Chapter Four: Stormy Skies

On Larry's scavenger hunts into the city, he always stopped off at a 'greasey-spoon' diner called 'Kay's Grill'. After feeding the animals, he would time his departure as to arrive in the city after the morning rush hour. Kay's Grill was a nice little diner with cheap food. Only $1.99 got you two eggs - any style, two strips of bacon, hash browns, toast, and coffee with free refills.

It was here that Larry met Ann Konopski. She was in her mid-thirties, divorced, with one son, Adam, now fourteen. She had been around the block, and not much worse for wear. As a waitress, she was always being hit upon by the customers. But Larry never did, and it wasn't long before she and he would become friends. She trusted Larry, even though she didn't understand him most of the time.

Ann had long since stopped dreaming of being wealthy, even though she did still play the lottery. She was also on the verge of giving up on love and happiness, till she met Larry. Ann was hard working, had few illusions, and was a fine figure of a woman, in Larry's mind. He would never mention it, but one thing that attracted him to her was her large skeletal frame. He kew that she had strength, and the wide hips meant she'd be a good 'birther'.

It was a long distance relationship when they did start dating. After a few months, Ann's was car-jacked. Fortunately, all that happened was the car was stolen. But this put such fear in her, that she would hardly leave the house for several weeks. Larry spent what time he could with her, and finally convinced her to leave the city and be with him. "I may not seem like much," proposed Larry, "but you'll never starve with me.". Ann accepted, and they were married three weeks later, October 18th, 1997.

They honeymooned at Niagra Falls, of all places. After a week they returned to the homestead, just in time to prepare for hunting season. Good old Al had recently built a home in a posh suburb of Detroit for a fairly wealthy man, Dick Avery, who considered himself a sportsman. Al described the good hunting by his place in Ubly, which was now a three bedroom ranch-style home he had built himself. Larry had oufitted it with a windmill and other contraptions. Dick said he'd love to go, so Al brought him up.

In late November, after weeks of spreading around apples from his orchard, Larry had several deer runs ready for the season. Dick bagged a 9 point buck openning day and couldn't be happier. The celebration went long into the night. Larry learned that Dick was a investment advisor. After a few drinks of Larry's homebrew, Dick loosened up and began voicing his concerns about the economy.

"Yep, this year has been a real bear!", Dick proclaimed. "The market is just about as wild as it can be. Up and down, up and down like a rollercoaster. It's just like the summer of '29." Larry agreed with him. Although he didn't have any money invested in the financial markets, Larry did watch them with interest. He knew that one possible scenario for social unrest would be the economy going into the tank.

Al did have some money invested in mutual funds and asked for advice. "Well", said Dick, "you can play it safe and cash out, but don't expect a check for awhile. Some funds take three months to pay you off. A helluva lot can happen in three months." It certainly did.

For the second year in a row, North America got clobbered by a hard winter. Record snowfalls and low temperatures plagued the MidWest and NorthEast coast. Elsewhere, in Florida and California, rain came down by the bucketfull. Winter crops were ruined. The past summer had not been good due to all the flooding from the previous winter. Food prices began to creep up.

Al got his money out of mutual funds, and so did many others. The markets continued to fluctuate. But then trend was definitely going downward. The Dow Jones hadn't topped the 6,500 mark in four months, and by March '98, it had dipped below 6,000. The large commercial banks began increasing the rates of interest they charged. Insurance companies also increased rates to policy holders. Several major pension funds were in trouble and petitioned Congress for assistance.

As credit became more expensive and harder to come by, major purchases, like cars and homes, began to slow down. Retailers had a bad Christmas, and several large chain stores announced store closings and layoffs. By April '98, nearly every aspect of the economy was in decline. Analysts termed it "The Crawl". The Federal Reserve wanted to lower interest rates, but with prices rising in key sectors, they chose not to. Bankruptcy for both individuals and businesses increased dramatically. Many could not pay their income taxes. The government's take declined from the year before, although spending increased. The deficit was increased, despite well made plans and heated arguments.

As the summer approached, the situation grew worse. Being an election year, Congress assured everyone that it would not reduce the amount of aid and assistance. Plans for slowing the increases in various programs were put on hold while the planned increase in the minimum wage went forward. This put more pressure on businesses and another round of layoffs, downsizing, and price increases ensued. The high unemployment wasa compensated with extensions for welfare, all at the expense of the National Debt. But the government accepted this, hoping to keep things under control.

Somehow, the nation managed to make it through the rest of the year, but the price was high. The Debt approached the six trillion dollar mark, and some economists said that it was really much higher than that. The Consumer Price Index rose to 7%, more than doubling from the year before. There was no indicators of 'The Crawl' getting better. Congressional elections went through with the Democrats regaining control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Many saw this as a good sign. Wall Street didn't.

Late November was the start of a new round of market devaluation. With another bad Christmas for retailers, it looked like a very long winter indeed. When the new Congress took office in 1999, a whole new crop of spending programs were proposed. "The Debt doesn't mean anything.", explained one newly elected Democratic Senator. "The people need help now!"

Larry and his new family didn't need any help. He had paid off his mortgage years before. They had plenty to eat, and a few extra dollars to rub. Adam was mechanically inclined, and Larry taught him a great deal. Ann found life on the homestead very refreshing and peaceful. Sure, there was always work to do and sometimes it was hard. But the fresh air, safe location, and friendly neighbors more than made up for it.


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The material you have just read is a chapter in the on-line fictional story, "When Autumn Leaves Fall" by Andrew Zarowny, copyrighted 1997. All characters and circumstances are fictional and are not intended to bare any resemblence to actual people alive or dead. You have the author's permission to copy or reproduce this material so long as you charge no money for it's reproduction or distribution.


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