Obviously, I did not cause this recession overnight. I planted the seeds of our economic ruin back in 2001, when President Bush asked us to shop. I’m not proud of this, but the truth is that when my country desperately needed me to shop, I did not shop.
Normally I’m willing to make personal sacrifices for my country, but I draw the line at shopping. For some of you, shopping might not seem like a personal sacrifice, but to me, it is torture along the lines of being waterboarded while “Don’t Stop Believin’” plays in the background. When other people think of hell, they imagine a fiery inferno, but I picture being inside Kohl’s with all the doors locked.
To my surprise, President Obama has stuck to the same economic message as President Bush. Every time Obama’s advisors talk about the recession and jobs, the talk soon turns to disposable income and consumer confidence. Then they casually drop the bombshell that consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy. They try to act like they have a sophisticated economic plan, but really they are just begging us to go out and buy a Hooters Barbie and a Microsoft Zune.
Of course, this horrible recession is not entirely my fault. My father deserves some of the blame. One of the world’s greatest tightwads, Dad believed that thriftiness was an aphrodisiac and retail was something other people paid. Dad also didn’t believe in credit. His parsimonious German ancestors always paid their way, which proves they never truly assimilated into American life.
So it is Dad’s fault that shopping as a means of economic recovery seems counter-intuitive to me. Can the remedy for frivolous national spending really be frivolous personal spending? I guess it could happen. Maybe it’s like God or an unpleasant orgasm: Just because I’ve personally never witnessed any compelling evidence that such a thing exists doesn’t mean it’s not possible. And now economists are terrified that people are saving money. When the experts bemoan the fact that the personal savings rate is too high, I imagine my forebears making the tilted-dog-head look of utter bewilderment.
But finally, I asked myself: Would it kill me to go out and buy some Crocs and an Xbox and a baby grand piano and a foosball table and a steam mop? Well, yes. And I don’t mean that figuratively. I mean it would literally make the oxygen stop flowing to my organs. You might as well ask Glenn Beck to understand irony. While shopping for clothes, I can become paralyzed convincing myself that the white shirt with blue stripes is too Warren Buffett and the blue shirt with white stripes is too Lady Gaga. After what seems like weeks of this internal debate, I end up buying a solid polo in every color ranging from navy blue to black, then going shopping for something that makes sense, like frozen margaritas.
Thank God for the polo shirt. The polo has been my go-to garment since eighth grade, when a future as a professional polo player was not out of the question. My long-range goal then was to become a polo-playing astronaut deejay who worked undercover as an American spy, while also writing best-selling novels, except in summer when I would play centerfield and bat cleanup for the Oakland Athletics.
I formulated this plan while riding my bike approximately 862 times per day past the house of a girl named Karen, hoping to catch just a fleeting glimpse of her (or her mom). My future plans included leaving town to grow the world’s sexiest mustache, then coming home as an astronaut/deejay/spy/novelist/centerfielder, impressing Karen (or her mom) with my polo skills, sweeping her off her feet and riding together into the sunset wearing our polo shirts.
It was important to wear the right shirt for the part. So I can buy polos, but that’s the extent of my shopping prowess. No fondue pots, no robomowers. I’m just sorry it led to this horrible recession.
Jim Welp is the author of “Summary of My Discontent — Constructive Criticism for Discerning Americans,” now available at Carmichael’s Bookstore or Amazon.com.