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Mike's Meanderings

Surviving on spaghetti

January 5, 2009
by Michael Tidemann

While Iowa is faring generally somewhat better than the rest of the country right now, a person would be a blamed fool to say times aren't tough. According to a recent Associated Press story on the economy, the Dow has fallen 36 percent since its high a year ago last fall. Compare that to the 40 percent drop during the 1929 stock market crash, and it gives you some idea of where we are today compared to just a little over a year ago.

Sure, gas prices have fallen. That's probably because everything else is so high that people can't afford to buy things anymore. Another thing you have to remember is that when gas and diesel were so high, that created higher wholesale and retail prices that will take a while to work their way through our economic system until they reflect the current cost of shipping goods around the country.

I have several family members on the West Coast who have lost their jobs over the past six months. They are all very capable people. One niece is a drug and alcohol counselor and the funding was cut from her state-funded position. Luckily, though, she had previously worked for the private agency that the State of Washington contracted with to continue the program. Another niece, who is a master at multitasking and who has several decades of experience in the importing and exporting business, was laid off from her dispatching job with a trucking company. Her husband, who worked for the same company for 20 years, was laid off too. He decided though to start his own company and go into competition with the company that laid him off and apparently he's doing very well.

Once upon a time, I dined out for every meal. It was a rarity that I ever ate at home. About three years ago I pared that down to about once a day and about a year ago once a week.

Now, I don't dine out anymore. I'm not saying that I recommend that others do the same, but in my situation, having three jobs simply does not provide an adequate income for entertainment. If you've seen the car I drive, you probably know that I don't have a car payment either.

I was at a training session about a year ago and someone asked us to name what animal we most admired. In all seriousness, I said the cockroach. That made a lot of laughs, but I was dead serious. After all, I've heard that a cockroach can live for a year on the oil from a single fingerprint. Cockroaches have been found in nuclear reactors and in every continent (I'm not certain about Antarctica, but I'm sure that if I were a hardy, adventurous cockroach, I'd trying living there too).

I don't have cable. I do get Internet at home because it's necessary for work, but other than that, I've dropped all magazines with the exception of Popular Photography because they had a deal where I could subscribe for three years for $20. I do have some credit cards with balances, but I try to make double or triple payments every month on those. And I shop at Thrifty's whenever possible because there are a lot of things there that cost 10 cents on the dollar compared to other places.

Does this mean I've given up on entertainment entirely?

Well, no.

This past weekend I did my best to recreate a night at the movies at home. I bought some of that popcorn salt and mixed it with three packages of dry Ranch dressing and made a big batch of popcorn and some hot chocolate. I found a video of 20 full-length spaghetti Westerns at a local store for $6.99. Then I settled down into my chair and started to watch them.

Now if you consider the fact that the better-known spaghetti Westerns such as those in which Clint Eastwood was featured were 'B' Westerns, most of these were 'C' as best. In one, at one point they didn't take the time to dub in the English audio and left the Italian audio with English subtitles. That was pretty weird, hearing some rough, tough hombre speaking in the world's most delicate romance language. You might say it took a little, well, auditory adjustment.

After watching a few of those Westerns, though (they averaged about 90 minutes), I came to realize how great the Western myth really is to not only our culture but the entire world. The Italian producers made these films primarily for Italian audiences (hence, the reason they forgot to entirely translate one of them). And this was during the 1960s and early 1970s, when few Westerns were made in the United States.

So the Western myth had spread far beyond the borders of our own country and taken on a life of its own. It continues to be perpetuated to this day. Just ask a person from Asia what he or she thinks of America, and you'll probably hear at least one of three words: Disneyland, McDonald's and Westerns.

As for the cost of this little personal foray into 1960s Italian cinematography, I figure it costs me less than $1 a movie, including the cost of the movie, the popcorn and the hot chocolate.

Is it the same as going out to the movies? Absolutely not. It doesn't mean though that I have to give up all forms of entertainment just because of the economy.

Even an Italian Western has a better ending than that.



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