For about a year now, I’ve been hearing about the likelihood of a big economic slow-down, a recession or even a depression; first from a family member and for the past six months, from the news. The economic shit hit the fan last month, when several major and seemingly stable financial institutions either failed, were bailed out by the Fed or bought by more solvent corporations. The chant that I heard from just one person has now become a choir, as everyone has finally woken up to the fact that we are in deep trouble. As I write this, I am both fearful and confident about the future, knowing that no evil lasts 100 years, but wondering what we will need to endure before the worst is over.

Nowadays, my shower time is often spent thinking about what It’d be like to live in a depression. I wonder if it would be somewhat like growing up in the Dominican Republic where to this day, even as the country marches toward social and economic development, people still live with the awareness of and respect for scarcity. Let me go back to the shower: people don’t waste shampoo or conditioner there and more use soap than body wash since this is less expensive. Growing up, I remember getting in the shower many times to find there was no soap, that my mom had hidden it to make sure it didn’t get wasted or watered off. I learned how to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube and it is a habit I still have. On the dinner table our food was hearty but our meat portions were small. I’m still trying to get used to the super big American portions: who needs so much meat for crying out loud! On the bright side, DR’s obesity rate is much lower than here. Could we somehow benefit from a depression?

Growing up it was not unusual to see quite a few 30-40+ year old dead beats circling the streets looking for someone to chat up. My parents had their share of less lucky friends who came to them for a bit of cash, clothes or even food when the need arose. Somehow it seemed that people needing each other kept their friendship alive and meaningful. Today I reflect on many US friendships I’ve had and wonder if one could call that person little more than an acquaintance: getting together for a drink, seeing them for dinner once every other month or so and of course, never going to them for help.

My feelings about reusing, recycling and not wasting are a direct effect of the way I was raised. It’s not that my mom loved using the cloth from my sisters’ old dresses to make me a new little dress. It’s not that my siblings and I shared the same taste and it’s not that we didn’t have good taste: money was simply not there for new clothes. What I excitingly considered new clothes in my childhood and early adolescence were often hand me downs from my sisters or otherwise second hand. I remember getting new fabric for a totally  new outfit when I was 12, which my mom lovingly made even if it took her six months. It was a turquoise blue jumpsuit with white little flowers and I wore it to father Pastor’s ordination into the priesthood. Shoe repair stores were all over because there was no such thing as throwing shoes away after a year or less of wear. Whatever I didn’t want to wear anymore was put in a suitcase and passed on to someone else in my extended family or to a stranger in need. There was no such thing as “going shopping”. It was only recently that the meaning of shopping as a form of entertainment made any sense to me. Who spends money as a hobby? That was an outrageous proposition. What do I care if there is a sale or if it’s the day after Thanksgiving? I don’t need anything. And then there’s the new meaning of ‘need’ many Americans, mostly women have given to the word: “I totally NEED those shoes”. Will there come a time when people will think twice about something they don’t need, even if it only costs $9.99? When that happens, I will know we are in a deep recession.  And speaking of holidays, shopping rampage for Christmas? What’s that all about? I thought it was very interesting that many would buy a little gift for just about everyone they knew here and give it to them for Christmas, some even going into debt in order to accomplish the ultimate state of “giving”. Well, I’ve always been happy with sharing a nice meal and a drink and wishing everyone a Merry One and a Happy New Year. In a depression, will Christmas giving still hold?

I could write and write about the way I imagine things could be if the US were to enter into a depression, but I have to shower and go shopping. If God forbid things get rough, I know I have practice. So bring it! As my cousin recently said “What recession? I grew up in a recession. Your are not scaring me with that word!” …. AMEN!

Poll: Almost 6 of 10 Americans see depression as likely – Oct. 6, 2008

The poll found 84% of Americans polled believe that economic conditions are somewhat or very poor, with a majority, 53% now believing the economy is very poor. That’s not far off from the two thirds of NABE economists who believe the economy is now in a recession or will enter one by the end of this years.

The view of the economy is much bleaker than a comparable CNN/USA Today poll found during the last economic downturn at the start of the decade. During the recession of 2001, only one third to one half of those polled felt economic conditions were somewhat or very poor.

Living with less: is your lifestyle recession-proof?

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