Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Italian Barber, The Gas Station Attendant, and Jim

As I was coming home on the bus on Wednesday - a long, long bus ride from the other end of the city where I had checked out yet another place to rent (that I won't be taking) - I was slightly nodding off as the bus stopped downtown during rush hour to pick up riders heading home from their work day.

The seat beside me was filled by a man who was probably somewhere in his 50s. Having spotted someone he knew who had just embarked, he called out to him, "Jim! I have a bus ticket for you."

As it turned out (as I snooped on their conversation which I couldn't help but overhear), Jim was apparently a client of the man next to me, who, bantering in his heavy Italian accent, was clearly identified as his barber. They chit chatted about this and that - Jim is off to Cancun next week for 5 days to get a house ready for his annual trip to Mexico where his 80 year old mother who lives in Winnipeg is scheduled to meet Jim's family over xmas. The Italian barber said he wasn't going anywhere and paused - informing Jim that he'd lost half of the money he'd invested in his RRSPs because of the economic meltdown. "It's bad, Jim. It's bad," he said. Jim sympathized and said that, as far as he was concerned, all anyone could do was to try to enjoy life in the moment, regardless of what's going on. That's the type of response I would probably have given but it wouldn't alleviate the Italian barber's long term concerns considering that he may now have to delay his retirement. It was a sad conversation.

Having done that stretch of my trip, I got off the bus to transfer to the one I needed to take to get home. That's where I met the 40ish, female gas station attendant. We talked as we stood and waited for the next bus. She informed me that the last bus ran out to her place at 4:40 pm. Because her stint that day had ended after that, she had to grab my bus and walk from 68 St to 84 St NE. I told her that I'd just spent 1 1/2 hours getting from Abbeydale to Bowness and the same amount of time getting back. (Yes, I've complained to Calgary Transit that they need to update their runs. Having lived here for over 20 years and having watched the city's population almost double in that time, the system's services are now horribly antiquated.) When the conversation turned to the economy, she told me bluntly that, "the Bible predicted all of this". Not being a Bible believer and being way too exhausted to even get into it, I just let the comment pass. I really wasn't in the mood to have a discussion with a Rapture Ready person. She'd found her way to cope with the crisis. Who was I to argue with her? I guess we all find comfort where we can.

Home, finally, I mentioned the trip highlights to my roommate who told me that her 40 year old boyfriend had decided to pull his money out of his RRSPs because they were losing money as well. I guess my poverty status (ie. not even having any money to invest in the first place because I'm on permanent disability) has left me immune to those kinds of concerns but it's painfully obvious that Stephen 'the fundamentals of the economy are solid' Harper has badly misjudged the impact of this crisis on average Canadians.

The Bank of Canada announced today that "the Canadian economy is on the razor's edge of recession". No doubt. Interest rates may be going down but so are oil prices (bad for Alberta's economy), the loonie, housing prices, and consumer confidence - which is at 1982 levels. Food and rent prices are still high and are probably expected to stay that way. Everyone I've met who has a room to rent has said that they need help with their bills.

I'm currently spending 60% of my income on rent and that doesn't look like it's going to change considering the few options I have available to me in this city - and that's for shared accommodation. And 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day? Are you kidding me? So much for trying to be as healthy as possible while I fight my illnesses.

There's a reason times like this are called "depressions".

Don't worry about the banks though. They're getting direct help from the feds, even if the rest of us aren't.


Video interview: Chomsky on the economy
Wall Street's 'Disaster Capitalism for Dummies'

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