Sigh. I suppose if I keep at it, after a million years or so I will be able to write as clearly, unpretentiously, and engagingly as Peggy Noonan. Meanwhile I’ll just enjoy the fact that she can do what she does, and try to learn from her.
Noonan’s latest column is just about perfect Noonan, beginning with some modest but real journalism which leads to a modest but penetrating insight. She walked around Manhattan for a day to get a ground-level look at how the economic crisis is unfolding:
A moment last Monday, just after noon, in Manhattan. It’s slightly overcast, not cold, a good day for walking. I’m in the 90s on Fifth heading south, enjoying the broad avenue, the trees, the wide cobblestone walkway that rings Central Park. Suddenly I realize: Something’s odd here. Something’s strange. It’s quiet. I can hear each car go by. The traffic’s not an indistinct roar. The sidewalks aren’t full, as they normally are. It’s like a holiday, but it’s not, it’s the middle of a business day in February. I thought back to two weeks before when a friend and I zoomed down Park Avenue at evening rush hour in what should have been bumper-to-bumper traffic.
This is New York five months into hard times.
Then some details:
If you want to feel the bruise of what’s happened, pick a neighborhood full of shops and go up and down the street. Here’s Second Avenue in the 80s. A jewelry and consignment store on 84th has a new sign on the window: "We Buy Gold." Paul is at the counter, spraying the tarnish off a silver chain. How’s business? "No buyin’, no sellin’, no nothin’. It’s a joke. People scared. They’re in shock." Nearby, an empty storefront, a bar that had been in business only 10 months. The sign on the window—you see it all over Manhattan now—says, "Retail Space Available." Next door, in a small beauty salon, the owner says "We’re trying to survive." In September business plummeted. It’s down "at least 30%," she says. July and August had been surprisingly good; her clients didn’t go away on vacation. In the fall they were fired. "They lost the job, so they don’t need to cut and color so much."
In a liquor store just off 82nd, the owner, from India, says volume is still high but profits are down. "In business, if you have a product under $15, is good. People used to spend $70, $80 on a bottle of wine, all the bankers, the young kids. Nothing moving more than $15."
On 81st, the kosher restaurant has closed. On 79th, the Talbots is gone. "Left a few months ago," says the doorman next door.
And then some more details, and then the first reflection:
Politicians keep saying, "People have to begin to understand we’re in bad shape," and "People should realize it’s a crisis." I think they know, Sherlock. Do you? Our political leaders are like a doctor who rushes to the scene of a terrible crash, bends over a hemorrhaging woman and says, "This is serious, lady, you can’t take it lightly." She looks up at him: "Help me, do something, I’m bleeding out!" The doctor, to the local TV cameras: "I hope she knows she’s in trouble."
I love that, except for the part about our political leaders being like doctors. They are not. They are even more ignorant than the average person about the situation, but still loud and pushy, trying to look like they’re in charge of a situation they don’t understand and aren’t the slightest bit competent to manage.
The column could have stopped there for me, but it goes on to a slightly deeper thought, one that is more obvious but still worth pondering.