming most Britons "had never had it so good". He told the Daily Telegraph that "the vast majority of people in the country today, have never had it so good ever since this recession - this so-called recession - started."

I could only think of the words rightly or wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette when French peasants starved:
"Let them eat cake"

At least he is no longer an adviser to Cameron!

OJ Gonzalez-Cazares said...

simply, amazing! totally agree with you, we are not stupid, we are just being treated like that. Love your line "Screw you, third grader!" - who ever is in charge is just a few grades upper in the food chain, only by job tittle that is.

ps - thanks a lot for your kind comment on my post. The healing is certainly continuing, little by little and with TONS of patience!

cj Schlottman said...

Katie, What a thought provoking post. I remember that day in 1963 as though it were yesterday. I was in tenth grade and DID know what had happened. I felt as though my world were melting away from me.

As for the stinking pile of do-do that is Wall Street. I don't care if they were acting out. They were WRONG. I lost 2/3 of my retirement.

LIke you, I voted for Obama, only to learn that he is a master at screwing us and making us think it's our idea. His advisors are still traveling down the wrong road of yesteryear.

Thanks for this great post - so well thought out and, as usual, so beautifully written..............cj

Cheryl said...

Damn fine piece, Katie. As Roseanne Roseannadanna said, "It's always something." What's troubling is that something never really changes much at all.

As much as Kennedy's assassination rocked this world, LBJ was a far better leader than JFK could ever have been. Camelot was an illusion as we've seen JFK's presidency deconstructed. He was a good figurehead and fine spokesman, but it was his wingman who had his shit together.

It's been a dintar time, hasn't it?

Lauren said...

Wow! Nicely stated. I was in second grade when Kennedy was assassinated. Lately, the mood of the country feels very much like that day and months that followed. A dark cloud still hangs over us, smoke rising from the burning embers of those doused then burned by snake oil financial advisors and greedy billionaires. God Bless America!

Jayne Martin said...

I was a freshman in high school when JFK was shot and I distinctly remember the shift in the world which was never the same after that. That is when any innocence we might have had died.

Maybe I'm too cynical, but I think you're going to easy on the Wall Street bunch. They were taking the next step in the destruction of the middle-class that had been started by Reagan. The shift of wealth upward to the top 1% was meticulously planned and I don't know how we turn it back now.

This is a wonderful piece, Katie.