Good morning, happy new year and welcome to the fiscal cliff, a concept that looks nothing like the cliffs of Hallowell where we used to spend summer days jumping from great heights into cool quarry waters.
Ah, The Crusher, a grand place where a strapping, young lad had his choice of a 30-, 45- or 60-foot drop; the ultimate way to impress girls and to display adolescent courage, grace and stupidity.
There was always that guy who stayed down at ground level, splashing in the shallow water with the little girls and old men. “I get nose bleeds if I go up too high” he would tell the rest of us before strapping on his water wings and wading in. That guy didn’t get a girlfriend until he was 35 years old.
But the rest of us eventually made the climb to the top of the 60-foot cliff, swatting away fear and common sense like irksome black flies. One-by-one, we would make the leap, leaving childhood behind and experiencing the life-changing awe of doing something truly moronic.
Dangerous? Yes. Against the law? Beats me. But on those sweltering summer days at The Crusher, we learned a few lessons: invaluable lessons about life, friendship and the physical effects of human skin meeting water at high velocities. I could show you an angry red patch on my right calf that sort of looks like a …
But, no. I was talking about the fiscal cliff before I got swept off into youthful memory. Which, in a purely coincidental way, is the point I mean to make. The point is this: As recently as 10 years ago, this talk of a financial precipice would have meant nothing to me. Back then, my immature brain would have filtered out the “fiscal” part and concentrated mainly on the cliff.
Cliff Clavin, funny mailman on “Cheers.” Heathcliff, wasn’t that the name of a cartoon cat, possibly related to Garfield? “Cliffhanger,” kind of a lame movie, but hey. It was Stallone. Oh, and remember those cliffs in Hallowell where I once impressed the hell out of all those pretty girls by doing the backwards Triple Lindy off the 60?
Good times. And just like that, the ugly, life-changing elements of the fiscal cliff would have been strained from my thoughts and I could go about pondering the important things, like music and motorcycles and Big Red gum.
It was fun while it lasted. Ultimately, though, we grow up and we have to start paying attention to the big topics of the day. The fiscal cliff isn’t a swimming hole where you dive into big mounds of cash, as it turns out, it’s kind of the opposite of that. It’s a rather dire political duel that just might affect the trajectory of your happiness and financial well-being. Will you and the wife get to take the kids to Disney this year? Is retirement in view or will you have to work another five years to ensure you don’t spend the rest of your life in a cardboard box? Can you afford to replace your 15-year-old car? Will the kids get braces? Can you afford to have that weird mole looked at?
Too soon to say, thanks to a rather intense staring contest in Washington, D.C. The fact that you’re following the matter so closely is a good indication that you’re an adult. And so am I, dammit. I think the crux of this long pontification is that being an adult kind of sucks.
Some of you joined the Army at 18, got married at 20 and started breeding soon after. You grew up quick, my friend. You’ve probably been reading the business pages and monitoring the health of your 401(k) for decades now. Good for you, slick. Do you think you could loan me a 20-spot?
But some of us delayed the inevitable as long as we could, shutting out the buzz of the real world in favor of the party atmosphere of our imaginations. Recession? What recession? I’m going to the clubs three nights a week and riding dune buggies on weekends. What do I care who is president or which party controls Congress?
Then you get married, buy a house, maybe get a credit card or two and before you know it, formerly vague and unimportant concepts start affecting your life in a direct way. Tax brackets? Interest rates? Credit scores? Gross stuff like that. All at once, you have to concern yourself with who was elected governor, mayor and city councilor.
Stupid grownups. Detestable fiscal cliff. These are constant reminders that the halcyon days of youth are behind you and what’s left are the complexities of the adult world, with its committees, subcommittees and let’s face it, stinky feet. And once the sweetness of youthful ignorance is gone, it’s gone for good. You can never go home again. What has been learned cannot be unlearned.
So now, like the rest of you, I’m sitting here waiting for the latest development in the economic quagmire that is the fiscal cliff. I’m grousing about the egotism and inflexibility of our leaders, which to me is just one step away from muttering about the damn kids and their loud music. Not to mention corns, liver spots and that damn lumbago.
Now that I think of it, the angry, red welt on my right calf is acting up. We’re going to get some weather my boy. You just wait and see if I’m wrong.
Mark LaFlamme can be reached when he’s not checking his credit score at firstname.lastname@example.org.