For several years now I’ve been trying to articulate, for myself, mostly, what it is that has unnerved me since the turn of this new century.
I thought maybe it was the move to San Francisco, which is part Tony Bennett song, which is what seduces you, and part American Avarice 101, which repels me. I just figured that along with great invention comes great [and often tacky] displays of wealth. While I’m still not used to it, I can talk myself down from the ledge when I must. And most of the time, it’s pretty wonderful here.
What I’ve discovered is that I finally understand the danger of an evaporating middle class. As exhilarating as life is among the startups just beginning the stories that become brands, it can be most exhausting — because I cannot relate to the things that make many of the people here happy.
So the best valentine I received is not from anyone I know or even love. It’s from the writer of an article in this week’s NEW YORK. [The issue is about what is viewed as inevitable belt tightening, courtesy of the "no it’s not a recession" recession.]
The article, "The Upside of the Downside," by Joel Lovell, assures me in every paragraph that I’m not nuts. While I’ve always marched to a different drummer, I’ve had moments of feeling everything from obsolete to irrelevant to clueless for seven or eight years now. Mr Lovell, by sharing his own thoughts candidly and often hilariously, conveys the reality of American urban life and why we must confront it now.
I have never purchased anything to impress another human being. I have never wanted anything that someone else had. My ambition has never been associated with doing better or having more than anyone else. [This doesn’t make me perfect, by a long shot. I’m just saying that it has taken me my whole life, apparently, to figure out that some people will stop at nothing, including a body in their paths, to do these things. It’s human nature, and my faults are in other areas, OK? Just not this one.]
It finally dawned on me that our current age defines all of these qualities as the root cause and the reward of success. No wonder I’ve found myself a bit dazed at dinner parties and on Muni. [Like the guy on the bus tonight, whose voice hasn’t even changed, who had just run into a buddy and was describing his fabulous career trajectory since they graduated from college two seconds ago. No, not a techie — an "investment banker" turned real estate mogul.]
We’ve always had our elitists, and our neighbors who always had to be doing better than you at something, as Mr Lovell points out. But more of us seem to have caught the bug, and I’m scared. Our society is caught in the grip of something that can extinguish the very thing that differentiated American society from all others.
Run, don’t walk, to this article. In the very least, it will make you think. If you’re like me, it will reassure you that what you’ve been witnessing is not the musings of your own diminishing intellect. If you’ve fallen into the trap set by the real "me decade," the 1990s, you may recognize yourself. Either way, it’s time to reflect and focus on the true nature of accomplishment. And embrace the recession.