and when I fell on the floor I drank more


Stop me, stop me, oh stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but a few months after 9/11, I was a blithering wreck. We were still living in downtown Manhattan, and having lost That Internet Job, I would purposely sleep past noon because I thought the next terrorist attack would surely happen before lunch, and if I could make it to 12pm, I knew I’d be safe.

I surfed the Web relentlessly in an insatiable, diseased quest to find out as much information as I could about the variously sickening ways terrorists could harm me and my family, and I stopped eating for about two weeks. By February, I had to go to the free clinic at NYU, where I was booked by a somnambulist intern who cared only that I not kill myself on his watch. I wrote emails to my family begging them to move out of Manhattan, then found a place for Tessa and me in Park Slope, only because it was at least two miles from any potential nuclear fireball.

I mention these things because I had my apocalyptic demons, and wrestled them to a truce. I did it with a very effective SSRI (Celexa), a fair amount of therapy, an amazing wife who could not be daunted, and the curious tincture of time. I needed all four of these things to remove myself from the brink, but I did it. And I like to think that the entire experience has completely inured me to the death and doomsaying currently enveloping America’s financial meltdown.

This was put into stark relief by today’s Zap Your PRAM recap, a talk by Rob Paterson on Saturday that was guaranteed to scare the living yakshit out of anyone within earshot. His talk broke down exactly what led to this mess, and the insanity of the “derivative market” – I mean, it’s impossible to discuss this stuff without thinking the American way of making money isn’t much better than a Nigerian email scam.

At this point in our discussion, you must listen to two separate episodes of “This American Life”. I’ve had them forwarded to me at least ten times now, and they explain the whole thing better than anyone else: The Giant Pool of Money and Another Frightening Show About the Economy. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.


I led a scotch tasting Friday night – god knows we needed it (photo by N. Burka)

So Rob, who knows his business, got very scary near the end of his discussion. It verged on nightmarish scenarios of growing your own dinner, finding old people who know how to cure meat for the winter, and questions like “How many days of food does Prince Edward Island have at any one moment?” (Answer: two.) It’s a world where cars don’t work, electricity is scarce and you better have five cords of firewood in order to make it to April.

Now, I’m not saying this can’t happen. What I am saying is that contemplating this kind of future is a miserable mind game I can’t afford. Rob (who is thoughtful and frightfully intelligent) is not guilty of this, but I have known many people who have a certain glee about this kind of apocalyptic porn, a certain wide-eyed fascination with the whole fuckin’ world crashing down around us, a drown-em-all mentality that has its roots in the flood parables of Noah and the destruction of Sodom.

I just can’t go there anymore. I have a daughter, I have a family, and I’m simply not willing to contemplate keeping a shotgun under my bed in case roving Mad Max bandits try to raid our beet preserves. This is not to say we’re not prepared for a national emergency: we’ve got months of food supplies, gallons of fresh water, emergency cash, a “go bag” and an escape plan. But those were borne of other emergencies – post-9/11 preparedness and, of course, earthquakes.

Rob did end on a very interesting note. He said that money had taken the place of relationships, and it’s positively true. Grandmothers and family members used to share the burden of raising children, and now we throw money at nannies and babysitters. Men and women used to cut grass and tend gardens, and now we throw money at lawn services that mow grass we don’t play in anymore.

In this new world, we would have to re-establish relationships with our neighbors, barter for the things we need, and mix our lives together. We’d have to know the guy who knows the lady who knows the guy. It would be a new “localism”, and the absence of money would bring about the rebirth of friendship. I was left to wonder: is there a way to do that without a reducing our economy to the Bronze Age?

In closing, I don’t think Rob thought this economic collapse would last forever, and we might come back even stronger in 5-7 years. I posited that an energy invention – a true replacement for oil – could come from the USA, and give us a true American Renaissance. He added that the Renaissance followed the Dark Ages, but, well, “keep your powder dry until 2011”: