Welcome to the Collapse

The spinmeisters are playing the same record over and over, recovery, recovery, scratch, scratch, recovery’s in da house! The Associated Press trumpeted, “After two years of recession, Christmas 2010 will go down as the moment when Americans rediscovered how much they like to shop.” On December 28th, Yahoo Finance reassured us at 9AM, “The recovery is on track,” but an hour later, it featured a new headline, “Consumer Confidence Unexpectedly Falls in December.”

With its attendant social chaos, crime and despair, the country is sinking into an economic quicksand, yet Americans are injected daily with a massive dose of tranquilizing nonsense. Today’s top stories, “Elton John Becomes a Dad,” “Air Force Mascot Goes Missing at Game,” “10 Best Celebrity Hair Moments” and “Synchronized Walking Routine.”

The cheeky and cheery are occasionally contradicted by grimmer admissions, however. Even Voice of America, that Cold War relic and official mouthpiece of Washington, has this exchange:

[VOA]: “How does it feel from the beginning of the Christmas season from your point of view?

[Cashier]: “It’s not that good. It’s like so-so, you know.”

[VOA]: “So business isn’t so great right now.”

[Cashier]: “No I don’t think so. Because people don’t have the money to buy, there are lots of people who don’t have jobs.”

[VOA]: “Is your job in danger?”

[Cashier]: “Yeah.”

Weird, such candor from the VOA. Maybe their CIA check bounced? In any case, let’s meet some denizens of Philadelphia’s the Gallery, my local shopping center. Mrs. Fischel runs a meat and cheese shop. Business has steadily declined over several years now. To make matters worse, management has raised her rent, to make up for the other merchants who have closed shops or who are behind in their payments. The third level of this mall is completely dead, and the second is barely hanging on. Just this week, Payless Shoes as well as G&G, Unica and Sunshine Blues, all clothing stores, have gone belly up.

Fischel’s son, a recent graduate of law school, has moved back home from Orange County. He has no job, only mushrooming debts from student loans and credit cards. He loved California and never expected to live in Philly again. It used to be that once you moved out, you stayed out. It was an American right of passage. By 2006, however, two thirds of American college graduates were already returning to their parents. Now, the number is up to 85%.

Meet Mr. Ali, who runs a modest kiosk offering cheap purses, belts and watches made in China. He used to sell Gucci and Coach labels — not the bags, just the labels — which were sewn onto knockoffs by the customers themselves. Many of our poorest are infatuated with brand names. With a CK, say, slapped onto their person, they feel instantly higher class.

An immigrant from Pakistan, Ali’s first job was at a Seven Eleven, before he saved enough to buy a gas station. With his current business, it was no big deal to sell $1,500 daily. Now, he’s lucky to gross $500. Whenever this mall’s open, Ali’s in there. All he does is work. Even if there were 12 inches of snow on the ground, Ali would be there at 9AM, waiting for his first customer.

When he had saving, Ali made the fatal mistake of investing in Fannie Mae and Citigroup, among other supposedly blue chip stocks. Like millions of others worldwide, he lost his shirt. A hundred-and-forty-six thousand dollars gone. Ali sold his home and his new truck, hired a lawyer to consolidate his credit card debts. He now drives an unheated lemon. “In a couple of years, I’ll buy another house for my wife and children,” he insists even as his earning nosedives. He’s lost money the last two Christmases.

Meet Mr. Giuliani, who used to make $28 an hour as a computer repairman. He supplemented his day job by freelancing, charging $85 and up for each home visit. Replaced by technicians from India, Giuliani became a transit police officer. The goal of globalism has always been to outsource jobs and import labor. To maximize profits, bosses must minimize costs. At $15 an hour, Giuliani now patrols the Gallery to make sure teenagers don’t go berserk after they get off the trains.

Some of these kids like to pick fights with each other, shopkeepers or even security guards. With no jobs and little money, their idea of fun is to raise hell, inside this shopping mall or wherever. In March, a 73-year-old man and a 41-year-old woman were hospitalized after beatings by a gang of kids around 12-years-old. Playing a game called “catch and wreck,” they chanted “Fight! Fight!” and called Belinda Moore a “bald-headed bitch” as they pummeled her, knocked her to the ground, snatched her bag and stomped on her hat. Moore told the Philadelphia Daily News, “I don’t know if these kids hate society or hate life itself but I cannot believe they could do that to someone. Where is all that hatred coming from when you’re only 11 or 12?” Also in Philadelphia, an 18-year-old killed a 68-year-old woman with a frying pan, stole her truck, then blogged on MySpace two days later, “Bored as fuck! Meh and Mira bout 2 go touch city hall! put sum more money in mah mouth!”

Back to Giuliani: he inherited his house, so Giuliani doesn’t have to worry about a mortgage, but thanks to the housing bubble, his property tax has ballooned. For sentimental reasons, Giuliani doesn’t want to sell his childhood home, but he may have to. With ten rooms, the heating bill is enormous, and there won’t be too many buyers lining up.

The Gallery is a hub for commuter and subway trains. This design brings in more customers, sure, but the labyrinthine concourses also provide a haven for many homeless people. Dazed, they wander among shoppers, to be shooed away by guys like Giuliani. Dozing in wheelchairs, collapsing in corners or picking through trash cans, these resilient men and women seem oddly unaware that the recovery is in full swing, and that even dogs, according our cynical media, got expensive toys this holidays.

The collapse will not be televised. Ignored and alone, each of us will experience it singly. As blemish and accusation, you will be photo-shopped from the American Dream group portrait. The lower you slip, the more invisible you will become. The disconnect between what’s real and what’s broadcast will become even more obscene by the day.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America. Read other articles by Linh.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on December 29th, 2010 at 2:46pm #

    A young kid the father just left my house crying. The mother just left with the new born for the grandmothers house. I told him to take care of himself I have seen this before. I don’t know if he heard me. They live in the house on the corner or did. Early today the lady who sold me the house we now live in and I think in her sixties who was an RN most of her life came to my door asking for a few dollars. That one I found different as this lady has retirement. About a month ago I always’ walk my dogs in the same place by the GM dealer who has been shut down about four years and a young kid was sleeping on the sidewalk behind the bushes. I went back and gave this kid a few dollars and said get something to eat. The small town I live in South Georgia has four stop light’s and a few people. A local doctor just lost his licence something about prescription drugs. How many people take soma/pain pill’s here a few maybe more than a few.

    The collapse will not be televised. Ignored and alone, each of us will experience it singly.

    and that even dogs, according our cynical media, got expensive toys this holidays. Not my dog’s but I do talk to them and they turn there heads and look at me. They know there names.

  2. Don Hawkins said on December 30th, 2010 at 3:29am #

    If you go to Linh’s blog the pictures who are those people sleeping on the street how did it happen? In many of his pictures you will see well dressed human’s walking by in a hurry and they don’t even look/see. Does society take out the weak ones? Maybe some stop and say come on you could be a member of society even a CEO, a movie star, a Senator, work on wall street, a solder. It sure look’s like someone is missing a soul and not the people sleeping on the street. A CEO where climate change is a hoax war is peace drill baby drill USA USA USA. A movie star yes that look’s like a lot of fun in never never land well until you have to do commercial’s for the man/CEO to eat. Hay writers a movie just call it Soma then get some more rest from the real World. A Senator oh my in Hollywood central casting, ok I need a lawyer type clean smooth face who is the most arrogant of the 100 bingo you just got the part. Wall Street well combine all the rules and regulations of the Capitalist system along with Hollywood the Senate we are getting warmer. Oh and have my beer flown in from the Caribbean just got my bonus and call my wife we going out tonight and step over a few people you would think they could get that trash off the street’s. A solder hello kid have we got some surprises for you better than being on the street. Better than being on the street a new way of thinking to keep America free and “Elton John Becomes a Dad,” “Air Force Mascot Goes Missing at Game,” “10 Best Celebrity Hair Moments” and “Synchronized Walking Routine.” I get it it all seems so clear now and Elton John I thought he was gay how did he become a dad on second thought I don’t want to know. Dr. Phil do I need help. I watch you sometimes and people listen to you and nod a lot could we call that the land of Nod. I wonder what Dr. Phil’s thought’s are on the issues of our time like the end of the human race as we know it. Can’t say that on TV? It’s early need another cup of coffee.

  3. mary said on December 30th, 2010 at 4:01am #

    You have a good heart Don.

  4. Don Hawkins said on December 30th, 2010 at 5:14am #

    Thank’s Mary and was just watching CNN and three people all journalists on the payroll of CNN well the one lady said we don’t know what’s going to happen with the economy the next two years so we have to take care of ourselves. Like I said before they brainwashed themselves and still don’t know it. Probably a few year’s ago read how to influence people and win friends and are now institutionalized well aren’t we all sort of. At CNN try some old writers thinkers like Plato, Einstein, Dickens we have to take care of ourselves oh CNN that’s what has been going on for thousand’s of years but this time to keep thinking in that way to take care of ourselves will take on a whole new meaning and why is it so hard for you people to face the truth is there something or someone controlling you mind, thought’s. Use your minds tell the truth you can’t why the savages known as we the people well golly gee try it with out us.

  5. bozh said on December 30th, 2010 at 10:09am #

    in the name of supremacism or american god, all is justifiable! tnx

  6. Don Hawkins said on December 30th, 2010 at 10:25am #

    Yes but what about change we can believe in look’s good on paper or on TV? I just need something to believe in and so far it’s when allowed for one and one to be two all else follows. Of course some smart lawyer will say you forgot negative numbers. Yes but; sit down you are out of order.

  7. RichardKanePA said on December 31st, 2010 at 1:40am #

    The problem is that almost everyone who claims to be dealing with an upcoming collapse is a right winger, giving them a lot of clout. Urging a big gun and dog and a huge amount of dried ham and eggs lying around, as if some of those buying guns won’t also, if they run out of supples first, eat his dog and steal his supplies. Why shouldn’t someone progressive fill as many water bottles of their own and save seeds for spouting and, if safe, later planting. Tomatoes come with seeds and can be planted everywhere, and potatoes planted around the neighborhood like weeds and when grown, hidden if necessary, even buried back in the ground, like during the middle ages, far better security than a big gun.

    See the following link in not seeding so much ground to the right-wing,

    Thanks Linh Dinh for mentioning the collapse without being a right-winger or thinking ending the Federal Reserve Bank will save us.

  8. beverly said on January 2nd, 2011 at 11:05am #

    “The Associated Press trumpeted, “After two years of recession, Christmas 2010 will go down as the moment when Americans rediscovered how much they like to shop.” ”

    The mainstream media never takes a break from its dis/mis/noninformation crusade. Americans may have been shopping but it’s no indicator of better economic times. A crapload of those shoppers purchased via credit cards due to lack of funds. These folks have been broke ass for the last few years and have had to rely on credit for basics like food, gas, medicine, and shelter. They’ve become resigned to fact that they will owe their soul to MC and Visa for the foreseable future and went ahead to the mall and bought a little cheer for the holidays. In addition, retailers may appear to have “racked up” this season but it is also due to 1) sales of less expensive items; and 2) fact stores ordered less inventory so they have less stuff left on the shelves. This is the reality that the media won’t report.