Last Saturday night I did something I haven't since losing my job last November. I saw a movie in a theatre. From all the second-guessing I did beforehand, you'd think I was about to head to a GM dealership and buy a car.
I cut out almost all indulgences when I was laid off last November. There was so much uncertainty about the future, everything was up for question. Movies were out. Along with any other entertainment, like concerts, clubs, etc. Meals out of the house too. Along with new clothes, bottled water delivery, twice-weekly dog walker, extra cable channels and phone features and new stuff of any kind.
Then came the serious questioning. Like to sell my house or not (see Foreclosing On Myself).
I was really fortunate in that I picked up a contract job after 6 weeks of unemployment. So money was coming in. But just like severance will run out, so can contract work, and until I have a job offer in hand, I feel I have to behave as if the spout can be turned off any second. And really, even a job offer is no guarantee of secure income anymore.
So, I hemmed and hawed. There were the usual rationalizations. I'm sure you'll find them very familiar.
"I've been good." Like really frugal since November.
"I deserve it." I've gone without any indulgence for so long.
"This movie really should be seen in the theatre." (The movie in question was Coraline, the 3D movie that wouldn't be quite the same on my home TV).
What a whine fest. When I look at that list it all sounds so pathetic.
Because after all, is there any sane rationalization for going out and spending $40 for 2 people for 2 hours of screen time and popcorn?
But once I made the decision, there was no turning back. I did a good job of compartmentalizing, and put aside any second questions I'd had till then. Or till later.
And when we arrived at the theatre - one of these huge cinema complexes that bombard you with sensory overload on all sides - a funny thing hit me.
I turned to my partner and asked him, "Is there a recession going on?"
The place was teeming. There were line-ups. There was noise, and excitement, and little kids running around, and loads of soda and popcorn and sugary snacks being consumed.
I began to think hmmm, there really are two distinct realities co-existing in the world now. I felt like one of the have-nots among the haves.
Then in the next instant, my middle-class guilt grabbed me by the throat, shoving the ridiculousness of my personal reality right down it. Of course there are distinctions. There always have been. Everyday millions live that distinction and have for years, long before the recession began and hit the middle-class in the gonads.
Every day that I used to leave my nice comfortable house and drive to work in my nice comfortable car at my nice comfortable-paying job, there were always millions living in a kind of poverty I couldn't imagine.
But standing there in the garish audio-visual overload I was the outsider. It hit me that something separated me from the hundreds of people here who were spending money freely in a way I once had but didn't any longer.
And I wondered, if the recession deepens, and the divide between those who go to movies and those who don't gets worse, will we see repercussions in a new way.
It's already happening. Just this week the CEO of Sony France was held hostage by laid-off workers angry at their severance packages. Serge Fouche had traveled to a Sony factory in the south-west of France for a final courtesy visit but dozens of staff took him hostage and barricaded the entry to the factory with tree trunks. He was released the next morning on the condition that he immediately enter into negotiations with trade unionists.
We haven't quite seen this degree of anger in North America yet. There was the sit-in by the 250 Republic Windows and Doors employees laid off. But we haven't seen any organized violence or hostage-taking yet against those in power here (although I'm sure many have fantasized about it).
Personally, I didn't feel any resentment towards anyone in the hustle and bustle world of consumption yesterday.
I simply felt like an outside observer, hoping one day I wouldn't feel the guilt that hit me when I returned home. Especially 'cause I didn't even like the movie all that much.
Okay, enough of that. It was one of my kid's birthdays the next day. He's a big kid now, and understands my circumstances, but I don't feel an ounce of guilt for having spent some money on him. And that morning I made him a big fat chocolate cake, which made me feel happy. A lot happier than what I paid to feel last Saturday night.
All about being laid off, fired and hired again.