Tuesday, April 6

Majorette: PreSpring/PostWinter 1974

St. Paddy's Day • Holyoke, MA • 1974

Forty-seven years ago three boys climbed a tree. Today they're what? Late 50s? Forty-seven years ago a pretty red-head led her high-school band up the street beneath that tree. She was probably 17 then and they were maybe eleven? Did she notice them? Is this the only memory of that moment? 

Holyoke once boasted the country's longest St. Patrick's Day Parade. March in Western Massachusetts is brisk. St. Paddy's Day sits right in the crack between spring and winter. Temps that day were probably in the high forties with a medium breeze. Now those weren't ancient times. People had color TVs and there were games to watch warmly at home. And there were movies to see and malls to lurk. It wasn't a once-upon-a-time when parades monopolized BIG TIME mass entertainment. Even so, crowds still lined up to watch this majorette prance up Holyoke's main street behind a pick-up-truck float carting the High School's queen and court. 

A while ago I found a slide-filled Kodak Carousel. Most were Ektachrome or Agfachrome -  films that probably aren't made anymore. I grabbed this shot with my Nikon, a machine that did not focus itself. Uh-huh, I had to do that. And you can see how poorly. Plus I had to set the exposure for what I think was even in bright sun light a lazy-slow-cool-contrasty film. Nailed it, right?

Yeah, I wish this decisive moment was tack sharp, but what memories are? How well can you access mental memory cards? Better than that one up there? Congrats to you. This image was a doorway back to that moment. A bunch of us carted lawn chairs, babies,  blankets, and coolers of food and beer to a stretch of cracking sidewalk in a town that was old even then. Yeah, I remember clapping and hooting and dancing and singing and laughing. Then driving to someone's home to keep going into the brisk Western New England night.

Life is fine today. We're happy, my wife and I. We have new, if different friends. Those olden days of parade parties haven't happened in a long time. Like Ektachrome, their saturation's faded inside my head. But... while memories are soft as that image up there, the shapes are warm, and smile making. And for an instant, I can look at those boys, that young woman, and understand something about boys and girls and parades and friends. And realize that the hazy picture's not the only memory of that moment.



Tuesday, March 23

Unsustainable Moments

Eveready Diner • Rhinebeck, NY • October, 2008

 Once upon a time the United States was the only major industrial nation not rubbled by World War. No, not wars...  War! The gap between the first and second halves of the European Psychotic Break was a couple of decades... just enough time to reload and suck the Asian Pacific into its madness. And so it came to pass that world wealth got transferred here in exchange for jobs, finished capital, and consumer goods. 

The bargain was unsustainable. As bright, educated peoples restored their tools... like factories, dams, power grids, roads, rails, airports, institutions, and competitive sanity – trade imbalances shrank and inevitably turned against America. But the 50 or 60 year capital advantage created a golden moment for US consumers got drunken on their temporary possession of so much of the world's wealth. 

Speaking of unsustainability, American union monopsonists struck equally unsustainable deals with their monopolist employer/partners to achieve average wage heights built upon the myth of eternal world pauperism. US labor shared in the flow of world wealth to its shores with no threat from cheaper labor that lacked competitive tools. 

Now they have the tools. 

Ever heard of arbitrage? It means buying cheap and selling dear. Buy stuff made for less in Romania, sell it in London where incomes, hence prices, are higher. Like that. Today financial capital dispatches tools to low wage world spots to produce goods or services for a lot less than American companies whose workers have identical tools but with legacy high wage contracts (and government mandated additional labor costs) unavailable to Romanians, Ethiopians, Peruvians, British, or of course, Chinese. 

Investment capital is the most mobile factor of production. It moves at quantum speeds through digital pipelines. Errors in predicting arbitrage advantages are spotted and overcome, by computers, at light's velocity.  And while actual production and employment follow those directions with a lag... their vast movements are inexorable. 

See the October 2008 Eveready Diner up there? It's a relic of "Mid-Century" America's momentary competitive advantage. Unlike anytime before in history, regular people... typical families... drove there and in air conditioned comfort chose from enormous menus. 

October 2008 was about a month after America came aware that its financial iceberg had calved off over a quarter of its value. Access to financial capital got squeezed in what was to become known as the Great Recession. The lag between financial loss and real economic activity was about to bring down a curtain. The Eveready Diner (which may or may not be gone) stood on quaking economic ground - a 50s lyric of an unsustainable time when thanks to Europe's Psychotic Break - even the poorest consumers in the US were better off than their counterparts anytime in the history of history.