The economy is still so weak that one in eight Americans now relies on food stamps to help pay their grocery bills, and yet in May, Mission Minis — a San Francisco purveyor of expensive pygmy cupcakes — experienced such high demand that its exhausted employees were threatening to quit after several marathon days of grueling baked goods preparation. To satisfy the city’s appetite for these Justin Biebers of the dessert world, one Mission Minis employee reportedly spent 52 hours baking, boxing, and taking orders.

All across the country, Average Joe small businesses are enjoying similar boom times in the midst of a recession that has laid the titans of Wall Street to waste. An “unassuming, slightly cramped” spa in New York with a reputation for rudeness suddenly attracts 2,570 blotchy Manhattanites in search of deep-pore cleansing. A… More…

 

There’s been a lot of griping, of late, about the decade just passed. That seems appropriate for a decade that began in terrorism and war, and ended in economic turmoil (never having gotten the terrorism and war out of its system along the way). It was crap. TIME magazine, a reasonably polite rag most of the time, called it the “Decade from Hell.” Gallup polls over the last 10 years recorded all-time lows in the collective low. Those inclined to dabble in the marketing of stocks have collectively labeled the last decade, “the worst ever.” And so on.

Whenever people get to the business of condemning decades, I think of W.H. Auden. That’s because of his famous poem “September 1, 1939”, which opens with the following lines:

I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain… More…

In a bygone era of gray flannel suits and ad copy that read as sincerely as a minister’s sermon, masculine sanctuary within the realm of the family home came in three flavors: the study, the workshop, and the bar. Kids weren’t allowed in these places, not just because Dad needed some time away from the tiny demons who had sabotaged his dreams, but also because there was nothing for kids to do in these places. They were adult rooms where serious business transpired. The study was for drinking Scotch while pondering the works of Aristotle and Hugh Hefner. The workshop was for drinking beer while building a new doghouse or set of bookshelves. The bar was for drinking Mai Tais while flirting with the neighbor’s wife.

It’s possible a great degree of contemplation went into the various iterations of these three templates, but not probable. The goal wasn’t… More…

 

 

I spent an hour this morning on the flat roof of the church where I am the pastor with a can of tar, searching for a hole. It wasn’t an obvious hole otherwise I would have found it the last time I was on the roof. I’ve been on this crummy roof so many times I’ve created the La Brea Tar Pits up there. I continually ask God to heal my leaky roof, but God’s answer is, stick with the tar. I bet you are wondering why I do this. It’s really very simple: My church is small, I am the only employee, we struggle to pay our bills every month, and if I waited until a volunteer can make the time to do the work my Sunday School kids will experience Noah’s flood first hand. I… More…

Despite the tsunami of dire economic news — 401Ks washed away in a matter of days, home values nose-diving to less than the value of their outstanding mortgages — one buoyant piece remains on the personal finance front: Social Security.

Until now, I’d ignored the Social Security statements that arrive in my mailbox with the dead certainty of a homing pigeon each year and get tossed on the junk mail heap. Retirement, after all, is more than two decades on the horizon for me — probably three, now that I’m counting my piggy bank nickels. By the time I do reach the finish line, I suspect the first wave of baby boomers will have picked the federal security coffers bone dry.

This past month, though, I spent nearly an hour poring over my last statement. Suddenly, the prospect of this pot of gold waiting for me after my final punch… More…