The air was heavy with only a slight chill weighing down the slushy footsteps down the sidewalk of Seventh Street. It wasn’t exactly a crowd that slipped past the Ice Bar at Moe’s along the route of Saturday’s parade but there was a thin inkling of the start of Winter Carnival, about as relaxed as this warm winter itself. Hands waved as a couple talked through a “What can you expect?” disappointment in the wimpy Winter.
Once inside we all started chatting, the Carnival spirit of a crowd coming more from huddling and the determination to make our own fun than the reality outside. Slithered from their winter coats this couple was older and somewhat dignified. He was balding and round-faced in an open smile, she was dark haired, elegant, and the kind of thin that comes naturally and not from a gym. As is typical in Saint Paul, they slid right into a half-serious bar chatter that was a friendly gauge as to what neighbors across town really think. “This year, just about anything can happen, I guess,” it started with the weather. But it quickly ran to politics, at least of a sort.
In recent months complete strangers have often been eager to talk about the economy, politics, and related topics. There is a skill to it, less “This is what I think” and a lot more “This is what I read” or “This is what I’ve seen on the street”. Very few people I meet really know just what to make of the world around them and want a deeper sense of news. What they crave is more like gossip, not Kardashian mania but raw reads apart from professionalism and expert opinion.
The overall feeling is that this is a world in which just about anything can happen, and often does. The guy, who eventually gave his name as Mike over a beefy handshake, went right to the heart quickly.
“I look around at everything happening and sometimes all I can say is, ‘No way’, but there it is.”
I struck a bit deeper, offering an analogy “Like before 9/11, you could never see that was going to happen.”
“Yeah, like that. All these wars and rebellions, too. And people without jobs.”
“Kodak just went bankrupt.”
“Yeah, well I guess we could see that coming. But the people in charge really don’t seem to know what is happening, though I can see why.”
“What would happen if they admitted that, though?” I had to goad him.
“I, for one, would be impressed. What about you Karen?”
“Oh, definitely. It’s so obvious everything is done on the fly.” The cold serious in her eyes suggested this was personal experience talking.
“Everyone just reacts,” Mike continued, “And that’s all you can do.”
We talked like this for a while, but I knew the hard point of the evening had been made. Eventually I offered my theory of a Managed Depression, already a decade in, and like everyone who has heard this since 2010 they agreed that this made at least some sense. Karen in particular wanted to know where I got unfiltered information, and I pointed her phone to the yahoo economic calendar. Digesting the numbers ran like a typical conversation here in Barataria but a bit more animated.
What mattered most in this short moment was that a lot of what is said and done these days makes ordinary people skeptically react, “No way!” as a first thought. We didn’t get into topics like Newt Gingrich or foreclosure rates or events in faraway lands like Syria. The point was that there is a lot of really strange stuff going down that people don’t understand. That’s why we talk about it with complete strangers as a kind of reality check. We all get to say, “Yes, way!” to each other in turns and tell each other that we’re not crazy.
More to the point, everyone is just sort of winging it.
Our therapy bartab ran out after a short time. It was back to Carnival-time barhopping for them and something like work for me, taking pictures and gathering information on upcoming events. Far too much of the Winter Carnival has been scrapped or scaled back due to the unimaginably warm weather. I have to keep on top of it all, and can make a living that way, believe it or not. Go ahead and tell me, “No way!” and I’ll explain it in more detail if you like. These days just about anything can happen. That’s why we have to talk our way through it.