We could be in California.
The state legislature was supposed to meet this morning to find a way to keep from having to pay people in IOUs. As in, "'I owe you' this much money, good luck paying your mortgage while you wait to get it."
That's gotta hurt.
IOU-based transactions certainly wouldn't be new to California or this era. In Anniston during the Depression, teachers were issued IOUs and scrip when there wasn't any money to pay them. School years were shortened: How about January through August off? Teachers took on more classes, and society muddled through.
As a nation, we're getting reacquainted with the idea of muddling through and making do.
We're learning, collectively and the hard way, the difference between need and want. If this doesn't clear that distinction up, then nothing will.
We're learning that a pack of cards and the back porch could be all the entertainment you need week in, week out. It's amazing the conversations you can coax out of your children by the time the 15th hand of Uno rolls around. Certainly you'll learn more than you will in two hours of text messaging.
No, a game and giggles on the porch won't erase the fear of losing a job, or not being able to pay the bills — kind of like that California IOU. But it will provide some wonderful release and a soothing reminder of what's important in this world.
And it's not a car; a lean streak of practicality reminds us we only need to get reliably from Point A to Point B.
It's not a house in a particular neighborhood; there are plenty of fancy houses that would never feel like a home.
It's not even — and this one might startle the kids — a fancy cell phone, the tether that mandates that we be plugged in to the world but separates us from faces and simple peace and quiet.
A world of self-help experts have been preaching the art of simplicity for so long, their sermon is moving into its final stanza. While it might be easy for them — with their book deals and TV shows — to tell us to simplify, perhaps there is something to be said for looking for a silver lining somewhere in this gloom.
Most of us under the age of 40 weren't paying a lot of attention during the last economic implosion, in the early 1980s. If you were growing up poor back then, trust me, you didn't notice any difference in your circumstances. If your family fell on hard times and got the squeeze — the experts tell us now — it was a short-term hit that most people recovered from in a few years.
The aftermath of that recovery apparently should have included lessons on staying grounded and realizing that all bubbles break.
It makes us wonder what from all of this we will pass on to our children, the ones who may or may not be paying attention right now. This is when their idea of want and need will be determined.
Let's hope we do a good job teaching the difference.