Friday, March 6, 2009

not shovel-ready


The trouble with me is that I’m not shovel
ready, and don’t want to move
from my cottage mansion to a hovel
where I will be forced to prove
my usefulness by doing useful things,
instead of reading papers and
the tea leaves, because cabbages and kings
are all I really understand.
Will I have to banish bonhomie,
almost helpless in the world
established by the post-economy
in which I and my wife are hurled?

I don’t know anything about the way
some people manage without cash
to make the things they need, yet if they
will designate me as the trash
remover in the hovel where I’ll have
to live, I might just manage––I’ve
been trained to do that––and if I can laugh,
it’s likely that I will survive,
because that’s how I’ve done so until now,
in cottages and mansions, though
if I am forced to move into a hovel how
I’ll do that I don’t really know.

Inspired by an article, “The Post-Economy Life,” by Marc Porter-Zasada, the Urban Man, aired on KCRW on March 2, 2009:

I don’t know about you, but I’m working on a survival plan just in case everything really does go south. Like, what if they stop paying the people who deliver mozzarella to the pizza joints, or stop patching the aqueducts that carry water into L.A.? That’s not possible, right? Food riots? A midnight line of torches marching up Beverly Drive and looking for CFOs? I live just a block off Beverly, and they might mistake the house.
Or it wouldn’t have to go that far. In my day job I work as a marketing consultant, and what if no one wants to pay for words anymore? What if words cease to have currency, along with spreadsheets and Powerpoint shows? I picture myself heading up the street with a wheelbarrow of words and no one wanting to buy. What if they say, “Sorry we only want folks who are shovel-ready?” I can’t imagine anyone paying me to use a shovel. Would I have to head back to grad school and do another degree? Is that how it works?
I don’t know about you, but lately, when I awake at 3 a.m., I explore such possibilities in dark detail. I mean, already my stocks are gone; after that goes the house and cars, then the wife and kids. That’s when I’d turn to my very last-ditch Plan C…which at this point totally depends on John and Lily.
Just now, I figure everyone needs a John and Lily. Mine are friends from the Valley who I really have no right to know. You see, they actually make things…real things. John’s a carpenter—he built an addition to his house with his bare hands, ran the pipes, wired the plugs, cut the drywall. Lily bakes bread and actually sews. They homeschool their kids. They’re like, an independent economic unit.
I have plenty of friends who can draw up an affidavit or write a screenplay, upload a video, or construct a financial instrument…but what good will they be in a genuine crisis? John and Lily are the only friends I have who can fix a car or plant a garden—without, you know, using plastic. I bet Lily could make pizza from scratch. I bet John could dig a well.
At 3 a.m., when I picture the world tumbling down, I imagine myself moving into John and Lily’s garage, or following them to some compound in Humboldt County, where we’d raise cows. They’d let me muck out the stalls or carry firewood or perform some simple, but useful and honest task. Over time, I guess I would cease to be The Urban Man. My face would weather, my hands would grow calloused, and eventually I too would be shovel-ready.
It might not be so bad. And I wouldn’t give up words, I mean not entirely. Not after all these years. Maybe I’d entertain my hosts late summer evenings by composing an article about millet or a funny poem about the livestock sleeping on the back 40. Maybe, yes, now and then I’d even whip up a Powerpoint about the lost joys of leveraged finance or the echo of rolling thunder marketing campaigns. I’d set up a projector out on the screened porch, Lily would make hot chocolate, and my hosts would smile indulgently at my wry and charming lament for a giddy world gone by.
You think I’m being silly. The crash hasn’t gotten anywhere near that point, and probably never will. Still, I’m trying to stay on the good side of John and Lily—and no, those are not their real names. You see, I don’t want you horning in on my survival plan: you’ll have to find a John and Lily of your own.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 3/5/09


  1. I read this the other day on poemhunter, and—thanks a lot—I couldn't sleep that night! Not really, but, my god, what is happening! Warren Buffet said the economy is in shambles. That didn't help matters, or my confidence.
    Oh, we'll be ok. We'll muddle through. But everyone needs a John & Lily. It is all about priorities: food, clothing, shelter, iPod, cable, cell phone, Ben and Jerry's. Punch some new holes in your belt and suck it up.
    Shovel and hovel, no, you are a long way from shovel ready!


  2. I love the image of you pushing a wheelbarrow full of words. Sadly, I don't see this as a successful venture for as you know ... "words are cheap"