Don’t worry about the banks, the crash, or the bailout. Sure, they’re awful. And yes, things will get worse. A lot worse. Worse than you ever imagined, probably. But you’ve been in tough spots before. Remember when you lost your job and went on unemployment for a while? This will be like that, only it will last for years. But you’re a New Yorker. You’re tough. Or at least you like to act that way when you’ve been drinking and listening to Nas. You’ll pull through, if you economize. And the new Depression will help by forcibly trimming some of the flab from your personal operating budget. Here are nine ways that will happen:
1. No more gym memberships. A small cadre of Alphas will do all the brain-work. We cubicle monkeys will be carrying hods and mixing cement in the new Public Works Administration, and what a workout that’ll be. Good thing you’ve still got a closet full of loose-and-comfy jeans and a drawer full of comfortable Gap t-shirts for those long days in the sun. Remember to keep your knees bent. And breathe! (But if you’re doing demolition, keep your particle mask on.)
2. No more illegal drugs. $120 an ounce for weed*? $50 a gram for coke? It’s true that some poor people already take these drugs and others, but we are still in days of affluence, if only our last ones; a poor tweaker can currently do some manual labor, or hook, to get meth. Soon you will be doing these things to buy food and shelter. When all else fails you could, like the tweaker, turn to crime, but when people have less money, you will have to mug more of them to buy drugs, increasing your opportunities for arrest. Console yourself with the return of generic beer, which you will gloomily down in your cold-water flat while the rich trust-fund hipsters tipple PBR.
3. No more Jenny Craig. There’ll be no need to pay someone to tell you not to eat.
4. No more $19 cocktails. Dive bars are in! Real ones, we mean. And the days when you had to dress fly and spend big to pick someone up are also gone; like as not, you’ll just have to offer them a sandwich.
5. No more pro sports tickets. Admit it: When you heard the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ new Citi Field would be more expensive to attend than the old ballparks, you wondered if you’d have the courage to resist giving the bastards your money, didn’t you? Well, wonder no more. When it costs $19 to watch the Mets blow the 2009 season from the upper deck, you will discover the alternate pleasure of watching gang initiations from your fire escape.
6. No more tech upgrades. Those of you who have grown accustomed to grabbing the latest iThing as soon as it hits the blond-wood shelves will learn to live with whatever you’re currently holding until it dies, and then scrounging for rich people’s cast-offs at the newly popular Salvation Army Thrift Stores. But what you lose in computing power, you’ll gain in stimulating creative challenges. Remember the Atari music retro scene? Cash-strapped knowledge workers will find themselves doing similarly amazing things with Kaypros, Wordstar, and MacPaint.
7. No more expensive grooming products. Soap and hot water will be your new skin care regime. You will be able, and called upon, to shampoo less. Get a hat; there’s more than one reason why everyone wore them in the last Depression.
8. No more upscale entertainments. Broadway? Nokia Theatre? A bottle club? Maybe on your birthday if your uncle dies and leaves you money. When you’re not throwing craps or whittling, you’ll head to the cineplex to watch Seth Rogen, the Wallace Beery of the new Depression, and hope they’re giving away dishes. But everybody else will, too, and over time the price of underattended plays, concerts, and much other nightlife may drop into your league. The swells will go to the opera and swank nightclubs; you will catch glimpses of their highlife back at the movies, when Seth Rogan bumbles into the Copa to belabor the oily villain, Will Ferrell.
9. No more big plans. This is the biggest $avings of all! Have you expected to rise in your profession, occupying ever larger offices, gaining ever more exalted titles and salaries? Have you planned to move from your little apartment to a bigger condo, and thence to a nice house, maybe with a spouse and some well-cared-for children? You had a perfect right, and a pretty good chance; but both are now diminished. Where once you merely had to be a less than total screw-up to advance, in our new hard times you will have to be both endlessly ambitious and utterly ruthless — Horatio Alger cross-bred with Scarface. If you’re not, accustom yourself to a new dream: three squares and a warm place to sleep.
But take this comfort: to whom little is given, little may be expected. You won’t make much but you probably won’t have to take work home with you, and no one with be calling you at night from the job when the power grid goes down. When you lose your pre-Depression advantages, you will also lose the need to strive, to keep up, to run yourself ragged. You may find yourself cultivating pleasant, inexpensive hobbies, like writing, painting, or maintaining a pigeon coop. Your kids, deprived of constant day-care and supervision, may play in sandlots or in the streets, using bats made out of broom handles to hit spaldeens. You may even find yourself adjusting quite happily to a life with lower expectations.
That is, if you don’t contract tuberculosis or scurvy.
(* UPDATE: We thank our knowledgeable commenters for informing us that weed is far more expensive than portrayed here.)