Angels & American Flags
Rockefeller Center, December 2001
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I feel like the world is slowly collapsing around us as we sit and watch, helpless to stop it.Â We are waiting for the new President.Â Weâ€™re waiting for Wall Street to start acting rationally again.Â Weâ€™re waiting for banks to start lending, for somebody to help the people who are daily being forced out of their homes as foreclosures continue unabated, for something to stop the constant loss of jobs and company closings.Â We watch, we wait.Â Iâ€™ve felt this way before.
Itâ€™s like the days after Katrina when the people of New Orleans couldnâ€™t do anything but wait for someone to come help them.Â The waters had stopped rising but everything was ruined.Â There was no place to buy food, no fresh water, no way in or out of the city because there was water all around and so they sat in shelters or on roof tops while bodies floated by.Â Those on dry land couldnâ€™t get gas for their cars or money from their banks.Â The gas stations were dry.Â The banks were closed.Â Nothing worked.
In the days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the trains stopped running in Brooklyn where I lived.Â The quiet was eerie. A lot of the stores were closed.Â People were afraid of what would come next.Â We hid in our homes, only going out for food or other necessities.Â I remember I kept a radio in my ear as I did my errands because I was afraid to be away from the news for even a minute.Â People put together survival packs with water and flashlights and portable radios and â€“ yes, gas masks.Â We were afraid someone would drop chemical weapons on us next.Â We were afraid of everything.Â People couldnâ€™t sleep because every time they heard a plane fly overhead they thought it was another attack.Â The whole city was sleep deprived, paranoid.Â An entire new meaning to the saying, the city that never sleeps.
Now we wait while the members of the current administration try this and that, and mostly fail to make a difference.Â Theyâ€™ve spend billions of dollars to prop up the banking and financial institutions that were at fault to begin with.Â Money that was supposed to be used to help people stay in their homes somehow ended up being spent on bonuses and dividends to stockholders in companies that back in September were supposedly about to collapse.Â Nobody understands anything, the American people have absolutely no faith in those in charge, and so everyone is sitting and waiting for a sign that itâ€™s safe to spend a few dollars on Christmas gifts before they take that risky trip to the mall.Â We could all just skip Christmas, weâ€™ve done it before.Â In 2001 my son and I agreed there would be no holiday gifts exchanged. It just didnâ€™t seem right.Â Instead I sent out cards to all my friends and family with a photo of the American flags flying at Rockefeller Center in place of the usual gold and silver holiday flags.Â Around the nation, the idea of all those American flags on display was taken to be a sign of patriotism.Â For many of us in New York City it was more about honoring the dead â€“ like the flags we put on graves on Memorial Day.Â We were a city grieving, the flags were our way of expressing our grief.
Now in a way we are grieving again but nobody feels like flying flags.Â We are the ones being buried now, buried under a mountain of debt.Â We have been victims of multiple outrageous schemes that have stolen our future.Â We look down a long tunnel of despair and fear is surely creeping back into our psyches once again.Â We get daily advice from people on CNN who still have their jobs, preaching about being frugal and planning our 2009 budget, cheerful young folk who imagine that a 50 year old man with kids in college who just lost a high paying job and is now about to lose his home can solve his problems by planning a family budget.Â Frugality is a given when youâ€™ve lost everything.Â With any luck the guy losing his home wonâ€™t have cable news anymore so he wonâ€™t have to listen to their nonsense.
After fiddling for a week, the President finally announced on Friday that he would give the money to the auto industry to keep them from collapsing along with the rest of the economy.Â He did basically what he could have done a week ago but somehow needed to look like he was giving it a lot of thought first.Â In the meantime the stock market did its panic dance and people stayed away from the stores wondering if they would have jobs next week.Â Way to go W.
Everyoneâ€™s counting on Obama to save us.Â NY Times columnist Tom Friedman wanted him to take over last month instead of waiting until January.Â Too bad we have those pesky laws to get in our way.Â I thought he was nuts when he said it but now I wonder if there will be much left to save by the time he gets to take the oath of office on January 20.Â Of course, the lack of confidence in our future is at least in part due to the steady drumbeat of dire predictions â€“ the statements of â€œthe worst economic crisis since the great depressionâ€ do nothing to encourage the Americans who still have homes and jobs and money in their pockets to go out and spend some.Â Having been on a 10 year shopping binge, there really isnâ€™t all that much we need to buy right now and thereâ€™s nothing wrong with a nice pair of socks for a Christmas present.Â Being frugal is what weâ€™re all about right now.