Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Dark Blanket of Uncertainty


I stood in front of the beer section at the supermarket for what seemed like hours. The guy draped in his official red and olive Giant Eagle uniform stacking oranges in the produce department nearby intermittently looked over at me, but I imagine the intensity at which I gazed at the bottle selection more than likely prohibited him from asking if he could assist me. I didn't need his help, anyway. I knew exactly what I wanted. The Cavs were set to take on the Charlotte Bobcats in less than a half-hour and that $8.99, 22-ounce bottle of Oaked Arrogant Bastard had my name on it. I picked it up several times, and then placed it back in its slot again and again.

Perhaps because it's the harrowing economic times. Or maybe it's because it's the Lenten season, I'm not sure. But guilt has been a predominant guiding force lately. A year ago, I would have had that product from Stone Brewing through the check-out area more quickly than the time it takes for the Indians to be knocked out of playoff contention. But since returning to Akron, I've noticed a hesitancy in just about everything we purchase. The cans in the pantry say "Great Value" on the labels instead of "Del Monte" or "Stokely". So does the apple juice in the refrigerator. And the body wash in the bathroom. Hell, we don't even use Charmin anymore. Going to the supermarket or the drug store, there seems to be a propensity towards spending only the money we need to spend. And it seems to spill over into other areas. We need new tires on the Nissan Xterra but we'll more than likely wait. You can chisel the ice of the inside of the single-pane windows here in the house, but that appears to be more of an autumn-spending project. Some of the studio gear could use a facelift, but the thought of draining resources on a new Mac is, at least for now, unfathomable.

On the surface, there appears to be a pall over the land. That sounds cryptic, I know. Although my pint-glass usually tends to be half-empty, I do generally try to keep a half-opened eye towards what might be possible. I try to give the other guy the benefit of the doubt. And if all else fails, I normally revert to the "it is what it is" mentality. No, it's not a philosophy in the mold of Joel Osteen but, for me, it's realistic and one that I can live with. But when I open my newspaper in the morning and gaze out over the landscape, there lurks a kind of dark tremor, as if the Death Star, although light-years away, sits out there in the Milky Way, waiting. This moody foreboding gets an extra surge once I actually open the newspaper. Foreclosures, rising health costs, American soldiers getting killed in the mountains of Afghanistan, and a completely inept Congress. And that's before I even open the Local section.

And yet, there are those who remind us that things aren't as bad as they could be, that compared to, say, the Great Depression, this is peanuts. I see their point. Try getting into a Macaroni Grill after 7 o'clock on a Saturday night. Regal Cinema on a weekend evening? Packed. Sam's Club this afternoon? You couldn't get a cart. Heck, the Pittsburgh Penguins have had 125 consecutive sell-outs! People sign on the dotted line for new cars. Others go on vacation. Even my brother just bought a new house.

So who do you believe? The Republicans or the Democrats? Bill Maher or Glenn Beck? Barack Obama or Sarah Palin? My gut tells me to place my bets... with none of them. I tend to side with our bank account, which is now depleted after doing the kitchen here because we practically gave our house away in Illinois in order to get rid of it. I'm taking the road which leads me to the gym several days a week so that perhaps I might not have to take the road to the doctor for a visit because my insurance is meager and expensive. I'm aligning myself with cooking at home instead of traveling to a chic new bistro in Cleveland, watching movies on TBS instead of subscribing to Netflix, and re-reading an older David Sedaris book instead of downloading a new one on to the Kindle. I consider us fortunate that we were able to sell our house in this economy. We were dealt an "18", so I guess I'm holding.

I don't know who's ultimately responsible for double-digit unemployment or the pathetically high cost of health-care. I have my opinions like everyone else. But somewhere between the guy who's always able to hand over the cash to buy 4 or 5 beers at a Cavs game and the woman over in Kenmore who can never seem to be able to afford to pay the heating bill each month sits thousands and thousands of people...like me. People who have a feeling that things just...aren't right. That for the time being, it might be better to just hang tight, to not take any chances. The angst trumps the impulse, so park it in the corner and just chill. My wife calls it the "gurgle-bellies", that semi-nauseous, semi-uncomfortable feeling that keeps you near the restroom because something could happen at any time, and you just don't want to stray too far. "Play it safe", it seems to say. "Don't wander off 'cause you never know what will happen."

Maybe that's the dark blanket. That we just don't know how it will turn out. So while a proposed change to the health-care system in 2013 or a Taliban-free Afghanistan may end up being worthwhile endeavors, most of us worry, struggle, second-guess, and do a keep-on-keepin'-on right now. Maybe that's why it took me so long to decide at the Giant Eagle. It's probably why I chose the $4.99 Abbey Ale from Brewery Ommegang. Worry. Second-guessing. Maybe guilt. "But there was a much cheaper 6-pack of Budweiser sitting right there", you say. Sure, I may be uncertain but I still reserve the right to maintain some self-respect, right?

-30-

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