Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

The plan was to consolidate the patio into a nifty little re-fi. The numbers were great. Ah, you should’ve seen the payments—hardly more than what we’re paying now. Sheesh! And that interest rate? Four and a quarter percent! I just about had an orgasm when that USAA agent quoted me that. Nobody in THIS house was worried about not qualifying for the loan. What ‘nobody in this house’ didn’t bank on was that our property value has bottomed out due to the predator loans and all the foreclosures and the economy and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

So, as it stands now, Sean-Martin’s shoulder isn’t paid off (nor is Sofie’s, for that matter), we owed a CHUNK in taxes this year, we’re looking to send the 18 year old to college and bring the 91 year old here to live.

And forget about the re-fi.

We were just like a lot of people: working hard, strategizing our financial plans, and banking on a banking system that we—like everybody else—thought was A-OK. Predator loans? What were those? We didn’t know. Thank God we didn’t take the BS loan we were offered. Looking back, we sure know what they are now and the damage they can do to a whole financial system. And you know now too. And so does every six year old in America.

People are downwardly mobile these days. They’re dropping down entire social classes. It’s true. Oprah had a whole show on it. Of course, she featured the whole gamut of people: those who were crying because they now had to shop at the dollar store and could no longer afford to get their hair and nails done. Those who’d lost people they’d considered good friends as soon as the money ran out. Those whose identities were completely wrapped up in their ‘upper-middle-class’ status, who were embarrassed and humiliated now that the economy has knocked them down to ‘lower-middle-class’. Those who seem a little lost these days and are simply asking, ‘Why me?’

I have said before, and I will say again that whatever circumstances Sean-Martin and I find ourselves in, neither one of us—and I would venture to say very few of you—have ever really known poverty. I can’t help but look at our current economic crisis from a global perspective. I can’t consider myself even broaching poverty unless I send Geoffrey down to the contaminated river for our daily water and hope that no one in our family dies of dysentery. The fact that I can take the entire weekend off of work is unthinkable to people in countries far, far away, who must work every day of every week of every month of every year for their whole lives—or not eat, and therefore, not live. Poverty, to me, is a place where it’s illegal for girls to go to school—a place where meat is a luxury and certainly not FDA approved.

I’m not sure what to think, then, of people who break down in tears on nation wide television because they can no longer afford their high lights.

I’m not minimizing the current financial mess this country is enduring. People certainly are facing tough times and tough decisions. People are working harder than ever for less. They are coping with major financial disappointments. But I’m not maximizing these tough times either. I think people are much more fortunate than they think. Losing friends over a lower social status? Well. Losing every bit of equity you put into your dream, 3-bedroom home? I know. Even losing a job—it’s horrifying. It’s terrifying.

It’s temporary.

Here’s a quote from one of the guys featured on Oprah the other day, Ernie Bjorkman, a former news anchor in Denver, Colorado. He made a quarter of a million dollars a year for the 36 years that he worked for that network. He is now a veterinarian technician for a mere $30,000 a year—an 80% pay cut for him. Incidentally, he loves it and is very, very happy. I loved what he told Oprah. He said:

“My favorite saying is, ‘You make plans in life and God laughs.’ He’s having a good laugh right now—hopefully with us and not at us. And I think that laughter will be our strength in the future and our wisdom to maybe not be as extended as we were, that it could end tomorrow, and to live a much simpler and a much more frugal life, and I think we’ll be just as happy.”

Yes, we’ve all made our plans in this life, and sometimes those plans go south. Even now Sean-Martin and I are thinking about Plan B. Or Plan C. Or D, E, F, or G. Maybe God laughs because He’s just good-natured that way. Or maybe He laughs because He remembers what we all too often forget: that HE has a plan or two of His own. For us. Every one of us. I think if we figure that out, then we will, indeed, be just as happy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bumper Stickers and Bikini Girls

We’ve all heard someone say, “Now THAT’S what’s wrong with this world today,” right? Here’s one for ya—a bumper sticker Sean-Martin and I saw last Sunday that said:

I saw it.
I wanted it.
I threw a fit.
I got it.

Why anyone would be bragging about acting like a two year old is a blot on our culture in and of itself. Why would this be attractive in anyone’s mind? So, I gotta say it:
Now, THAT’S what’s wrong with the world today!

How about a bumper sticker that says:

I saw it.
I wanted it.
I worked my ass off.
I earned it.

That used to be the American Dream, didn’t it? Generations before us weren’t afraid to put forth whatever amount of effort was required to attain the material possessions they needed and wanted to provide for their families.

How about a bumper sticker that says:

I saw it.
I wanted it.
I threw a fit.
My mother beat my ASS and I shut my damn MOUTH!

Or a bumper sticker that says:

I saw it.
I wanted it.
I saw someone else who had even less than I did.
I was suddenly grateful for all that I have in my life right now.

Or:

I saw it.
I wanted it.
I realized that the only reason I wanted it is because I live in a culture so all-consuming that I am only PROGRAMMED by marketing agencies to want it, and in another three months this thing I want now will be completely meaningless because I’ll be manipulated yet again to want something else.
I did an inventory of all the truly important things I have in my life, and decided that I am the one who determines the value of all that I have.

Or another possibility:

I saw it.
I wanted it.
I tried to get it, but it didn’t work out.
I realized then that people don’t ALWAYS get what they want.

I’m not trying to poo poo on anybody’s dreams, but this epidemic sense of entitlement is grating on my nerves of late. This belief that things can be attained without effort or skill or talent or ability and can be had for the asking—merely by wanting it is ludicrous! I get sick of people telling our kids, “You can be anything you want…” and ending that sentence right there, very irresponsibly, without telling them they’d better learn to bust a HUMP!

This kind of smoke-up-your-shorts advice produces people like “Bikini Girl” (does anyone even remember her NAME? NO!) who showed up to audition for American Idol in a swatch of material held up by strings and stiletto heels. When they passed her on to Hollywood she announced confidently, “I’m going to be the next American Idol because… because… because I AM!” I looked at the TV and shouted, “Honey, SOMEBODY in that room is going to be the next American Idol BECAUSE THEY CAN SING!” The outcome for her was really rather sad. At some point she had to put some clothes on and sing a song. Yeah. That’s when her situation started to disintegrate.

How many boys have I taught who truly believe they are going to play professional football? I’ll tell you: too many to count. No Plan B. These gentlemen do not study, do not get good grades, and have no intention of going to college. I’m not sure how they think they are going to be recruited by the NFL, but somehow in their minds, like Bikini Girl, it’s all going to work out. Why? Because that’s what they want!

You know what’s great about all this hoo ha? I AM A TEACHER! I have kids who walk through my life, year after year, just waiting to learn a thing or two. They may come IN deluded, but by God, they’re not going to LEAVE deluded! This summer, I’m making sure there is a “reality” component in every single lesson I teach! Like my good friend and fantastic educator, n!c, says, “It may not be in the standards—but I’m not afraid to teach it!”