Friday, March 13, 2009

COLUMN: Economy Zombies

It's not the best time in the world to be a humor columnist.

I just started getting the hang of how this whole Sunday newspaper thing works, too. I mean, obviously my column's the most important thing that runs all week. Duh - why else would you have bought this issue, I know, right? And after my column gets laid out, then there's a whole bunch of advertisers who need the awesome promotional surge that comes with marketing their product in the same issue as my column. All this makes sense to me so far.

But then after they lay out my column and all the ads, there's some extra space left over that I guess we just fill up with whatever gobbledygook's around. Apparantly we call this gobbledygook "news." Personally, I can't stand the stuff.

Sometimes, though, it's hard picking up a Sunday paper and turning to my column without being distracted by all those other words. The other day I actually read some. And you know what I found out? This may come as a shock to you all, but apparantly our economy isn't doing so well. In fact, it's kinda, well, sucky. And apparantly "recession" does NOT mean extra time for all of us to play on the monkey bars.

Really, though, how much more depressing can our media be right now? We're doing our job and reporting the news. But the news these days is so bleak that reporting on it might just be compounding the problem. You can't stop into a gas station for a morning coffee without seeing headlines blaring layoffs and closures. That does NOT make me want to invest in an Egg McMuffin. That makes me want to bury my McMuffin McMoney in a tin can in my back yard.

And our new President -- the guy I voted for on a platform of "hope not fear" -- sure seems intent on scaring the bejeepers out of all of us. I was really bad at economics in high school, so I'm no stimulus plan expert. I don't quite follow how using my tax dollars to hire pothole workers on the interstate is supposed to trickle down into MY job security, but I plead ignorance on this one and leave it in the hands of the money-crunchers.

In the meantime, all we can do is wade through the bad news and keep looking for the silver lining. That's where I come in. People, I am proud to announce that, by using my highly-tuned investigative reporting skills, I have found an upside to the recession.

Every year, our papers publish a big three-part supplement in February, one of which should be in your paper today. It's a look at the people, places, and events that have helped shape our lives over the past twelve months. This year's theme is "QC Spirit: Growth During Challenging Times." It's a great read about area folks and businesses making strides in culture, environment, and growth even when the economy's down the tubes.

One of my jobs here at the paper is to call around to area businesses and make sure their advertising needs are met. And one of the opportunities we're offering in this year's supplement is something called the "QC Honor Roll." It's a chance for businesses to show off the number of years they've been around -- and in THIS economy, survival alone merits a boast or two.

Well, among the businesses I was tasked with calling this year were a number of area funeral homes. I've been blessed to not have to suffer through much death in my life, but that means I've never quite gotten the hang of dealing with the polite-and-friendly-yet-somber-and-respectful tone of most funeral directors. I approached these calls with some trepidation.

It turns out I had little to worry about. Most of them were really nice folk and quite a few were eager to participate on the Honor Roll. However, I was surprised to hear the same negative response from a few funeral homes: "We'd love to, but with this economy, business has slowed down."

There you have it. Concrete proof of the upside of today's fiscal crisis. Clearly, in times of recession, it appears that fewer people are dying.

The only logical assumption to make is that the Grim Reaper himself has been laid off, or at least had his hours seriously cut by upper death management. So that's good news for the ill and infirm, I reckon. Plus it opens the doors for scab laborers to pick up some of Death's wages -- and if the income from pothole repair is supposed to trickle my way, surely then so must the paychecks of death's minions.

Or maybe the struggling pocketbooks of America means fewer people paying for greasy fast food every day. My grandmother used to shun cholesterol in favor of salads that I'm pretty sure were composed exclusively of random weeds plucked from her yard. Say what you will about her culinary skills, but she ended up saving serious money AND she lived into her triple digits.

Sadly, though, I haven't really noticed a drop in our paper's obituary section. Hmm, yet the funeral homes say they're struggling for business? My deductive reporter's background tells me this can only mean one thing:

ZOMBIES. Armies of the undead. And we all know nothing spoils a good recession quite like a plague of zombies. The military would have to spend on weapons, science would have to spend on a cure, townsfolk would have to spend on garlic cloves -- or is that vampires? Still, if it all trickles down, I figure all we need is one good Dawn o' the Dead for our economy to fully recover.

And now that THAT'S settled, you'll have to excuse me. I'm headed out back to dig up some McMuffin McMoney.

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