Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sex was fine, but money has replaced it

By Dick Hirsch

In the old days there were three dependable lunchtime conversational topics popular among the guys at the plant. I am not including all the usual complaints about the foreman and his utter lack of knowledge or the managers and their endless quest to find ways to eliminate waste, cut costs and reduce overtime. No, those subjects are all well worn, universally accepted gripes, that don’t command the complete attention of listeners.

I’m thinking of topics that are not directly job-related, but are still subjects about which everyone has some experience or at least an opinion.

I could claim that the current situation of the Buffalo Bills was the major topic, but that wouldn’t be true. It is a consuming interest, of course, but it is seasonal and by late winter it is exhausted until NFL draft time. Major league baseball is a solid contender, too, primarily because there is so much history and so many statistics connected to the game. Together, along with a dollop or two of hockey or pro basketball along with various college sports, they comprise a topic we can call sports talk.

The next subject of regular interest has traditionally been last night’s TV programs. It has become more difficult to conduct a thorough conversation about a program because there are so many choices. The world of TV has been spread over a multitude of channels.

In the old days, when the networks ruled, it was simpler to reach an agreement on a topic. For example, when almost everyone faithfully watched shows like Bonanza or Gunsmoke, it was common to have discussions about life on the Ponderosa, the big ranch operated by Ben Cartwright and his sons. Otherwise, the guys might be involved in meaningful dialogue about the routine in Dodge City when Matt Dillon, the marshall, often stopped at the Longbranch, never having a drink but always getting plenty of attention from Miss Kitty, who owned the joint. Those lunchtime TV reviews could be gripping.

Aside from sports and last night’s TV, there was another recurring topic. I hope you’ll think none the less of me for mentioning it, but it cannot be ignored, since it was frequently on the agenda: sex. There were never any secrets disclosed, but there were plenty of opinions expressed, jokes told and an occasional fantasy revealed.

Those were the topics of choice. Now they have vanished. It is almost as if they never existed. There is only one matter now:


Frankly, I’d rather be talking about those other subjects, but they are out of style. Money is in.

Not too many people were talking about money when times were good, before the Dow Jones dropped some 6,000 points over a few months. When the market was high and climbing higher, everyone was watching and calculating, but not too many were having discussions about it. They were delighted but not talkative. When the numbers began a long decline, the guys were virtually speechless, watching in awe as the numbers sagged and later plummeted, with worldwide consequences.

It was only then the conversations were inspired, but, alas, it was neither entertaining nor instructive. Terms like meltdown and bailout became just as common at the lunch table as on the cable channels. There were mentions of the influence of China, the fragile status of banks and insurance companies, the causes and effects, the need to hold on because it was too late to make a major move. IRAs and 401-Ks were discussed with increasing concern as the days passed and the goals of years of retirement planning suddenly needed revisions.

“I heard the primary cause involved those derivatives,” a man said one day.

Nobody had any idea of what a derivative was, but there was general agreement that they were playing a negative role. Somebody said he would find out about derivatives and tell us the next day. He forgot. Mortgages granted to homeowners who were ill-equipped to make the payments was a favorite topic. Everyone had a mortgage story, most of them stressing that it was a daunting process and recalling how selective the banks once were about who was granted a mortgage and who was rejected.

Years ago, a friend who lives and works abroad told me that co-workers in his country talked incessantly about money, how to invest wisely, protect what they had and avoid the perils of a changing market. Yes, I’d prefer to be talking about football or sex.


Post a Comment

<< Home