Dr. Death says recession is over

    I stopped by Budget Rent-A-Truck, picked up an 18-footer, and headed for the IJ building to collect my mail.
   Sure enough, a postcard had flooded in.
   "Loved your column," wrote Virginia, "but I have to ask you, did it really happen that way?
   Yes, Virginia, it was true. Everything I write about really happens. All the characters are real people. Sometimes I change their names, sometimes I donít. But they exist, and you can believe.
   For instance, there is my friend, Simpson. Mr. Negativity. Dr. Death. The purveyor of Gloom and Doom. He owns several successful small businesses that remain operating despite his incessant predictions that all will soon be lost. I met him at our regular place. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, sat down and recited the businesspersonís pledge of allegiance Ė a perfunctory "Howís Business?"
   "Howís Business?" I asked, cringing in anticipation of the flood of negativity that was about to flow across the table.
   Simpson didnít even look up. This was going to be excruciatingly ugly.
   "Good," he said.
   "Business is pretty good," he said, smiling. "I think 1992 is going to be a great year."
   "Youíre kidding."
   "Nope. Iím optimistic. Iím tired of hearing about recession this, recession that. As far as Iím concerned, the recession is over."
   The waiter came to take our order but I shooed him away. This was no time to eat.
   "Simpson," I cried, "youíre Dr. Death. You canít talk like this. Itís out of character."
   He shrugged.
   "Iíve been predicting tough times for quite a while, havenít I?"
   "You betcha," I replied. "As long as I can remember."
   "And I was right."
   I stopped to think. In general, my memory would only take me back two or three years, maybe four. The so-called recession officially began almost two years ago. Simpson might have jumped the gun, but in retrospect, he was right on target. Four years is a long time to consistently predict disaster, but Simpson had never wavered. Until now. For the first time, I considered giving his thoughts a degree of respect.
   "What caused this massive turnaround?" I asked.
   Simpson shrugged. "I donít know. I just feel it. Iím tired of talking trouble. Springís coming, itís an election year, and I just read a story about Bank of American earning profits of over a billion dollars in 1991. I smell recovery."
   I sniffed around.
   "Donítí forget The Gap and Wal-Mart, with their double digit sales increases for comparable stores."
   Never mind that their sales had increased throughout the recession. Unemployment could reach 87%, bread lines could stretch for miles and The Gap and Wal-Mart would still announce a 17% increase in sales. Yet now, instead of feelings of unbridled jealousy and contempt for their success, Simpson saw a sign of the future.
   "Thatís right," he said. "What the recession has done is shake out the parasites and the marginal operators. Those who survived up to this point will reap the rewards."
   His optimism was contagious.
   Instead of talking about Macyís enormous and depressing debt problems, we discussed the strong January we were having. We talked about hiring instead of layoffs. We talked about expansion instead of cutbacks. It was the best lunch we had in a long, long time. I donít know if Simpson is right or not. I canít say for sure. All I know is that after our lunch I decided that I would definitely buy that new car in 1992 that I wanted to buy in 1990 and 1991 but never did.
   Simpson, of all people, found faith in the economy.
   I never thought he would change, but he did. And if Dr. Death, that harbinger of consumer confidence, thinks that 1992 will be a banner year, then Iíll gladly jump on his bandwagon.
   Believe, Virginia, believe.

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