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Putting our lives on hold

Posted: July 16, 2008 1:29 a.m.
Updated: September 16, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Driving south on Interstate 5 from Castaic, one passes a smattering of billboards to the west of the highway. We don’t see roadway advertisements much in squeaky-clean Santa Clarita, so it’s always a treat to get blasted by billboard clutter while driving through our less appearance-policed neighborhoods. Thank our L.A. County government, I suppose.

Most clever and profound among the billboard scene is the minimalist Pardee Homes sign. Pardee runs circles around competitors’ eyesores by going straight to the heart of the matter.

No gauzy family-values pictures of pretty people posed in front of shiny new tract homes. Nope — that’s not working in today’s Bushy New World Order. Instead, against a solid red background, Pardee’s billboard simply states in bold white letters: TAKE YOUR LIFE OFF HOLD.

That’s it. You pause to digest the intended message. Then it clicks. The marketing gurus got it spot-on right. We are, indeed, stuck on hold.

Our big decisions: pending. Next moves: suspended. We’re so buffeted, so shocked, so economically and emotionally traumatized that we’ve put our lives on extended pause until things somehow sort themselves out.

Pardee hopes to pry loose our decision to make the leap of faith into a new house. “Get moving again!” they counter to our unsettling real estate market.

And they make their point well — we can’t wait forever. But “Take Your Life Off Hold” is unintentionally so much more profound, about so much more than just about houses. All around us, so much of our world indeed seems pending and tentative.

We’re all waiting for something to change. And we’ve been waiting for a long time now.
Waiting for when the housing market stops its freefall. Waiting for when loan defaults and repossessions desist. Waiting for when the job market firms back up.

Waiting for when construction rebounds. Waiting for a stock market that rises instead of falls. Waiting for food and gas to return to normal levels.

But we’ve waited and waited and clarity hasn’t — and isn’t — emerging from the fog we’re facing. Time passes, our families mature — and the future presses us and we need to make decisions to move ourselves forward.

But withstanding the need, we’re both so paralyzed and mesmerized by our fear of the uncertain that most choose to duck and cover, hoping to just safely wait it out — until whatever needs to happen finally does happen.

No buying houses. No investing. Little ventured — and even less gained.

Back during the dark days of the Carter years — back in those days of “stagflation” — Carter infamously commented that America was in “malaise.” We were stuck in a funk without vision or apparent will to get out.

Yet Carter’s malaise is starting to look like the good old days; today America isn’t stuck in a malaise, but rather a maelstrom — a storm of fear and uncertainty. And the longer it lingers, the deeper the hole into which we descend. Something big has got to change, but we know we’re unable to change whatever it is alone by ourselves.

First came the housing crash. Then the repos. Then the mortgage meltdown — and with it the banks. Bear Sterns was flattened and wiped out over a weekend. IndyMac Bank went down last Friday. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are trembling.

Even local stalwart Newhall Land went bankrupt. American stocks race toward bear territory as investors flee toward anything that we hope won’t decline in value.

Save the nest egg. Hoard the cash. But our dollars grow less valuable by the day, as gas and food continues to rise — while our Fed still reports, “Little or no inflation.” 

Maybe there’s no way out? There’s certainly no way out without direction or action. Why doesn’t Congress act? Why won’t the president lead? We need a global plan, a grand initiative to restore trust and get us moving forward again.

Laissez-faire, trickle down voodoo isn’t solving this one. Instead, Bernanke and the Fed plug gaping holes in our economic ship reactively, one blowout at a time, as we’re taken by surprise time and again.

But there’s no over-arching vision expressed from the Halls of Power, no Grand Plan being espoused.
America has been adrift — leaderless for so long — we don’t even remember what leadership looks like. Absent a vision for restoring America, we’re buffeted from Wall Street to Main Street.

Fear the Bush Administration delivers with great surplus. But fear-mongering isn’t leadership, and we need more than fear — more than even oil — to motor through this storm.

Someone needs to stand up and light the way out. If we don’t soon pass the economic crime scene we’re witnessing, we risk becoming the living reality of the dread and apprehension that’s increasing its grip on us.
Until that moment, you and I aren’t buying anyone’s homes. And national leaders aren’t buying off on anything. We’re enmeshed in one big waiting game ... waiting for that One Big Thing to finally happen.

The truth: America itself is on hold until the dreadful Bush finally goes. President Devastation still has his numb hands groping the levers, and no one’s making any deals until the new alliances and new realities are known.

Despite our dire need, America’s national leadership, like us, is paralyzed and also on hold.
So we’re suffered and sentenced to wait out five more long months. Conservatives conserve leadership, while liberals hold out for the anticipated better deals after January.

Despite us wanting to release them, our lives remain paused — even while continuing their slow slide downward.

If only we could just time warp to November and finally vote our lives off hold. Let’s just hope the next president is more inspirational than the last.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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