LETTER FROM NEW YORK – 2
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November 21, 2008
These days, there’s an interesting dichotomy in the atmosphere here in New York. The euphoria of the election results has simmered to a muted optimism. We’re feeling embraced by the world again, proud of what democracy can, indeed, accomplish. Cynics have been turned into believers. People like me who once argued that the choice of president had little influence on an individual’s daily life are admitting how wrong we were. One man, with his coterie of power wielders, in the course of eight years, has changed the world into an angry fearful place. Now, we’re hoping that another can reintroduce at least the possibility of peace and prosperity.
At the same time, the stock market continues to surprise us each day with record lows. Anticipating a change in regime is obviously not enough to stem the financial bleed. CEO’s are bearing down on Washington, begging bowls in hand, pleading for a chunk of that 700 billion dollar bailout that’s already been partly misspent. That captains of industry arrive on private jets and refuse to relinquish their twenty million dollar salaries doesn’t seem to strike them as incongruous, although it makes the rest of us cringe. We applaud our government for refusing to give handouts to fat cats who don’t even have enough public relations sense to realize their offense. But at the same time, we have to be aware that if General Motors goes under, it’s not the CEO who floated down on a golden parachute who will suffer. It’s the assembly line worker, already threatened with foreclosure, whose pension built over a life time of work has been halved in a matter of months. I heard a hedge fund manager complain bitterly that his portfolio had been reduced by half – from eight hundred million to four. It’s a lot of money. But when you’re downsized and your household income drops from eighty thousand dollars to forty, it seems a lot worse. From cab drivers to television writers, people are scared.
At times like this, it’s inevitable to hark back to Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” Pick any place in the universe and any date on the calendar, and these words will, no doubt, ring true. In the end, it becomes a question of balance. Right now, it seems like more of us, in spite of the foolishness and despair, feel like we have at least something before us. It’s the Obama credo of “yes we can.” And a lot of people who used to consider themselves disenfranchised are actually thinking, well, yes, if he can, so can I.
The American holiday of Thanksgiving is in a few days. It’s turned cold in New York and the sun has set by the time the children are coming home from school. But already the trees on the boulevard are festooned with ribbons of twinkling lights and electric stars are being hung from lamp posts. There’s a parade on Thanksgiving day that draws tens of thousands of people to watch giant helium balloons in the shape of fantasy characters wend their way through the streets of New York. This year, as in every single year since they were born, come rain, shine, wind or snow, my children will be there. Like most other American families, we’ll be eating turkey with all the trimmings and pumpkin pie for dessert, all prepared by my husband and children because I realized long ago that my creative touch with a turn of phrase doesn’t translate to the kitchen. And this year, maybe more than many others, I will be consciously thankful for what we’ve got. It may be the worst of times, but we’ve got the best of hopes. You can’t ask for much more than that.