Spring 2009

What does the recession look like?

The November 3rd Club community

“Snapshots” is a variation of The November 3rd Club’s normal “Conversations” feature, wherein we pose a question to a few writers, and then open up the discussion on our blog.

Our question this issue is, “What visible signs of the recession have you seen? Or, conversely, have you seen any signs of recovery?”

We’re not interested in just the news being recounted back at us. We’re looking for real-life portraits and vignettes from the world outside your window. Because economic news is dull, but it's results have a massive human cost.

ERIKA JAHNEKE: Recession: I don't want to keep singing the Crippled Girl's blues, and it's not quite true that I've "been down so long, this looks like up to me," but even when times are better, it can be hard for me to tell as, no matter what, Arizona state government seems convinced some social-service org has a pot of gold buried in the yard, so playing Budget Chicken is nothing new for me, but it hit home when Mom's stable high school classroom assistant job might not be stable after all…who gets laid off from high school? She picked that job to get away from the ups and downs of the mortgage industry.

Recovery: Restaurants have been fuller around here in the last little bit. Which doesn't mean it's all over or anything, but it might be a good sign to see people out instead of watching the Dow and counting their canned goods.

G. MURRAY THOMAS: As some of you know, I work in a big corporate bookstore which shall remain nameless. Signs of the recession came as early as last fall. For the first time in my 10 years of working there, we did not hire extra Christmas help. After Christmas, all the regular employees had their hours slashed drastically (in my store, everyone who is not in some level of management is considered part time.)

Also, for the first time in my ten years, our projected sales plan for this year was lower than last year.

But the most interesting effect I've seen is a sudden timidity from publishers. Certain books which would seem to be guaranteed best-sellers have gotten very limited initial press runs. (A prime example is Steve Harvey's Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.) Whereas a year or two ago, the publisher would have pushed hundreds of copies out the door, expecting them to sell, this year they are sending each store a mere handful, which sell out the first day we get them. Only then does the publisher decide to risk a larger run.

LENORE WEISS: Post bank and insurance company bail-out, I live in the Shadow Woods condo development located in Oakland, California, a place where pear trees sprouting white spring blossoms encircle a pool. Here's where I still try to hold on to the lower rungs of a middle class life style. Several years ago I'd arrive home to pizza flyers and advertisements for house cleaning services hanging on my doorknob. But as more businesses go on the skids, the doorhangers disappear. House association members who pass each other by in the parking lot don't stop as often to ask, "How are things going?" Everyone seems to know, a withdrawal into anxiety. But some things never change. Discount coupons are routinely stuffed into mailboxes. A new restaurant located on MacArthur Avenue, which was recommended by the local neighborhood listserve always seems to be full, a place located next to an abandoned office building and across the street from a resale clothing store. Tables are gathered around a window looking out on the street. Single moms sit down at the counter to order plates of pasta for their kids. This is a family-owned restaurant where part-owner Mom makes the round of tables asking if everything is “all right.” Her son picks up plates and brings them into the kitchen where a lone chef holds everything together. The neighborhood is turning away from the mall back to the community to eat comfort food. Tomorrow the Oracle Arena fills up with the Oakland Police Department and members of the public mourning the recent shooting of four officers killed in the line of duty: Sgt. Mark Dunakin, 40; Sgt. Ervin Romans, 43; Sgt. Daniel Sakai, 35 and Officer John Hege, 41, who donated his heart, liver, and kidneys to members of the Oakland community and saved four people. Approximately 18,000 people were expected to attend; sources later reported that 22,000 filled the Oracle Arena with an overflow crowd that included members of the public and officers from throughout the country. The DMV Office noted that record numbers of people have signed up to become organ donors.

JOE DEREPENTIGNY: Well, for me the times aren't all bleak it is just a flux of change. There is for instance, my sister in-law, a real-estate agent who during the bubble pulled in a monthly commission rate that some of us only dream about as an annual salary. She wore the best clothes and drove a huge SUV. This woman was the imperious southern woman of the modern age, a shark that smelt the blood of a sale at every turn.

Meanwhile, her husband, my brother was a house inspector who did the odd appraisal for extra spending money. He’d get in his beat up old pickup with his dog Beau and survey a property for some good ole boy that was looking to maybe sell and move to Florida.

Then things went bust and she is now working from home and doing the independent thing. She now works six and seven days to make one sale a quarter if that. On the other hand my brother, her husband is a house is pulling in enough to keep the bank accounts in the black. It seems some of those Good Ole boys were bankers or friends of bankers who knew him as one of them.

Like I said, a world in flux.

ELIZABETH ROSS: New development here. Andersen Windows Corporate is apparently taking off alternate Fridays according to my fiance. (He's a millwork specialist — formal speak for a door and window salesman — here in Pennsylvania.)

Tell us your own stories on our blog.