Tuesday, April 7

Economics? Me? Here? Now?

Okay, folks, hold on..I'm switchin' gears for a minute.

Time for a little story (got your fuzzy slippers on?).

The story is, at heart, about memorial services. Yeah, the kind that happen when people die. Don't let it throw you off. It's about being a dutiful daughter or a family member of someone who clearly indicate that , when they pass, they want it to be without mention. A little blip on the radar screen that just goes away. That's it. No adoration, no obituary, no burial.

It's about the people who say, upon hearing of that stated preference, "Did anyone tell him that the memorial service is not for him?" (but for the comfort of those left behind). It's about the awareness that the deceased would understand that, but still want their wishes honored. It's about the obligation to honor them.

It's about the phenomenon of childhood (and to some extent, adulthood) called "magical thinking" in which we think we can cause things to happen just by thinking about them and it's first cousin, superstition, also known as "sympathetic magic".

It's about that phenomenon by which, after someone's death, we do double-takes, thinking we have seen them on the street--we see people who look like them. It's about our awareness that new people and events remind us so intensely of the person who is gone, that we begin to wonder about the nature of the universe and the connections and properties that we don't have any way of understanding. It's about a daughter with a deep belief in the practical existence of other layers of consciousness for which we don't have names, or even descriptors.

It's about my dad.

[Dad? Listen. This is not a memorial. Don't get all upset. I know you wouldn't like that. This is about me. And better yet, it's about economics, something I bet you thought I'd never be writing about or interested in. That part would make you laugh, I just know it. So let's just go with that, okay?]

So....(deep breath)....here we go.

This is my dad:
This is my dad when he was young (suave, eh?):
And this is Paul Krugman:

Huh? INTRUDER! Just as stealthily as he has made his way into the national conversation about economic policy, he has inserted himself, right here, right now, into MY blog (Geez, he has his OWN, what does he need mine for?), and in my story about my dad, no less!

(It's okay. I did it. He belongs here. Put the dogs away, and I will explain.)

We're gonna do something different here. We're gonna start at the end.

My dad, Robert Einzig, died on June 29, 2007, at a young 85. That's almost two years ago now, which I can scarcely believe. He died of an aggressive leukemia/lymphoma that was not even diagnosed until a week after his death. The time from his "falling ill" to his death was less than 24 hours, not enough time to get to the coast he lived on from the coast I live on.

You already know how he felt about memorial services.

He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered, from a small plane, over the Pacific Ocean, not far from Half Moon Bay. Bye, Dad. End of story. At least as far as he was concerned.

But then, things started to happen.

The first thing that happened was that, along with my sisters, I stayed. I cleaned. I organized. And I found out that I was now "in charge" of keeping track of the finances (because hey, I'm a child development consultant, and the parallels are clear).

Here's how that kind of thing works, I now understand. When a parent dies, and there is more than one child, it turns out that for any given task, there is a child who is what I call "The Person" (Capital T, Capital P). And if you are The Person for a particular task, then you just are, there's nothing you can do about it. It's not influenced by geography, like, for example, if you happen to live on the opposite side of the country while you have siblings who live a few minutes away. It's not influenced by your experience and particular skill set. I'm living proof of that. It's influenced by your surviving parent, and that's about it. We are pawns in the game of life. Admit it.

In the days following his death, I thought and talked very little about what my dad did for a living, and a lot about the drawings that he did in college that were still located, after all these years, in the drawer in the living room. I thought about his drawers and boxes and shelves full of art supplies that he loved but hardly used (sounds like someone I know). I thought about the stories about how he wanted to be an artist, but how it wouldn't provide for a family (you're tellin' me). I thought about what I needed to mark this passage, to keep him with me. And I started to make the jewelry that I had envisioned for years before his death. It's still going. You can read the whole story on my website..it's all there.

But that is not all. Oh, no, that is not all.

My dad was an economist, a prominent one in his day. He worked for the Federal Reserve, was an officer at Transamerica, consulted with companies all over the world, taught graduate economics at Berkeley, and consulted to presidents. The way I knew he was "prominent" was because he was on TV talking about things I didn't understand when I was a kid. That was it. Even in black and white. "Daddy's on TV!" and I'd run into the TV room to watch. But mostly, he was my dad.

Now, he had the great misfortune (it was a family joke) to have four daughters, none of whom went into economics or finance--we are all in either social services or writing, or some combination thereof. In his later years, though, as I became more interested in learning about his field, he would always answer all of my questions. He seemed to know everything--not just because he was my father--but because he would predict things or explain things, and then a few days or weeks later, they would show up in the NY Times. It amazed me. When pundits predicted dire economic trends, I would call him and say "Is it true, Dad?" And he would say, most often "No.". Or sometimes "well, here's what's going on...." followed by his prescription for remedying it. All the pundits would disagree. I'd challenge him, because "they said...". And a week later, the paper would announce exactly what he had said. They'd changed their minds, or maybe they just "understood it better".

The one other thing that bears mentioning is that my father, as a Jewish intellectual who grew up poor and was a veteran of World War II, had a, shall we say, "healthy" overt disdain for a lot of things and a lot of people (which clearly distinguishes him from me, eh?). Economists seemed to be pretty high on that list. He seemed to think that pretty much everyone who was quoted in the papers was, in his words "not so bright" (or worse) and clearly did not have a very sophisticated understanding of finance (by his standards, of course).

But for years, and years, whenever I visited, he would always say "Now that Paul Krugman....now THERE'S a smart one." Praise upon praise. I had never seen him refer to anyone else in this way. I figured that Krugman must agree with him, that's why he thought he was so bright. :) That's the kind of person he was, what can I say. I kept thinking that one of these days, I'd find out who this Paul Krugman person is. But I didn't, becuase, well, like I said, I'm in child development.

So a year passes. And then a few months more. The economy is taking a nosedive, and I'm thinking that maybe my dad was holding it all together, since he understood everything, and now that he's gone, it's headed straight into the toilet. (see what I mean about magical thinking?) And I'm wondering how I'm going to learn more about finances and financial planning and wondering how I wound up being The Person about this, and who would I ever ask for help when he was the only one I ever asked, and would my dad be proud of me for managing it or would he be shaking his head and making that "tsk" sound he often made. I was worried.

It was October 12, and I was driving around in my car, here in Massachusetts, and suddenly, out of absolutely nowhere, it came into my head. I have no idea why it took so long. Paul Krugman! If I tried to listen to and read and understand Paul Krugman (to the best of my ability), it would be the closest thing I could get to listening to my dad. Paul Krugman! That's it! I knew nothing about him. But I got to work.

The next morning, Paul Krugman won the Nobel prize in economics. This is what he said about it on his blog. One line. I cried all day. I called my mom. She already knew.

This kind of stuff happens to me. All the time.

So now I read Paul Krugman's blog every day. He's a brilliant economist (my dad said so), and he explains things well. And he's also a real person, a real blogger, posts up to 6 times a day. Today, his blog was about getting stuck in an airport and having to listen to reports about Sarah Palin's daughter and her boyfriend. It's kind of unreal.

This week, a lifesize picture of Paul Krugman's face graces the cover of Newsweek. I feel like some kind of secret trendsetter. It's an incredible article, by the way, (click on the picture to access it), even though this is what he had to say about it.


Read it. It's not too heady. It's important stuff. And heck, this is the closest thing to a memorial service my dad will ever have (sshhhh), so let's just say "you're doing it for a friend in the army".
If it worked for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, it can work for you.

I'll just sit here and wait for the next weird thing to happen.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming....


ConverseMomma said...

Your dad is so sending you messages via this guy. But, 6 posts a day, holy heck! I could never keep up.

SusanKr said...

This is a beautiful tribute.

Martha said...

Love this!

Audrey said...

I'm sitting here crying, thinking about your dad, and now agreeing with you that this is, in a wonderful way, a fitting memorial (Krugman, not in any way your entry, which we know is not in any way, shape or form a memorial). Beautiful, Robin. Just beautiful.