Half Lives

While I don’t hold much truck by superstitions of any kind, I’m a Gemini, and I suppose it should come as no surprise then, that I’m of two minds when it comes to the state of affairs, both in the public realm, and in my personal life.

Having divorced my very troubling client, I am slowly wading back into the dating pool of client acquisition and job hunting. (There may be more to  that metaphor than meets the ear, if the testimony of this dating coach applies more broadly.) Since it’s been the better part of a decade since I last hunted, I do sometimes feel rather inept and helpless. There’s got to be the perfect client or job out there. I prowl Craigslist, although I haven’t reached the one-night-stand level of desperation yet (Write for our website! $0.01 a word! Fabulous opportunity! Wednesday only!). Where are all those desperate housewives? Why don’t they love me? Why can’t they tell from my resume what a wonderful guy I am? I’m available, I’m straight: send me an assignment!

That’s the despair half. Then there’s the good day: answering a listing for the perfect job (writing for the public affairs/public relations department of my alma mater); refinancing my mortgage at 4-3/8%. The mail can’t move quickly enough. I have a date! What should I wear? Will she love me as much as I love her? This is an opportunity to reinvent onself, as surely as were once moving on to a new school or taking a new lover. No more selling lipstick or mutual funds. I’m gonna’ do something for myself, for my community, and for my world.

The wife is tiring of both the tribulations and jubilations. (A good time to mention, I suppose, that I am happily married.) She loves her job, and as long as there is a daily newspaper left in this country, she’ll likely keep it. Her career moves mostly in predictable ways, each change bringing generally deeper satisfaction, propelled by colleagues who think well of her and reach out in those dangerous transition moments.

But even she is subject to the “half-lives”. Our salaries were halved in the aftermath of the Internet bubble bursting (mine directly; hers indirectly), and they’re being halved again in this moment of economic transition. Our retirement accounts are halved. And at moments, I’m sure I appear half the man I used to be.

Somehow the “masters of the universe” who make the decisions that bring this about are never so economically diminished. The CEO of the wife’s former employer lives happily on the beach in California, writing poetry for his new wife, on the $400 million parachute he received after concluding what, at the time, was widely considered the worst business deal in global corporate history. There’s the coterie of 8-figure geniuses who ran my investment bank client into the ground, while lamenting that they didn’t get paid quite as much as Alex Rodriguez. Or Stanford Kurland, the former COO of Countrywide, who is now into making his second billion buying up the same bad mortgage loans his former company issued, for pennies on the dollar, screwing the rest of us a second time. Well:

There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on —  – shame on you. Fool me — I can’t get fooled again.

So there’s one half of my reaction to the public realm: anger, despair, jealousy. At the same time, about once a week I have an epiphany: these are the beginning days of a new economy. An economy that is going to be more fair to those wage and debt slaves otherwise known as the American middle class. Senior executives who value creating jobs as much as they value adding another garage bay to their Greenwich manses will suddenly emerge from obscurity. And a new federal government that once again realizes that we’re supposed to be living in an “advanced” capitalist economy, with all that implies about mitigating the excesses of uncontrolled markets, and all the historical lessons of the 20th century economy intact. That us Average Al’s should no longer simply be at the mercy of the Bernie Madoff’s and Stanford Kurland’s of the world.

Today, I’ve got a date with that America. What do you think I should wear?

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