Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Things Have Changed

Every once in a while I see reference to The Great Disruption in various media to refer to our current economic woes. The phrase carries more heft than "recession" and yet doesn't seem to cloy as much to Depression-comparison as the phrase "The Great Recession." So as we bounce on the bottom of this trough, hoping that the nation isn't about the dragged still further into a trench, we borrow from the vernacular of 9/11 to make sense of it all: Things Have Changed.

Naturally, Bob Dylan comes to mind when contemplating that phrase. I love his gravely but not too forlorn whistle past the graveyard: "Some things are too hot to touch/The human mind can only stand so much/You can't win with a losing hand." You reach a point while observing our newest mess - skyrocketing unemployment, jittery markets, collapsing house prices - when things that once made sense seem strange, absurd really. People are reviewing Starbucks purchases, expensive nights out, and other various middle class luxuries, mostly fueled by some form of debt, and they're wondering, "what were we thinking?"

In my neighborhood of Skypark, not a ritzy part of Scotts Valley but a nice community with well-maintained houses and a sense of civic pride, I see the change in our fortunes most vividly with the decaying state of our yards. A couple years ago, one could spot a couple of unkempt postage stamp greens. We'd drive past and shake our heads, how out of place they looked. Now perhaps two dozen yards sprout weeds and wavy patches of grass. Jenny wonders if folks simply haven't gotten into the summer mowing regimen. But I read something sadder. A few houses look abandoned; others may be occupied with too many problems to care about neighborhood niceties.

As for Jenny and I, we tore out our lawn and a bunch of unwieldy shrubs, replacing the whole thing with artificial turf. We want to reduce our water usage in a state that seems perpetually in a crisis of drought, and we want to stop kicking up bad air from our lawnmower. Plus with both of us working overtime to keep our own finances afloat, neither has time to waste cutting grass. It's a small symbol, I know, but the old expectation of a well-maintained patch of grass as proof of suburban success looks kind of silly these days. Things have changed.

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