kill_your_tvSo I don’t own a television.  Actually, I haven’t had a television for over a year now.  And before you go jumping to any conclusions, it’s not because of the recession.  I can afford it…I swear!  I honestly just don’t want one.  It’s a point that I have to constantly reiterate to people once they find out I don’t own a TV. Most keep offering to sell me their old one at a steal and more than once someone has flat out offered me a free television set.

And it’s not because I don’t like TV.  I love to watch TV.  When I owned one, I would spend hours just flipping through the different channels until I found something to watch, either nothing in particular or something I’d seen a million times before.  That’s why I don’t own a television.  If I had a TV in my apartment, I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. Hell, I don’t think I would be able to write anything….ever.  It’s 10:30 at night, I’m pretty sure I could find something to watch.  Aren’t the Emmy’s on tonight?

Now, just because I stopped owning a television doesn’t mean I don’t watch TV anymore.  Sure, I’m reading more and I’m getting more writing done. And gone are the hours mysteriously lost to Law & Order reruns on syndication.  No longer am I distracted by some last minute TV watching, losing track of time, and thus am almost always running late.  But I still watch television shows.  We are living in a golden age in which networks are airing smartly written shows with plot, character development, and profound dialogue.  I couldn’t resist storytelling like that.  I have a select few shows that I keep up on via Hulu, but nothing near the amount that I used to follow (you know you have an addiction to TV, when you hate shows like “Bones” and “CSI” but watch them anyway).

What’s really interesting is that watching TV used to be one of the most anti-social things I did—just staying in my apartment and watching by myself—but now it’s one of my most social activities.   I look forward to my weekly date to watch “Mad Men” with Kate at her place.  I go to other people’s apartments for season premieres and finale’s.  Next month is the MLB post-season and I’ll catch the games at my neighborhood bar.  It sounds strange, but since I quit owning a television, I have a lot more fun watching TV.

[Pic via SFGate.com]

swine-flu1In case you’ve been in a cave the past couple weeks (at the bottom of an ocean on another planet) there’s this thing going around called Swine Flu.  My initial reaction was pretty calm.  “This is seems like it’s just another Bird Flu or SARS,” I thought to myself.  And since I still had some plastic sheeting and duct tape left over from those outbreaks, it really wasn’t that much of an inconvenience when I freaked out.

As I was sealing off the windows and front door of my apartment, I was struck by the familiarity of it all.  It was if the media was maybe blowing some illness that, though horrible in the fact that people had died, was actually pretty minor when compared to all other sickness in the world.  And maybe I was buying into to the media’s blitz of searing panic, yet again.  So I decided to watch a little of the cable news channels with a doubtful eye, keeping in mind that maybe the media wasn’t so much trying to inform me, but get me scared to keep watching.  After about 45 minutes, I grabbed a baseball bat and put on a surgical mask (the mask was to prevent any flu particles that made it past the plastic sheeting and duct tape from getting into my system and the bat was to keep away anyone that looked infected).

But something struck me as I was cowering in the corner and rocking back and forth—in between the apocalyptic warnings of the coming plague by the newscasters there was a bit of actual news.  It went something like this: “We’re all going to die from swine flu! Everyone in Mexico is dead from coughing up their lungs and bleeding out of their ass! Oh yeah, Chrysler declared bankruptcy or something.  Don’t eat pork!  The flu is in the pork!”

Did you catch it? A major American automotive company declared bankruptcy and you know what?   The economy didn’t collapse in on itself.  In fact the Dow didn’t even dip below 20 points.  If the mainstream media weren’t so busy obsessing over how we’re all going to die from the flu, they’d be pouncing all over how the failure of Chrysler is another sign of how we’re all going to die from starvation.

So, while I was building my own hazmat suit from an old poncho, a couple garbage bags, and a vacuum cleaner, I got to thinking that maybe the swine flu is a good thing.  If the news stories focused on the downward spiral of the economy were affecting the stock market by scaring investors, maybe this new obsession is a way to keep the media occupied on something else and thus give the economy a chance to rebound. And while I am an expert in many areas, from classic cartoon shows of the early 90’s to metaphors for sex in pre-Victorian English literature—I’m really just an amateur in regards to understanding economics. I decided to run my theory by an expert.“I’d agree with you 100% in the fact that it is a distraction,” Jeff Mellone, a finance blogger who also works in the industry, told me.  “However, any other negative news will further the overall downturn. Any type of additional ‘panic’ will put people further into an Armageddon type of mindset. Most of that mindset does come from the media.”

I had refused to risk infection by talking to anyone face-to-face or over the phone (it made sense at the time), but Jeff was willing to answer my questions via e-mail.  He explained that the downturn seemed to come out of nowhere because the government’s initial reaction was to conceal news about the dire economic condition while covertly trying to fix the problem behind the scenes.  But then the credit market froze up and Bear Stearns collapsed, catching people off guard and creating a panic.  “Panic causes selling, selling causes margin calls, margin calls result in more selling,” said Jeff. “It’s a snowball. So overall, I can’t agree that [the media’s reaction to Swine Flu] would be positive for the economy, because anything unknown at this point is negative. People are blind mice right now, losing their tails by the dozen.”  But what about the fact that the there was no real reaction in the markets to the new about Chrysler? “I think the market closed down only 20 points based on Chrysler’s bankruptcy because people are expecting the sky to fall,” he explained.

So maybe I was wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t be weary of the Swine Flu, but of the media and its effect on us. “I think that everyone should take in all media sources,” said Jeff. “Just don’t rely on it.” And as the swine flu panic dies down to a low murmur and people began to throw around the phrase “signs of life” in regards to the economy, a possible rosy view of the future comes into view.“Yeah,” I think to myself as I venture once more into packed subway cars and crowded office buildings.  “Maybe everything is going to be okay after all.”  Or at least until the next thing comes along that could kill us all.

Hey guys, I recommend you check out Jeff’s blog, Riding the Dollar Wave. It’s a good read, even if you don’t have any money in the markets (like me, who cashed out his 401K to invest in collectable metal lunch boxes).

So if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer for the Micheal Mann’s new film, Public Enemies, staring Johnny Depp as Johnn Dillinger and Christian Bale as the FBI agent after him (Seriously, when does this guy find the time to shove his mother around and curse people out?).

The movie is based on Bryan Burrough’s book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, which recounts how the depression era crime spree of infamous bank robbers like Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and Ma Barker, turned the FBI from a minor government agency to the law enforcement institution that it is today. Within minutes of watching it, I came to several conclusions: 1) this summer is going to have some awesome movies, 2) Michael Mann does for heist movies what Van Gogh did for paintings of hay fields and 3) I’m totally going to start robbing banks.

With the current economic situation, a lot of people have predicting we’ll begin seeing depression era culture mixing into our present day 21st century; designers have begun copying the styles of the time, tent cities of vagabonds have returned, etc. And so what better time then to reinvent myself as a Dillinger-esk hero of the people bank robber?

I can’t stop daydreaming about this. I’ve begun devising elaborate getaways with intricately timed distractions to tie up the police while I make my escape. I’m thinking about which of my friends I should include in my “crew.” I’ve already decided that I have to wear a suit while I do it—honestly, modern bank robbers where is your sense of style? I’m plotting elaborate ruses for possible hostage situations (which would probably be a part of my plan from the beginning). And as I’m rehearsing how I’ll say the phrase “No body be a hero,” and debating whether to use a gun (like De Niro in Heat) or just my personality (a la Clooney in Out of Sight).

But let’s be honest, this idea was already implanted in my head. Pulling off a heist is a one of the key male fantasies (Yes, Dane Cook did a bit about this when he was still funny). I believe that deep down, every man thinks about pulling off an elaborate theft of some kind. And it’s not just for the money (which would be nice) or the sex appeal (even better), it’s for the understanding that the only reason we don’t break society’s rules (not to be like Dillinger, for example) is because we agree to. In the end, the only thing that’s stopping us is, well, us.

In reality, I know I’ll never be a bank robber. But the knowledge that I could if I wanted to is incredibly thrilling. Maybe I’ll just start wearing a fedora, though I suspect people would respect me more if I was a thief.

China MarketsI’m not generally a positive person, but has the news about our current economic situation grows bleaker and bleaker, I’m starting to wonder if there is possibly a silver lining or two to the whole thing. Though I’ve lived through a wide variety of financial crises, the recession of the 1980’s, the burst of the dotcom bubble, and the absolute collapse of the Beanie Baby market, none were while I was full-fledged adult living on my own. And before I end up standing in line for a soup kitchen, I’d like to point out a few shinning points of light we can be happy about and thank the recession for.

• At least now all those pricks I went to school with that ended up working in finance can finally stop quoting Michael Douglas from Wall Street like its scripture. Greed isn’t good. Maybe they can sit down and watch it again to finally understand that Gordon Gekko is the villain. It’s not like they have to go to work anymore.

• It could quite possibly be the end of Tyra Banks on television. Honestly, when you’re worried about how you’re going to afford to buy groceries how do you manage to care who is going to be America’s Next Top Model? What…She has a talk show too? Damn it!

• This will toughen our generation up. The same age group that waits in-line to audition for American Idol and come out screaming that Simon will regret rejecting them “Once I’m famous!” needs to struggle a bit. We need to quit whining and take some hardships to be better people. It’s going to suck, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

• New York’s going to become gritty again…and cheap too! Expect graffiti to be all over the place, people urinating EVERYWHERE, bums sleeping on park benches, crime at pre-Giuliani levels, and Manhattan apartments renting at Brooklyn prices.

• We can also expect an increase in hobos and prostitutes. I’ve always had soft spot for hobos, those lovable scamps that are the quaint embodiment of American homelessness. I like hookers more though. Maybe we can even hope to see, dare I suggest the unthinkable, a hybrid hobo-hooker?

• You can pretty much get away with anything now and blame it on the economy. Why just the other day I was dumping the body of a hobo when a police officer discovered me. “What do you think you’re doing?” He demanded. I just a shrugged and said “recession.” To which, he just nodded and told me to “move along” when I was done.

• Every year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas my grandmother regales us with tales of surviving the depression and the hardship of struggling after the stock market crash. Well, now the old bag can shove it! Oh, you’re little brother died from Polio? Do you want me to show you on my iPhone how low my 401K is Nana?! Do you?!!

The best thing about the recession is that we don’t have to learn anything from this experience. Like how you should live within your means, know the value of a dollar, or understand that widespread fraud in a “free market system” can lead to systemic toxicity within the said market and eventually cause its collapse. God, this is going to be the best financial downturn ever!

sickFirst off, sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been busy puking my guts out. This leads me to my second point: I’ve been sick.

After an amazing Valentine’s Day weekend with Kate that included catching an evening show of Will Ferrell’s You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W Bush, a lovely dinner at a tiny neighborhood restaurant, Sunday brunch, and an afternoon wandering around the American Natural History Museum, I awoke early on Monday, President’s Day—a national holiday. I love waking up early on my days off, yet it’s something I rarely do. But as I slowly became conscious, my eyes adjusting to the hazy sunlight coming in through the window, I became aware that something was wrong. My mouth had a bitter taste, my throat was dry, and my stomach felt bloated. I jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom, falling to my knees right at the toilet.

“Are you okay?” Kate sleepily called from the bedroom. To which I gave the only known universal reply of “no” to such a question—the sound of vomiting. Once year I get really sick and this was it. By the end of the day, I’d thrown up the wonton soup (which I suspect as being the offending cuisine that put me in the predicament) along with half a tube of saltines, and several glasses of ginger ale, as well as e-mailed my boss informing her that I would not be in the next day. I need to note that Kate took care of me for the whole day—always an important moment in a relationship.

I love taking sick days. Well, okay, I love taking sick days when I don’t have to stay in bed due to the room spinning or an uncontrollable cough. Taking sick a day when I’m actually horribly sick, just plain sucks. To me, a proper sick day (or not-so-sick day) should be spent sleeping in, watching reruns (or old episodes of your favorite TV shows online), and not changing out of your pajamas. But instead, I used my actually-horribly-sick day to nibble on crackers at my girlfriend’s apartment until I was strong enough to walk her dog and survive the trip back to my place, where I collapsed on my couch and debated if the next day should be a not-so-sick day.

I decided to go to the office. As tempting as a not-so-sick day was, it wasn’t worth the hassle of being behind at work. I made the more prudent decision, which is actually kind of strange for me. Just a little over a year ago, I would have called out and taken the day off to watch some House on Hulu without a second thought. Maybe this means that I’m growing up, that I’m becoming a productive member of society.

Or maybe it means that the recession, with its poor job market options, has forced me to cling to my current employment by having an honest work ethic. Yeah, that’s probably it. Damn this economy!