Another day, more Ramen, more reflection. I’m reusing the fork from yesterday to lighten the massive load of dishes I need to do before I move out of my apartment. My December rent is only partially paid. The remaining balance will be left with my keys when I leave on Saturday, the day my landlord and I agreed would be my last. My security deposit will remain in his company’s account.

I’m packing most of the rest of my belongings into black trash bags (Irish luggage) between sentences. There’s an Arctic cold front coming through in a few days. My electric bill (which also pays for my heat) is some where in the mid-hundreds; hopefully I’ll be out of here before they cut me off.

My heat doesn’t work as it is: the vent (placed near the ceiling, for maximum efficiency) just blows room temperature air. It’s been running at full blast for three days and the temperature has risen only a few degrees, if at all. It’s hard to tell. I’m in and out so much I don’t remember just where the little clear plastic stick on my temperature gauge was when I checked it last. Somewhere close to sixty. It’s somewhere close to sixty right now, but hope makes me think it’s a bit higher than yesterday. 

Why all the cataloging of the horrors and the kvetching and this worrying, oh, the worrying, and for what? Well, mostly because all we’ve been hearing for weeks is how no one knows what’s going to happen with the economy, but everyone’s scared. Rich people are scared, companies are scared, auto workers who make double or triple my salary are scared they might start making only half again or twice as much as me– what happens to folks like me working 40 hours a week like everyone else, taking home between $150-250 a week? Are we ahead of the game? Will our class of jobs simply get larger? Or will our jobs disappear? Will they be taken by some of the newly underemployed?

When things are at what you believe to be their worst, you tend to tell yourself that they can only get better. Things are pretty rough right now for people like me. Belts are tightened, hands wrung out, brows permanently furrowed. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. And I don’t want handouts, I don’t expect immediate prosperity, I don’t want something I haven’t worked for– but is it too much to ask that things are at least prevented from getting any worse?

Of course it isn’t. Problem is, no one has a clue how to make that happen. Barack Obama was elected president in November and the nation felt a wave of hope. For a little while. One of the unmentioned (at least from what I’ve seen) effects of the Bush hangover will be a tremendous cynicism, worse than post-Watergate, and one that certainly won’t be salved by Reaganesque smiles and speeches that prod our ego.

Amid all the converging catastrophes we’ve heard about so often lately, even if Obama can figure out what to do with his time in office, how will he get any of us to actually believe he’s capable of it? How will he prevent infighting and cynical politics from derailing his plans? How will he do all that while keeping the original spirit of his actions intact? 

These aren’t new questions, but as the chill descends and Buffalo prepares for another hellish week of trial-by-ice, hope and answers seem harder to come by, like that extra $50 late charge for the rent or the few degrees between chilly and cold.

Stay warm.

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The end is near. President George W. Bush will leave office in about a week. Some of us have waited for this day with bated breath since the beginning of his first term. Others look to the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president with a mixture of fear, sadness, and anger: at the prospect of yet another untested leader, at lost opportunities, at the end of a high, wild, magical time when anything you wanted was possible– if you wanted what George Bush wanted you to want.

Many more of us have seen our opinions change with an almost quarterly regularity as this or that bit of information or circumstance caught our attention and reshaped our view of the man, only to flutter away like an autumn leaf or a blog post as more data took its place and confused us once again. 

As I write, a Maruchan beef-flavored Instant Lunch sits on the floor next to me, a fork resting on the peeled-back cover to keep it closed so the heat and steam will not escape and the noodles will properly absorb the salty brine that now envelops them. The scene in my apartment is much as it was five years ago in my Spaulding Hall dorm room at the University at Buffalo: sunlight peeking at extreme angles through a window with no view, socks and garbage strewn about the floor in nonsense, and a meal of sorts, two minutes away and counting, steaming quietly next to my right heel, with an anatomically suspect diagram of a cow on the cover to let me know what I’m supposed to be eating. In the new year of 2003, George Bush was a fact most of us (middle class white college students with disposable funds and no job) accepted and ignored, like credit card debt or the sun. 

I’m stirring the noodles now. Instant Lunch is so much better than straight Ramen (and so worth the extra fifty cents) because it contains little freeze-dried carrot scrapings and several bits of corn and scallion, the remains of the remains of industrialized food, put to use like the tendons and bone of the buffalo on the Great Plains in the days before AIM and central heating. You always have to cut the noodles, it feels like, to get the dish to mix properly. I used to spend an extra minute hacking away with a plastic butter knife to get my lunch to where I wanted it to be.

Back in the dorms in 2003, on another wintry night spent subsisting on sodium and wheat gluten, I was informed that we were at war. We had known for some time, of course, that this would happen. Most of us could recall the Gulf War (or had at least seen the History Channel specials) and we all remembered the Clinton air strikes on Iraq. Sort of. In the way that we remembered anything before 9/11 or before that week: distantly, incompletely, with a lot of gaps cobbed with bits of newspaper and spit over time. America was at war. Iraq was the enemy, or at least the target. Bush was president. The sun came up somewhere between our last kill on the virtual battlefield and our first class, and, sometime later, it would set, somewhere… over there. ::gesticulating:: Westish. (Looking back now it seems strange that more of us in the first-person shooter gaming community didn’t try to identify somewhat with our peers in the actual shooting-and-dying set. If we had, it most likely would have been done in a dubious and insulting manner and it’s probably better that we all kept our mouths shut as much as we did when interacting with the real world, whenever we did.)

The problem with trying to be clever is that you’re never quite sure if you’re succeeding, and so try harder and harder as time persists and the absence of an editor or audience persists, until you’re not really sure what it was you had to say or if, in fact, there was anything there to begin with.

Today, President Bush, in his last press conference in office, likened the current financial situation to a night of drinking. “Wall Street got drunk and left us with the hangover,” he said. (Eight days from the end, a world in crisis, and this is his last press conference; I’ll let that take you wherever you want it to.)

Hangovers have several stages. There is the initial joy at waking up alive, against all odds. Next a state of childlike wonder and an independence from one’s own life: bills and relationships and grades are forgotten, there is only the self, the mind. And then you have to get out of bed and face the world, face what you’ve done, who you became and what that person wanted and felt versus what you believe your sober self to be. Introspection sets in, if you have time for it, and its pretty much downhill from there.

What will our hangover be like? The bill has come due. The party is over and has been for awhile. We have slept amongst the garbage and the curdling puddles of excess decadence and now it is time to find our coats and get some breakfast. Where will we go from here? What will we do? What shall we eat? Will we act or remain paralyzed by guilt and recrimination?

I think it’s time to rinse out our mouths, apologize to those we trampled or spat on in the fury of the party, and make something of what’s left of the day. That’s just me, but I know from hangovers, and we really don’t have any choice.