A Fun Depression © 2009 by Karl Meyer

A Fun Depression: blogging through

Entry 1: January 25, 2009

Since early fall–when the scale of this financial debacle was becoming glaringly clear, I have mentioned to friends the idea of making this a “fun depression.” Heck, by then most of us had already been steeped in a stew of depression for the past eight years. The idea of a depression was nothing novel. In all cases the “fun” idea was favorably received: a small attempt at a bailout for the psyche for what was at hand—and of course for those gloomy days predicted on the horizon. So, this is my call to arms: let’s have a fun depression!

This one doesn’t have to be your parent’s depression; your grandparent’s market crash. Let’s wade into this downturn with the idea that there’s room for a few laughs. There is no need for the rest of us here in the rabble to OWN the damned thing. Let’s have a little fun with this ugly puppy, engineered by the greedy. Let’s let THEM be grim for a bit, and we’ll keep plugging along with a joke, and a story, and a grin from time to time. Like the last one, this one just ain’t ours. And once again, all we have to do is figure out how to endure it!

I’ve been trying to decide on a first Fun Depression entry, and it’s been somewhat daunting. You don’t want to head out on a downturn with a wrong turn. But then, over-thinking things has a whole rash of its own pitfalls. So, here goes:

Blog One: “A lone swallow in a dreary winter.”

“A lone swallow in a dreary winter,” I heard someone use this phrase this morning on the radio. It’s possible you’ve already guessed the chap was British. I was delighted upon hearing the phrase—so descriptive, quotable, delivered in that clipped way. I looked it up, but could not track down a specific reference. Still, it does have a literary flavor. His subject matter—birds, seasonality? Actually, and you might have guessed this too, he was talking about the financial market. That lone swallow referred to was a British bank called Barkley’s, I believe. It appears they actually made some money this quarter—as opposed to other banks in England teetering on the edge of default. Hence–his metaphor.

But gosh I liked hearing it. Loved thinking about that “lone swallow” out there. Here in Western Massachusetts the idea of a swallow—flocking, or on its own, in a winter with a good foot-plus of snow cover on the ground, is quite the image. A swallow set against these sub-freezing January days is a cheery thought indeed. Too bad he had to confuse such a splendid bird family with the cold realities of the banking industry. That is a mixed metaphor. Still, you can’t argue with his dreary winter characterization. I’m not quite sure why I let these “market” programs into my living room any more—they were the ones that helped whistle us right into the graveyard. I’ll have to be quicker on the button next time.

And yet, I like a lone swallow in a dreary winter. It has a utility to it, as well as some poetry. It could be describing that last swig from the bottle in some chilled January cabin in the north—or an apartment like my own for that matter. The beginning of a novel? The final act of a desperate debtor or market manipulator?? In the end, I’ve taken it to refer to my own winter circumstance. Here, I’ve deconstructed it into a mix of the literal and figurative in my own life: my little, suction-cupped bird feeder, fastened to the front window of my living room. It has been there for six weeks, full of seed. I saw two chickadees visit that first week, and the shadow of what might have been a nuthatch. Though it’s still full, they have been the sum total of my feathered visitors. I’d put the thing up to brighten my dark winter days.

As it turns out, they were my lone swallow in a dreary winter. Plural, of course. And yet, I haven’t minded missing them—the birds. Much. I’d debated picking up this rather modest thing—a stand alone perch that holds maybe a cup of sunflower seed smack against the middle of a west window. The neighborhood is rabid with gray squirrels, so this was the only site where I could hope to dodge the marauding rodents in any meaningful way. And, I knew having a few birds bounce around just beyond the glass pane would brighten these long, cold days.

So, I spent a little cash—which is somewhat scarce at the moment, and bought both feeder and seed. Once installed and filled, I’d waited. And waited. It took most of a week before I caught the quick flit and perch of first one chickadee, then another. They came in succession, stopping, glancing around for predators, then craning in for a seed and quickly flying off. “I’m in business,” I thought. These visits came closely on the heels of that shadowy retreat of what I believe was a nuthatch (white breasted, likely—I just got a glimpse.)

Unexpectedly, sadly, that was it. All she wrote. A lone swallow in a dreary winter. Day in and day out, that little, clear-plastic feeder sits smack in the center of my living room window–suctioned on invisible glass like some strange space ship hanging in the air. It’s still full of seed and promise. Day in, day out, it remains unvisited by birds; unmolested by squirrels. I guess I’ve taken to seeing it as a fun depression’s first artifact. It fits the bill. Its promise was of purple finches, goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals, maybe the odd red-breasted nuthatch. What it delivered were two minute- waltzes, from a pair of skittish visitors. Lone swallows in a dreary winter.

Well, toughen up old chap. Chin up old boy. Barkley’s is paying a dividend, and if I look far enough across the parking lot my friends Tracey and Michael have a gaggle of birds at their feeders. Perhaps I should be grateful there’s been no run on my bank.

In the end, my feeder is just exactly what it was when I brought it here: the promise of birds. This is Plato’s quintessential bird feeder; his perfect chair. It’s purely, the notion of itself. The longer it sits there, the more I appreciate it. It’s a time capsule, really, at this point. In a week it will be February. The sap will run. Six weeks from then, it will be March—my little space-ship feeder still suctioned and full at the window. A week after that, we’ll be approaching the equinox. I may just be looking out through the window past that feeder then, and there it may be—a lone swallow in a dreary winter. As promised. This one will be a tree swallow.