Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stories From the Second Depression - Part One

I won't mention his name, but he's someone I've known for years. He was a friend of my father and as I grew older, he became my friend, too. He had no children and his longest term relationship lasted about ten years, but he never married.

He worked for a major city as an engineer. He was good at what he did, he was proud of his work. I've heard horror stories about months on projects in derelict neighborhoods where he never felt safe. He worked hard. He saved his money.

He retired to New Mexico about fifteen years ago and he should have had a very comfortable retirement. He invested in stocks, in gold, in a house, and he had money left over to help a friend put herself through school and, eventually, pay her daughter's tuition when she got to school age.

He's over seventy and had a health scare last year - his knees were already gone and now his heart was acting up. There was talk of an open heart surgery. He, instead, went on a strict healthy eating and exercise regimen (he swims, as it's the only exercise his arthritic knees can handle) and he's dodged the surgery so far. He loves good food, he loves to go watch the trains that pass through the small town near his home. He has a cup of coffee in the same place with the same people every morning. He likes his life.

He called me when Lehman Brothers collapsed.

"I just lost eighty thousand dollars in one day," he said. He wasn't angry, just incredulous. The anger came later.

As the economic news continued to worsen, he saw most of his savings evaporate. His phone calls, begun as a way to help me past my father's death, have become a place where he can vent.

"This isn't how my life was supposed to be. I was always careful with my money. You know me - I squeezed a nickel until it screamed. Thank God I paid off my house when I saw this coming - but now I may have to take out one of those reverse mortgages. I worked all my life to be sure I wouldn't have to worry about money."

His story is like many others across this country and around the world. He started off at an advantage - he had savings to lose. But that advantage is nearly gone. What about the elderly people on fixed incomes who have no cushion at all?

There's a price to this economy that we're not talking about yet. There's a depression going on - an emotional depression. Young people are worried about their future. Parents are worried for their children's future. People at or nearing retirement age are the ones most concerned - they have no time, no possibility to retrench, rebuild, start over.

Growing old isn't easy - there are aches, pains, limitations and the forced acceptance of mortality. Now there is an added worry - what will they do if the money runs out?

No comments: