Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kim Jong-Il to Doom: Welcome

Note: we, the good people of Et Tu, Mr. Destructo?, like to broaden our coverage of the national discourse by occasionally turning to voices and viewpoints not represented by our regular contributors. To discuss the economic crisis and its journalistic coverage, we turn to media and Asian market expert, Dear Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Kim Jong-Il. We look forward to hearing from Dear Leader in the future.

Welcome, Doom!

There's this scene in Armegeddon, one of two movies put out in 1998 about asteroids coming to obliterate earth, where a scientist played by Steve Buscemi is on a mission to blow up a death-bringing space rock and then just suddenly wigs out and must be duct-taped to a chair.

There, affixed to his seat on said rock where he can do no harm nor help, he entreaties his mission mates: "Guess what guys, it's time to embrace the horror. Look, we've got front row tickets to the end of the earth!"

That's kind of what it's like to be a financial journalist right now. The climate control is still running, keeping the office nice and comfy. Our pantry is still stocked with free soda, juice and snacks. The salt-water fish still dart about in their pristine artificial environs, continuing their ironically parallel lives to our own.

There's been a pick up in markets lately, and people are once again trumpeting that the worst is over. Even that stings a bit, as surely new fortunes are germinating amid the rubble, soon to push through into the public consciousness and enrich people who are not me.

Oh, but that rubble. The hedge fund that took me in as an intern, then denied me a job and a long-shot at bajillions is now circling the drain, paring its staff down to the big boss and a skeleton crew as double-down bets on real estate went sour. My consolation job company is now a shell of its former self, having given its seal of approval to a mountain of leveraged deals and never thinking of tweaking their assumptions and formulas to account for all the past deals that got them there.

In the past couple weeks, I've received two unsolicited "Hey, how's it going? Remember me? By the way is XXXX hiring?" e-mails. In the past month, I've seen my company break one of its cultish, founding traditions of eternal employment, as security guards oversaw a dozen people pack up their things in boxes and shuffled them to the door. And then two more goodbyes from old-timers who maybe still had something to offer, but were instead bullied out the door into the gaping maw of a recession.

And that reminds me of another movie quote, this one from "Kicking and Screaming" (the awesome 1990s film with Eric Stoltz, not the shitty family movie of the same name with Will Ferrell):

"What I used to be able to pass off as just another bad summer could now potentially turn into a bad life."

OK, now replace "summer" with "recession," and "life" with "depression."

I'm fearful of my older friends being jettisoned into the void, as I am for my own father, who's nearing retirement just as his pension assets bottom towards nothing. I have dim hopes for my own finances, outside of my own paycheck, but since my company has at last broken the seal on its employment chastity, there's no telling what violations it may be amenable to now.

And this is were I think it comes back to Buscemi and the flying death comet, and that is at some level, this is all very exciting. No doubt, there is a lot of shadenfruede in there, and all the social leveling going on is a soothing balm to the economic pain. But more than that, there's just something so horrible and irresistible in pondering, "How far can this go?" Like the depression itself is some sort of Cyclopean beast whose proximity and contemplation will drive men to insanity, violence and cannibalism.

I get the same sort of rush from snowstorms and earthquakes. Maybe it will never stop snowing, and this is the end of time predicted by the Vikings. Maybe this 36-story tower won't stop shaking, and my last image on earth will be the steeples and red-brick walls of Tokyo Station rushing toward me as our building comes down on top of it. I'm going long shotguns, penicillin and gold. I'm shorting orthodontists, education and hope.