Greek To Me
by Todd Walton, February 22, 2012
“The church is the great lost and found department.” — Robert Short
The terrace at the Presbyterian in Mendocino can be a wonderful place to sit and read and write and eat a snack, especially on a sunny day. From every bench one has a view of either the ocean sparkling in the distance or of the stately white church with its impressive shingled spire. Tourists and itinerants frequent the terrace, and sometimes these visitors will notice me there on a bench, deduce from my appearance and demeanor that I am a local character, and then ask me questions, which I do my best to answer.
“Where is the historical monument?” I think you mean historical landmark, and this church is the landmark.
“Is it a Catholic church?” No.
“Can you go inside the church?” I can, but I prefer to stay out here.
“I mean can we go inside the church?” If the door is unlocked, ye may enter.
“Is there a good Mexican restaurant in the village?” No.
“Is there a homeless shelter around here?” Not in Mendocino, but there is Hospitality House in Fort Bragg providing shelter for well-behaved homeless people.
“How far is it to Fort Bragg?” Eight to ten miles depending on which sign you believe.
“Is there an inexpensive motel around here?” No.
“Where is the best place to watch whales?” Alaska.
“We meant around here.” Take Little Lake Road to where it ends at the ocean. Get out of your car and…
“We have to get out of our car?” No. You can watch from your car, though your chances of actually seeing a whale or a whale spout will be greatly diminished if you stay in your car.
“Is there a good Chinese restaurant around here?” No.
“Any spare change?” Let me see.
“Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”— the Dalai Lama
One fine day in February, the sun playing peek-a-boo with puffy white storybook clouds, I look up from my scribbling at the approach of a young couple and their dog, a trio extraordinaire I have seen several times of late around the village and hitchhiking north and south along the coast highway. The fellow has fantastically curly brown hair, a wild beard, and dusty black clothing. The gal is a cute brunette with big almond eyes and kiss-me lips, and in contrast to her dusty mate, her clothing is clean, her jeans blue, her Mexican blouse sparkling white. They both carry green canvas knapsacks and the gal totes a basket full of books and assorted odds and ends. Their dog, a smallish pit bull mix, is reddish brown, slightly cross-eyed, and held close to them by a six-foot length of white rope knotted to his leather collar.
“Hey,” says the young woman, her smiling eyes lit from recent puffs of pot. “How’s going?”
“Hey,” I reply, expecting they will ask me for money. “Going okay.”
“Can we ask you something?” Her voice, deep and strong, reminds me of a favorite friend, so I decide to give them ten dollars when they make their pitch.
“About Greece,” says the young man, whispering gruffly.
“Greece,” I say, looking down at my notebook wherein I have just written Greece.
“About why they’re rioting,” says the young woman, sorrowfully. “Burning the old buildings.”
“We saw pictures in the paper,” whispers the young man. “Of this beautiful old building on fire.” He frowns and shakes his head. “Is it like a revolution?”
As it happens, I’ve been sort of following the Greek crisis by reading various news reports and articles, only a few of which mention that Greece, and especially the people of Greece, are victims of the massive interlocking Ponzi schemes otherwise known as the global stock market and banking systems.
“Who do they owe money to?” asks the young woman. “Other countries?”
“Well…”I begin, realizing the impossibility of answering their questions without first explaining how the international financial system used to work before it was thoroughly corrupted by Clinton and Thatcher and their amoral cronies throughout the world, so that I can then try to explain bundled mortgages and delusional derivatives in order to set the stage for the greedy and shortsighted Greek government feeding at the trough of… “Have you got a half-hour?”
“At least,” says the young woman, nodding to her companion. “See? I told you he’d know.”
“I only sort of know,” I say, wondering if even sort of is overstating my understanding of the Greek, Portuguese, Italian, European, Japanese, American financial quagmire and the criminals who caused the mess and continue to make the mess worse.
So the young man sits beside me on the bench and the young woman sits cross-legged on the ground in front of me, their pooch napping beside her, and we discuss the international Ponzi scheme masquerading as global finance, and the coming collapse that will make all previous collapses pale by comparison.
In the course of our rambling discussion, I learn that the young woman is twenty-two and thinking of becoming a nurse because, “no matter how bad it gets, they’ll need nurses,” though what she’d really like to do is “work in a bookstore and rent a little place, maybe have a garden. Get a cat. Just, you know…live a simple life with no hassles.”
I learn that the young man is twenty-three and a triple Leo, an astrological alignment that strikes me as a wonderful name for a band — Triple Leo — especially if there were three guys in the group named Leo. “I’m a super-fast trimmer,” he confides in his gruff whisper. “Trying to get hooked up with local growers until I get my own grow situation going.” He says he has been playing the mandolin since he was twelve-years-old, but recently sold his instrument because “we were starving and sick and it bought us a week in a motel.” He describes his music as “kind of blue grassy folk rock.” He is unsure of what caused the loss of his voice, but it’s been gone for a week and shows no sign of returning.
The young woman has been homeless for eighteen months, the young man for two years. They met six months ago at a homeless encampment in Tilden Park — “up behind Berkeley” — which is also where they got their dog, and they have been traveling together ever since. They like Mendocino “better than almost any place we’ve been,” says the young woman, “but unless we can find a safe living situation pretty soon, we’ll go up to Arcata. I know a guy there with a house where we can crash if I’ll cook and clean for him, and stuff like that. It’s not safe being homeless around here. Too many crazies and the drug scene is bad. Really bad.”
To make the current Greek collapse comprehensible to my new friends (and to myself) I compare Greece to an American homeowner. As the economy was fueled by real estate and stock market bubbles, the house (Greece) was said to be worth 500,000 dollars. The bank offered the homeowner (Greece) an equity line of credit, meaning the homeowner could borrow on the ever-increasing value of his house (country). So the homeowner borrowed 300,000 to remodel, travel, send his kids to college, and to invest in delusional derivatives that paid him 15-30% interest per year. Greece invested this borrowed money in derivative junk to pay for pensions and government expansion and to invest in more junk. As the bubbling continued, the house (country) was said to be worth 700,000. The homeowner thought he’d eventually sell his house for a profit and pay off the loan, and Greece thought the economic boom would eventually pay off the debt. In the meantime, the homeowner (Greece) borrowed another 200,000 dollars on the ballooning equity and bought more high yield delusional derivatives.
Then the bubble burst and the house (Greece) was only worth a tiny fraction of what was owed. The investments of both the homeowner and Greece turned out to be worthless. But, oops, the homeowner and Greece owed the bank (the crooks) 500,000 dollars plus interest on the house (and hundreds of billions on their country). They couldn’t pay. The bank foreclosed. The homeowner was kicked out of his house. However, Greece is a country, not a house, and the people cannot be forced to leave their country (though thousands of Greeks, including many of the best and the brightest, are emigrating rather than live in poverty.) So the people of Greece are being asked to give up everything they have to corporate invaders in order to pay off the crooks (those same corporate invaders) that perpetrated the fraud.
“Which is why,” I conclude, “we, the collective we, need the financial systems to sink to their true values, which is not much, so we can rebuild our society on the real value of things.”
“Man, I’d riot, too,” whispers the young man. “It’s like they’ve been conquered.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” says the young woman, glaring at him. “You didn’t riot when it happened to us.”
“What do you mean?” I ask. “When did it happen to you?”
“We were both living at home,” she says, bowing her head. “With our parents. I was going to community college and, you know, having a life, and then they got foreclosed and had to move into this dinky little apartment and…I was on my own.” She gazes forlornly at the young man. “Same with him.”
A silence falls. A big white storybook cloud drifts in front of the sun and the temperature plummets.
“Hey,” says the young woman, smiling wearily. “Any chance you could give us a few dollars?"
Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com