Introduction: Puttin' on the Ritz: a Lifestyle Maintenance Primer for Depressions
Congratulations on being part of Depression 2.0! (nevermind those other
"Recessions" or "Slow Downs," they were mere economic dress rehearsals)
Now is truly your time to shine as you share in this exciting moment of
While others may be assembling their apple-selling enterprises based on
business models honed at Stanford, you know better how to keep your high
ideals and standard of living.
While you're busy watching the Nightly Business Report and educating
yourself on the failure of the system, don't forget that you need to have a
good time, too.
Step 1: Your Home, Your Movie Palace
First order of business: remember entertainment is essential during a
Depression in order to keep one's spirits up. Sure you graduated at the
top of your class after scrimping for years to achieve your degree--but no
one's going to hire a sad sack for that low-paying customer service job!
If we learned anything from the Great Depression (um), it's that
movie-going was essential. And you're not going to be going to too many
movie palaces on what you're earning, so time to break out the library
If you're lucky, you live in a community where inter-library loans mean
that you don't have to go too far to get the films you want.
But, keep in mind that your library is probably under-funded, especially in
these dire times, so go pay off your fines already. Better yet, consider
donating your extra dvds, videos, or books if you can't afford a monetary
Step 2: Rita, Marlene, Jean
What to watch? I've been immersing myself in Lubitsch musicals from
'29-33, anything related to Noel Coward, saucy, racy pre-code films, with
the odd Enron doc thrown in to ground me. Whatever works for you.
Step 3: Justifying That Parrot Costume
I don't know why anyone has to wait for Halloween to dress up--and if you
want to take your entertainment one step further, why not combine movie
night with costumes and have a party? If your friends find the whole
mid-20th century/60s spy thing a little quotidian, then how about a showing
of Caligula? This works especially well for your friends who don't have
their closets stocked with odd costumes or who are a little un-creative.
Tell them that they can throw on a sheet: instant toga! Better yet, if you
can obtain the unrated version, they don't have to wear anything at all.
You already lost your shirt, your dignity soon must follow.
Step 4: Repeal Prohibition
Granted, parties without booze are...meetings. If you haven't been
stockpiling homemade hooch like my great grandmother during Prohibition,
look into cheaper alternatives. If you are too highbrow for PBR (feh) and
turn your nose up at Three-Buck-Chuck (oh, the humanity!), relief can be
found in taking the cheap wine and turning it into gluhweine (mulled wine)
or sangria. Look for special deals at smaller markets and bodegas, chances
are you can occasionally score a deal. Perfectly acceptable bottles of
wine can be had for a little over 7 or 8 bucks, if you look carefully.
If you find a dead bazillionaire's top hat blowing down the street like a
tumbleweed and suddenly get the taste for champagne, decent cava or
prosecco can usually be had for under $10 a bottle. Avoid convenience
markets, whatever you do--when I was scouting around for a bag of Mother's
cookies one place was charging $6 for a bag of Cookie Parade. Monsters.
If it's harder stuff you require, remember that trick with running rotgut
vodka through a Britta filter: it tasted better and only cost an extra
filter and time (which, if you work for a non-profit or city institution,
you may have in spades soon enough).
Step 5: Live Food Part 1
After you've drowned your sorrows and steeped yourself in cinema, you're
probably going to be getting a little hungry.
Remember in The Grapes of Wrath how that sad Dustbowl family wants to buy a
loaf of bread, but the waitress only wants to sell them sandwiches?
Go back and read the book just to remind yourself about real deprivation.
Anyhow, wouldn't it just be easier to make your own bread? Head to the bulk bin of
your finest co-op or natural grocery store and pick up some yeast and some
flour. Getting scared yet? Really, bread couldn't be simpler, especially
if you're following along with one of the meme-tastic No-Knead varieties popularized
by Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey.
If you're feeling blue or angry, I can't think of anything better than
breadmaking to keep you from reflexively slapping your head like a
Step 6: Live Food Part 2
In some countries, eating habits suffer when times are tough--in others,
cooking becomes a way of reconnecting to family, of taking time (because
that's all one has, ultimately) to prepare a good meal. Fruits and
vegetables are important to keep you healthy, and are much less expensive
purchased from farmer's markets. Otherwise, if you find your housemate
leaves her food out, just start eating that. No, don't eat your
Vegetarians theoretically spend less on food, but then again, I'm a
vegetarian and I had a pretty bad artisanal cheese habit. There are no
fast and hard rules about any of this.
Step 7: The Tourists Are Your Friends
So you need to get out of the house but can't spend money--I feel you. If
you live in a major metropolitan city, you have a wealth of city parks to
draw upon. Literally: chances are the only people who can afford to enjoy
your city to its fullest extent are European tourists taking advantage of
the puny dollar. Sure, their economy's not so hot right now, but they've
been enjoying economic supremacy for a while now, the least you can do is
go out and draw them as they enjoy the expensive cheeses and more expensive
wines. If you're particularly good, you can then show them the portrait
that you have dashed off, and maybe they'll invite you for some muscat and
Step 8: Re-education
Let's say you're shy and retiring, and want to sit on your park bench with
as little human contact as possible. If you can't afford a subscription to
The Economist or The New Yorker, considering finding people who want to
recycle their magazines to you--this way, you can stay current on John
LeCarre, Paul Krugman, and those droll little cartoons.
Continue to help the environment by passing the magazines on when you finish reading them.
Step 9: Bittersweet
If all else fails, you can tell everyone you know that you're having a
schadenfreude party, and they're not invited.