At this stage of his presidential career, A Ronald Reagan has a lower rating in the popularity polls than any of his predecessors since Harry Truman. The biggest criticism of Reagan's performance is on his handling of the economy. There are nearly 10 million people who are unemployed and as the president said in the first of his radio chats, "These aren't easy times for a great many of you." Unlike the media, which is forever looking at the bleak news on the economy, President Reagan looked on the bright side. He pointed out that there are 99 1/2 million of us who are employed. I, happily, am one of them and I would like to take this opportunity to report on the bright side of the recession.
The good news is that I no longer have to worry about keeping up with the Joneses. Now you might be gasping in horror at the idea of somebody actually admitting in print for all the world to see that she ever worried about the Joneses, but truth will out, and I will admit that I worried about keeping up with the Joneses just as much as everyone else did.
When the Joneses bought a new car, I cast a flinty, if surreptitious, eye at mine and wondered whether it really looked as rundown as I thought it did. (It did.)
When the Joneses bought new landscaping, I found myself wandering around my yard, cursing the weeds and mourning the dead azaleas and the spring bulbs that evidently decided to bloom in China.
When the Joneses went on a tour of Europe, I wondered where on earth they got the money since all we could afford was a week at the beach. When the Joneses bought a new house, I turned green with envy and found such a host of deficiencies in our home that nothing would do but that we move too. This, of course, caused considerable dissension, since I happen to be married to one of the few people on earth who has made a sacred personal commitment not to give a hoot what the Joneses do.
As you can imagine, he was at a total loss at cocktail parties when the talk turned to real estate and people started bragging about having an 8 percent interest rate. He was bored to death with conversations that began with, "You wouldn't believe the offer I got on my house today!" While I would cling to every word, mentally calculating how much we were losing by not playing the real estate game, my husband would be muttering under his breath, "You're right. I don't believe it." Fortunately, this impending marital conflict was resolved after another child was born and we had no civilized choice but to buy a house.
By then, however, the Joneses had gotten far ahead of us. They had bought property at the beach, a boat for the bay, a video recorder with a screen the size of our living room wall, and had enrolled children in exclusive private schools. They had also found the perfect tax shelter, which ranked a close second to real estate in the top five most popular cocktail party topics. (President Reagan hadn't been elected, yet.) You almost had to be an accountant to keep up with the Joneses.
Within a couple of years after buying our house, I was getting restless. What folly, you might be thinking, for someone who can barely afford that mortgage to think about moving to a more expensive house, but keeping up with the Joneses has never been a matter of logic. Besides, if we got in far enough over our heads we might be ahead on taxes.
One Sunday, during the inflation, I was scanning the classifieds. "WE'RE RICH," I cried out. My husband looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. I announced triumphantly that a house up the block had just gone on the market for a bundle more than we'd paid for ours. "That's paper money," said my husband, who promptly went into the story about the German mark after World War I. I, on the other hand, was so thrilled with our new-found assets that I drove out into the rain to see the house.
The recession, however, has brought an end to all that. Since nobody can afford the interest rates, nobody is buying anymore, and instead of putting "For Sale" signs out this spring, people are taking last year's signs back in. Everyone is criticizing President Reagan but, frankly, the recession has taken a lot of pressure off me. I may be anxious about peace, but I'm no longer anxious about upward mobility, and I certainly don't want to be like the Joneses right now.
After all, some of them are out of work.