Black Friday

When Black Friday comes
I’ll stand down by the door
And catch the grey men when they
Dive from the fourteenth floor
When Black Friday comes
I’ll collect everything I’m owed
And before my friends find out
I’ll be on the road

——————-Black Friday
——————-Artist: Steely Dan

This is a terrifying day for merchants, who have done some serious praying at their Thanksgiving tables here in the US. It is Black Friday, the day when many accounts go from red (debt) to black (profit), and they are counting on Mr. & Mrs. American Consumer to answer their prayers and change their minds to spend. Two-thirds of American consumers tell pollsters they’re cutting way back on their holiday spending.

It’s breathtaking when you think of it.

Three hundred and thirty two days into the year, retail outlets large and small, survive on either previous savings (equity) or debt (bank loans), to boost their cash flow adequately to arrive at today: Black Friday. Their companies will live or die over the next 33 days, although we may not actually have a funeral for a while longer. Imagine that for a moment.

Now imagine which businesses continue to function each and every day of the year, pretty much with minor fluctuations. These are things we can’t do without, can we? Few of us can avoid a grocery market for longer than a few weeks. Should we decide to cut back our gasoline consumption, we still will more or less return to that black gold at regular intervals, and seasonally, the same applies to heating oil. Our telephone bill will roll in each month, and other utilities, such as public water and sewer, if we need them.

All else (and even some of these) we can choose to live without, at least for another year: and decisions about where we will place our “discretionary dollars” over the next 33 days, will determine the success or failure of the businesses we frequent. All the advertising, all the one-day sales, all the “loss leaders-” that are sold at or below cost- all entice and plead with you to allow them to stay alive one more year.

Small businesses, of course, will be the most desperate, because their cost of “capital” (access to Other People’s Money, sometimes called “OPiuM”) is much higher than large multinational corporations. Even minor setbacks, repeatedly occurring over several months or even years, can dramatically impact their ability to stay afloat, and often doing so means pricing products higher than the big box stores. So as those little shops that used to be a common sight in Hometown America continue to close their doors, what remains will be the big guys able to borrow capital at low interest long enough to survive their competition. At least that’s what happened in normal times. These aren’t normal times.

Best Buy is suffering, even as ailing Circuit City breathes its last breath. (One can tell the condition of a company who advertises to “Doomers” on Life After The Oil Crash…) Deep pockets high on OPiuM allows the walking corpses to continue to function, but this can’t continue indefinitely. Banks and vendors see the writing on the wall, and are disinterested in supporting Chapter 11 bankruptcies. Even many large chains are closing their doors.

Holiday Shopping
I remember walking up and down the isles years ago, buying clothes for children already rich in clothes, and looking around for “inspiration” for adults that suffered from nothing but excess. Even back then, the ritual of gift-buying appeared to be a taxing experience for all but the die-hard shop-a-holic. Weary travelers huddled in tiny tables, around food abundant with salt, fat and sugar, and beverages loaded with caffeine. Parking lots where cars burned fuel driving ’round and ’round hoping only to park. The incessant chant of “holiday music” that would alternatively bring waves of sentimentality or nausea to its listeners. Whispering, in the undercurrents of the muzac, the message: “Buy.” “The perfect gift.” “Easy check-out.”

This is the year, my friend.

The Merchants
The tense smiles of merchants, jumping to attention, while understaffed workers, asking “Can I help you?” The bored look of teenagers, hired as seasonal help. Desperate for solutions, small and medium sized companies turn to consultants who offer “approaches” to the “new frugality” such as training sales staff to “better empathize with their customers” while larger retailers pragmatically cut their employee discounts and deliberately understaff. These “therapeutic” bromides are not grounded in reality, but are instead, a sort of ‘magical thinking,’ that prolongs the inevitable. The undercurrent of genuine panic, of those previous 332 days that were redder than blood, a hole deeper than hell, personal savings on the line, or paychecks foregone, cannot be ignored.

Retail Worker
Eleven percent of all US payroll is made up of retail sales workers, and if seasonal help numbers are any indication, these seasonal workers are going to be working harder, and there will be fewer of them. A survey of 1,000 managers by found that on average, each plans to hire 3.7 seasonal employees – down from 5.6 last year, while only 20% plan to hire the same number. These workers (express their rage and dark humor online) about having managers read the “riot act” demanding higher levels of customer service, (“Can I interest you in today’s special holiday purchase?”) while cutting back on everything from employee discounts to free coffee. Will employee attitudes shift as retailers continue cutting back on hours? We’ll see.

“Consumers tend to stay with brands they are loyal to and will spend less if they can’t afford it…We don’t see people trading between channels says Coach, Inc.’s Chief Executive Lew Frankfort, but the numbers don’t seem to support their claims. While they are hopeful that consumers will continue to buy their brand names in their retail (rather than discount) markets, albeit fewer items, this may not be a trend that will happen across the board.

Years ago now, Silverstein and Fiske, authors of “Trading Up: The new American Luxury” argued that people have their own peculiar value system as they decide what they will spend money on, and what they won’t. One example includes a working-class guy who spent a lavish sums on golf clubs, but drives a ‘beater’ truck. But the forces that Silverstein and Fiske cite as driving this trend (demographics and cultural factors) may soon shift in dramatic ways. The “average” middle-market American consumer,” they write ” has been transformed into a “sophisticated and discerning consumer with high aspirations and substantial buying power and clout.” (p. 12) That was 2003. Oh what a difference a few years makes.

That same education and aspiration may easily cause today’s families to radically alter their values, leaving marketers scrambling to figure out how to turn “brown” into greenbacks. Past trends such as “conspicuous austerity” in which people spend large sums of money to live a “simple life,” may be replaced by true frugality, expressed simply by one mother as “How many sweatshirts does one kid need?” The terror of the ad men, of course, is the start of genuine “Tipping Point,” begun by trendsetters, who are arguing that fashion basic “must haves” are best bought second hand, and brought the term “dumpster diving” into the cultural lexicon.

To meet this demand for credit-strapped customers, “lay-away” has re-emerged, with an updated cyber twist.

The Shoppers

They’ve examine their credit card bill, and how the balance creeps up and up. They’ve opened their 401k’s and found them to be 201k’s. Their neighbors can’t sell their homes, even for the “ridiculously low” prices they are asking for them, and they realize, as they never did before, that “potential” wealth, in the form of ballooning housing values, can disappear in a season. And the relief at the gas pump doesn’t reassure tremendously. They are going to have a lean year. They are going to have to figure out how to demonstrate their love in some other way this holiday season.

The Choice
How the people of the US (commonly called “consumers”) decide to spend or not spend their cash will dramatically shape our future landscape. Should they fall prey to the new hype of “recession chic” and “recessionista,” terms introduced into the lexicon to explain the introduction of scaled-back versions of outrageously priced “high fashion,” and living up to the demands of “high fashion” on a low budget remains to be seen.

A Dozen Peak Oil Quips You May Want to Avoid During Holiday Get-Togethers (2008)

Caution: Humor Ahead

So, once again, we’ve been spared the Apocalypse, and find ourselves in the company of relatives ’round the dinner table. For those of you who’ve been kicking around long enough, you’ll remember some of these from 2006. But, ever vigilant for new and updated material, our planet has supplied us with many interesting humorous subjects to avoid.

So here’s a psychologist’s guide to the “Do’s & Don’t’s” of Peak Oil holiday visits and what’s likely to make inappropriate dinner conversation on this and related topics:

(1) “Let’s not argue politics, Fred, the ‘change I can believe in,’ is in my piggy bank.”

(2) “I’d suggest the only way your tanning salon’ll make money this year, Millie, is through a governmental bailout…”

(3) Surveying the room: “Could we think of a more useless crew for that pilgrim ship in today’s world, Little Joey?…a computer programmer, a real estate agent, a lawyer and a stock broker…”

(4) “The only growing industry in banking is a food bank.”

(5) “Let’s be honest, Frank, the beachfront condo you’ll be seeing at retirement is a lawn chair and a wading pool.”

(6) “Don’t knock alcoholism, Betty. Your father bought $1,000 of shares in Delta Airlines one year ago, and has $49.00 to show for it today. Your brother bought $1,000 of shares in AIG one year ago, and has $33.00. Your “smart uncle” bought $1,000 of shares in Lehman Brothers one year ago, has nothing to show for it…On the other hand, I bought $1,000 worth of beer last year, drank all the beer, then turned in the aluminum cans for recycling refund, and got $214.00. The way I look at it, the best investment plan is to drink heavily & recycle. I called it the ‘401-Keg plan’.” (heavily borrowed)

(7) “Why not think up a more forward-thinking sociological dissertation, Jill, something like “Comparative Food Rioting Styles in Iceland and the US.”
“But Uncle John, there ARE no food riots in the US.”
“But it will take you a while to write it, Dear. Don’t worry. There will be…”

(8) “Of course your house will rebound in value. A lot of people are gonna need wood to burn…”

(9) Avoid the temptation to sit around watching John Bird (in the guise of investment banker, George Parr) and John Fortune in this painfully funny skit. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth a second viewing, but privately.

Favorites from 2006:

(10) “Kid, there’ll come a time when you wish Santa DID put coal in your stocking…”

(11) “The dog is cute, but hey, it’s useless for protection, and there’s not enough meat on it for nourishment.”

(12) “No, ‘permaculture’ doesn’t mean that the culture is permanent. How long do you think this one’s gonna last?”

Come on now, folks, can’t you contribute a few of your own? What’s about a good line for that relative of yours who’s going to snicker that gasoline prices have dropped? What should you NOT say, (but would like to) that sums up the world of hurt they’ll be awaitin’?

No Pity for the Citi!

Citigroup. We just can’t let them fail, they tell us. Citi is too big to fail.

Who am I? I’m nobody, but this really angers me. A company that actually makes something, with working-class jobs, have to go begging to rich oil countries for a handout, but Citi, we have to take care of Citi.

Citi is way up there on Catherine Austin Fitts’ list of the “tapeworm banks.” Two and a half years ago, listened to her tapes outline just how destructive these 20 banks were to our actual communities, local businesses, and prosperity, and how they were destined to fail. She urged her readers to disconnect from them, in favor of well-managed local banks. Fitts should know. She worked for a large investment bank, and later under two Presidents in HUD (Housing and Urban Development, an agency, she said, that was run as a “criminal enterprise.”) Once a “cuff-link Republican,” someone providing huge sums of personal funds to the party, she tried to stop the corruption, and instead the corruption stopped her–for a while. Anyone can be indicted for anything and you either fight it legally or do time. She fought it, and eventually was vindicated, but not before she spent it all.

You learn something working in the Beltway, and Catherine learned the lesson late: You can say anything you want, but don’t touch the wallet. Republicans fight Democrats, and each have their “constituents,” but both know enough not to touch the wallet. There is only one wallet, it is very very large, and if you try to touch the wallet, you will be cast out, naked and hungry.

Which tentacles are attached to the wallet, you can tell by watching what happened to Citi. Exactly which essential services does Citi provide? Who will be impacted if Citi fails and the pieces are scattered and bought by scavengers? This is not yours to know. Exactly which elected officials got together to vote on allowing Citi to eat up taxpayers money? Shhh, stop swearing. What is that unspecified amount we’ll be paying? Stop asking questions, we’ll tell you when you need to know.

But all this “conspiracy” talk isn’t really my point. My point is that if there IS no conspiracy, why not? Why hasn’t any organized group started large angry protests about bailing out Citi? No Pity for the Citi! Of all the trillions and trillions of our dollars that are getting spread around to protect “the wallet,” I’m very angry that so much is going to Citi, and I don’t think I’m the only one. But here’s the rub:

Huge corporate conglomerates are hard to protest, and harder to hurt in any meaningful way. Only Citi– after collecting trillions in profits–could harm itself, as its done. The banquet hall is closed, the guests have gone home, the food and liquor is gone and the only guys still standing are the clean-up crew, and it was quite a party. The only thing unpaid was the tab, and now we are told that we’ll “punish” the company by charging them for ten percent of the tab, and picking up the rest of the bill.

But it is all too abstract. Try and express the anger where it counts, and you’ll find yourself urinating into a huge fan. I’m going to stay angry right now, and I’ll see how any of you feel about it.

Sweating the Small Stuff

It’s the small stuff. I know, I should be focused on losing my transportation in a place with no bus service, or whether I’ll have the mortgage next month, but that’s not what truly bugs me, and causes me a melt-down.

The business, the main source of our income, is gonna close, and none of our creditors are surprised, because they keep hearing the same song from everyone: No cash flow. We’re shutting off the extra telephone lines, and pagers, saying good bye to the various perks that come from running a business, and even the $20 Netflix is on its way out. I can handle that. I’ve lived without TV, and it is bizarre to me that anyone lacking funds to any degree would continue even basic service. That’s no problem. A freezing cold upstairs (51 this morning) I can resent, but live with, as long as my hot shower is a mad dash away. My Dear Husband (DH) doesn’t mind chopping wood, and he doesn’t care if the money’s (increasingly) no good. He can handle that, as it’s part of what is our life, right now. And he’ll work 12 hour days to make this new job, a hope of cash while someone is still buying advertising, even with his nausea. He never complains about it. Beans and bacon? We can live without the bacon if we have to. We don’t notice the meals out, and are especially grateful to our friends for buying us lunch today. Thank you, you two.

BUT, here are the things that can set me over the edge:

    My ankle is healing way too slowly and continues to hurt. I had no idea what an upset it is to be without the nimbleness of two legs.

    Our little dog as taken to pee on the good sofa. Is this a bladder infection starting up again? His anger being scorned by the cat’s affections?

    Files that I fought, with the photocopier for hours to duplicate, disappeared, then reappeared in a file I scoured 4 times in search of. I sang a song when I finally found them, completely by accident. (“Oh, Happy Day!”)

    A “water softener” that decided not to work, unless I go through an elaborate ritual that requires two legs and a bucket to stand on. Otherwise, I’ve got to train my new ward in the mystical ceremony, to be repeated at unknown intervals, so the copper pipes won’t corrode away.

    The corn stove that threw out heat, fast and strong, for two and one half hours, and then decided to die, and smoke up the office, right before my clients. Of course, the doors were all opened to let out the smoke, and out went the heat. I was grateful that it restarted and kept burning after that without a pause.

    The toilet that stopped working, unless equally elaborate methods were employed, and the replacement that ran about twice what we figured it would.

    The items that appear always to be on another floor, and the impossibility of carrying much with a cane and a hobble.

Milton Erickson, the world’s most famous and skilled hypnotherapist, said “Life is one damn thing after another. Problems are the same damn thing over and over.” I’m suffering from “life.” Anyone else find that the hangnails of life are much more annoying?

P.S. I realize now why I’ve had the good fortune to invite someone to live with me, who is struggling with an addiction. I’ve come to sing “One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus” from my youth, and I realize how “brilliant” the lyrics are. It isn’t that version I linked to. It is sung by guys with a heavy Irish brogue, which, being Irish-American myself, makes it seem more “authentic” somehow.

And I’ve been seeing people I’ve never seen in church before. I won’t see Religulous, despite the positive hype, because I don’ think there is anything funny about mocking people’s religion, even the “funny” ones. Give me a docudrama about neoliberal economics, and I’ll be the first in line…

So, anyone else finding themselves “sweating the small stuff” but taking the collapse in stride?

Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance

At the beginning of this summer I went to watch my oldest grandson graduate from high school to begin the pursuit of his dreams. As they came in marching to Elgar’s Pride, Pomp and Circumstance, I was struck by a sense of pride in my grandson’s accomplishments as well as a sense of foreboding that the world he was entering was so drastically different in content, as well as future, than mine was some 48 years before. As I watched all 600 or 700 graduates parade in, decked out in their royal red robes and mortarboards, it struck me that the current political process we are witnessing is somewhat like that ceremony of graduates.

The cap and gowns of campaigning cover up what the candidates really are underneath all the trappings. As with high school graduates, some are truly outstanding, most are in the average range, and some just barely made it to the ceremony. But all decked out in their caps and gowns, they all appear as scholars. As all of us know, graduating from high school only prepares us for the immense learning experience that comes after we cross the stage. Winning the election, to whatever office or position, in many cases will also result in an intense learning experience.

As we close this election time, the problems we face as a nation, and as individuals almost seem to be ready to overwhelm us on any given day. There are days when I am afraid to turn on the TV or look at news websites for fear of what I will see. But my curiosity always gets in the way, and I look anyways. Are the politicians under their “cap and gowns” marching in to hear the trite speeches, promises of things they will deliver, and get their pedigree to the tune of Pride, Pomp and Circumstance really up to the task of leading us through this horrific jungle of problems? Or are they not really the leaders for the task, and hope the colorful “cap and gowns” and a loud enough rendition of Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance will distract us from the difficulties that lie just beyond the next footstep? Only time will tell.

The other part of the Pride Pomp, and Circumstance ceremony I witnessed was there were thousands of spectators in the arena, but only a few hundred students. They were willing to cheer for their student going across the stage. Will they be willing to cheer and offer help for their student when their lives hit the hard rock of reality in the future? The same applies to the political arena. All the posturing and cheering of their candidate at the political rallies won’t help a bit if the spectators in the stands aren’t ready to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help find a path through the jungle of problems we face. I’m afraid that whoever is elected will find the crowds cheers fade rapidly, along with the Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance march when it is finished playing. I’m afraid we will be disappointed when the campaign promises meet the hard rock of reality. Then we will realize it may have been all Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance.

Thinking “Unthinkable Trouble”

We are really grown-ups, Mr. Hirsch. Really we are. People in psychiatric hospitals are told the truth. AA & Narcotics Anonymous tells down and out addicts the truth and tells us that keeping secrets keeps us sick. Parents facing the most horrible facts about the death of a child are asked to face into it and bear the truth. “The truth will set you free” is a truism. Crosby Stills Nash and Young sing: “Teach your parents well … they seek the truth before they can die…” Brad Blanton has written a number of books on why Radical Honesty is a better strategy than “let’s not mention it until folks are feeling stronger…”

Mr. Hirsch, the mainstream media is doing quite a bit to soften the blow. Telling the truth is the job of the “sidestream media” (thanks Bob W.). Anyone who prefers “never never land” can tune in to their favorite delusional commentator. There’s a ton of them.

I find it disturbing that by hiding our message, we are somehow helping to minimize the negative economic ‘hit.’ What, are we hoping for: if the public doesn’t know what’s happening, they’ll buy a Hummer and boost auto sales? They’ll spend like crazy this holiday season and keep Macy’s alive one more year?

The problem as I see it, Mr. Hirsch, is that “unthinkable trouble” is just the trouble. We’ve got to start imagining “thinkable trouble” and we all have to do it right away, and prepare as best we can with the time we have left. Will Mr. & Mrs. Success decide to tone down their winter vacation plans if they “get it” about Peak Oil? Quite likely they will. But is that a bad thing? If you favor the “slow burn” rather than the “fast crash” scenario, I guess so. But ultimately, a storm is coming, and the question we all must ask is “is ignorance bliss?” In the shell game that has been the US (and much of the world’s) economy, we have to ask at what point to we let the sucker in on the con? Why does Mr. Hirsch and Peak Shrink get to know, but we hide it from Mr. & Mrs. SixPack, who are so relieved that finally, “gas prices are normal,” and go deeper into debt.

I’m reluctant to tell other people what is in “their broader interest” because thinking on that level usually means there is an “in crowd” and an “outer circle.” Yes, no doubt if the suckers are in on the con, they will change their behavior. And yes, there is no doubt that this will, in the short term, make economic conditions worse. But, who in G-d’s green earth told you that you get to decide who’s “in” and who’s “out?” Who can realize what fate befalls us all, and which among us get to remain in delusional heaven?

There is no valor in ruse, Mr. Hirsch. And, as Dr. Blanton says, “lying is keeping information you know the other person would want to learn about.” Your hush hush policy is lying. I assure you that humans have great defense mechanisms to bat back that truth, should they need to.

If we have any responsibility at all, it is to help to frame and explain things in such a way that allows people to make sense of their own experience and what’s happening around them.

On a personal note, the most helpful news I think I’ve gotten is that it’s not going to get better from here. If THESE are the good times, I’m enjoying them while they’re here, and am going to reframe what’s coming in its most positive term. I think other people are capable of doing the same.



The world is in the midst of the most severe financial crisis in most of our lifetimes. The economic damage that has already been wrought is considerable, and we have yet to see the bottom or the turnaround. Against this background, I suggest that the peak oil community minimize its efforts to awaken the world to the near-term dangers of world oil supply. The motivation is simple: By minimizing our efforts in the near term, we may not add fuel to the economic fires that are already burning so fiercely.

We are all aware of how disoriented governments and business are right now. Our leaders, leaders-to-be, and best minds are disoriented and seeking pathways out of the current morass. The public is in a quiet panic mode — those who were reasonably well off are less well of, and their options for action are limited. Those that have lost their jobs and/or homes are desperate. Businesses and the markets are in what might be called a free fall. If the realization of peak oil along with its disastrous financial implications was added to the existing mix of troubles, the added trauma could be unthinkable.

Like many of you, I’ve devoted my recent efforts to trying to wake the public and governments to the impending horrors of peak oil. As much as that awaking is urgently needed, continuing to press forward now is almost certainly not in the broader interest.

Many may be tempted to directly challenge the recent IEA World Energy Outlook. I am among those who were very disappointed. Pressing those concerns at this time might further the peak oil “cause,” but it could well do much more damage than any of us really intend.

Please keep up your studies and thinking, because helping the world realize the dangers of peak oil is an absolute must. In the near term, keeping relatively quiet is likely the better part of valor.

The Numbness of Waning Prosperity

I’m usually pretty good about identifying my feelings about things, but lately it has been much more difficult. The bad news is coming at such a fast pace, that I don’t read it anymore, allowing, my DH to provide summaries, instead.

There is a numbness inside me, and it has stopped my flow of writing. Despite knowing in my heart that I’m wrong about this, it feels like a “personal problem.” One writer predicted that Americans will quietly go into their houses and sit in front of their TVs to cope with their economic woes. Television: the great numbness. It was movies during the Great Depression, but at least movies were a community activity, a shared experience.

If I were to describe the feeling on a community level, in metaphor, it is like a huge molasses spill. It spreads very, very slowly, but when it hits your corner of the world, it covers all of it completely, smothering everything. I haven’t wanted to write, because words like these sound depressing, hopeless. Still, I believe that describing ones current reality is a great tonic for delusion, despite how unwelcome it might be to both say and to hear. We don’t see anorexia in starving nations of the world, and true “hopelessness” is embraced much more reluctantly, when it is thoroughly pervasive. No one has the luxury of giving up, when it appears to be the only remaining option. Such are the paradoxes of the human spirit.

Of course, we in the “developed” countries are far away from “disaster,” in any sense that those in the less prosperous world would recognize as genuine. And we, in the “internet” class are hurting more than the elites who are forced to sell their vacation estates and fine art, but still much less than those without our resources. Did anyone see that spoof of Suzi Orman and the homeless guy on SNL? I couldn’t find the link to it, so if you have it, pass it on. If you did, you catch my drift.

And this is what silences me, really. The embarrassment of my enormous riches, in the face of the massive shifts I’m going through, personally and culturally. But I’ll post it, anyway, just because some of you have asked me to keep writing. I’m apologizing for it, ahead of time, but I’ll toss it out, like a message in a bottle, in case it resonates with any of you.

Sleepless in The Big Apple

Dear Peak Shrink,

0325, and I can’t sleep. I’ve had a notion about a collapse for nearly 30 years. It’s something that has stuck with me since I was a child, and it seems to be gathering legs now. I am not prepared despite decades of personal capital development….I have a lot of life skills and have had many experiences that will lend well toward survival. However, I’m not prepared mentally for what could possibly befall my tender family. I recently decided to remarry after my first marriage imploded after 9/11. I now have a small baby girl and we live in New York City. I’m tired of living in a target and watching every armageddon scenario begin in my neighborhood. It’s making me paranoid.

It’s incredibly difficult to prepare for any type of disaster in this city. The laws suck, there is no space, money gets stretched thin. I make progress everyday, and it seems to help me mentally, but there are huge gaps in useful literature regarding urban settings beyond the cursory “they’ll get hit the hardest.” It’s disturbing as it makes me think there really isn’t a solution. Unfortunately, simply leaving here isn’t really a viable option today, and I’m starting to feel like I’m quickly running out of time.

I end up swirling through a sort of free radical reaction of paranoia, second-guessing, and wishing things were different. I find that the long emergency ahead is about the only thing I can focus on for any length of time, and all things I do are somehow related to this preparation. It seems to be silently defining me, as I rarely talk about it to anyone. When I do, most people either go off the deep end quickly or just stare at me. It’s been easier to ignore in the past when it seemed to be in the distant future, but the future seems to be unfolding in the now.

Underprepared Urbanite


Dear UU

“Unfortunately, simply leaving here isn’t really a viable option today…”

Here is the heart of your letter, UU. It is the cornerstone of your poor sleep.

If I told you that NYC would be under water in a week, you’d find leaving a “viable option” because staying would be a “non-viable option.” You are a gambler, and you know it. You’ve been winning the bets so far. The only problem is, the stakes are getting higher, and climbing so much that your baby girl is up for grabs, if you lose. She doesn’t have the time to develop the “life skills” you’ve obtained, and rioters don’t dodge the kids.

The stuff you read about a city like NYC being the target, is because a city is a place where, by definition, is unsustainable. It relies on other places, other resources, outside itself, to survive. Like the child’s poem, when it is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad, it is horrid.

I’m sorry to confirm the difficult fact that just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you, as the joke goes.

If you move away, it will be one continuous hassle, I can see that. You may lose money on a condo or you may have no job prospects. You may find that you could have happily lived your current life another four years, no problem, and you will kick yourself that over that time, you would have accumulated more assets to make the transition so much easier for yourself and your family. You are a gambling man, and you may be walking away from a really big win. I know this because, despite having a notion about collapse for nearly 30 years, you chose to construct a life in a place that’s the scene of “every Armageddon scenario,” and then to make the concept of leaving that self-professed dangerous place “non-viable.” There are reasons for the “huge gaps in useful literature regarding [survival in] urban settings,” but instead of bucking up, and looking at those reasons with a steely gaze, you prefer to explain it as a “gap.”

What do you imagine people should say, when you tell them what you know? “Boy, you are right. I’d better change my entire life around in a hurry. Thanks a ton for that info, friend!” You know what you know, and YOU can’t even believe it.

The “long emergency” relates to oil, my friend. Unfortunately, we are facing a “short emergency” related to economic collapse. You are ignoring instincts, and you do so at your own peril. You are gambling that the risks are manageable, but your gut instinct is telling you otherwise.

Good luck.

“Peak Shrink”



I’ve had a number of things happening in my own life, including a badly sprained ankle, a business that has to close, a new household ward struggling against a serious addiction, and a husband who’s crippling headaches have returned. But I have to admit something to you, my Dear Readers: UU’s letter really made me realize how darn lucky I am.

I’m free of the delusion that tomorrow will be brighter than today. I won’t be disappointed if President-Elect Obama doesn’t solve the world’s problems. My goal is to live a life just like those who spoke at a local talk about the Great Depression: They never really knew it was happening. Oh, of course, they read about it in the newspapers, but they lived such a simple life, working only with the basics of growing food, and maintaining a goal of community–free of expectations of government bail-out–that they just went ahead living a life, helping out a troubled neighbor, getting by with even less. Just like the title of a book on the Great Depression: “We had Everything but Money.” As I’m coming up ‘real close and personal’ with that lifestyle, I keep in mind a saying my mother repeated to me over and over: “I cried because I had no shoes. Then, I met a man who had no feet.”

Thank you, UU, for the gift of your letter. It came at the right time for me, just when I started to believe that I had nothing left to say, or that I was so overwhelmed by my own problems, that I had nothing more to give.

And thank you, Shy Wolf, for noticing my silence, and telling me you noticed and felt the loss. Means a lot to me, friend.