Not suffering in silence

People unaffected by the economic downturn are forced to fill their days with work, lunch and maybe thinking about taking a vacation.

By Chris Colin
Published April 19, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

There's the online fly swatter world, and then there's the top of that world. That's where Ray Bryson was sitting when it collapsed, and to say he's now picking up the pieces would be to overlook the fact that the former CEO is, in fact, broke and drunk in a doorway on Fourth Street.

Bryson's tale may be sad, but it's common, and today it points up an omission in the press's coverage of the current economic downturn: Nobody is talking about how it's affecting people who are unaffected by it.

Indeed, we're saturated with stories about dot-commers losing jobs, houses and so-called sports cars, but the media willfully ignores the people whose lives haven't really changed all that much. There are real stories here -- stories of human beings facing extraordinary odds and not really noticing them -- and they're finally being told.

"I had a salami sandwich today," said still-employed lawyer Steve Brennan. "Oh, and a banana."

With equal insouciance, Brennan mentioned that he found an odd-looking piece of metal on the sidewalk after lunch. The violent self-destruction of the U.S. economy has left Brennan and others like him undramatically unimpacted, both financially and emotionally. Pull up next to these people at the supermarket and you'll notice something very similar to what you might have noticed a year ago.

All this standard behavior -- how, precisely, do these types articulate what they're going through? What does it feel like to not notice the flagging economy? "What do you mean?" landscaper Alice Clark asked. "Oh, the jobs thing?"

These are long days for Clark, though only for normal reasons, related to daylight saving time. When night does come, it brings darkness and total sleep.

Clark's car -- an old Buick her father gave her when she graduated from college -- has not been seized by unfeeling men in dark suits.

Jeff Mitchell, who once marketed Web spoons, did, in fact, lose his job, as well as his savings, as a result of the downturn. Mitchell, who was paying $900 for his smallish studio and now lives with his mommy in Ohio, was interviewed for three separate economy stories, all in one week. Mitchell does not consider himself greedy.

"I didn't ask them to interview me, or to ignore all the people who didn't get fired," Mitchell claims. "And I didn't ask to be working back-to-back shifts at 7-Eleven."

Speaking of 7-Eleven, Martin Ramirez sometimes passes one on the way home from his job, from which he was not summarily dismissed. In March, he briefly thought maybe "the ax was going to fall" on account of a strange look on his boss's face, but it turned out the boss had earlier stepped on a rusty nail, and this was the onset of lockjaw.

"New boss," Ramirez reports, "and I just got a bonus!"

And stock options?

"I still have them," he says.

What about health insurance?

"I have that, too."


"No. Actually, I don't know."

Amid all this sameness of living, what do the unaffected make of those who are failing? Why, for example, do they think so many people are slinking out of office buildings, carrying cardboard boxes and sobbing?

"Maybe it's some kind of play?" Brennan suggests. "I like plays. I once saw 'Cats' -- the play."

Julia Brooks, a psychiatrist who treats patients hit hard by the lean times, predicts intermittent stability for those untouched by the economy.

"They'll experience long stretches of normalcy, punctuated by the occasional vacation or three-day weekend," she says. "They might take that opportunity to visit relatives, or rent some of those longer, two-volume movies, like 'Reds.'"

Brooks adds that those with a history of depression are particularly susceptible to more depression.

The government has been unsurprisingly silent on the matter. When asked how he might address the nonproblem, President Bush didn't reply, most likely as a result of not hearing the question, because it's extremely hard to gain access to the White House.

"I have to go," Clark said recently. And then she did. She got on the bus and paid the driver, who had also not been downsized. For a moment it seemed there was something between the two -- something not unlike community -- but it turned out this wasn't the case.

Chris Colin

Chris Colin is the author most recently of "Blindsight," published by the Atavist.

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Great Recession Satire Unemployment U.s. Economy