COLUMBUS _ ``I think it's the end of the beginning,'' said Uncle Chet, who was sitting in his favorite rocker, sipping a Saranac.
``The beginning of what?'' I leaned back on the eight-foot ladder, dragging a 12-inch knife along a Sheetrock seam.
``The depression,'' he said. ``Like everything else, economic cycles go faster and faster. We've been in a depression for six months, and it'll probably last another 12.''
``Then what?'' I asked as Spackle slipped off the knife and landed on my glasses.
``Nice shot,'' he said.
``Careful.'' I climbed down the ladder with the mud pan and knife. ``There's enough for two.''
``Don't get belligerent, or I'll send for Blackwater.''
I went to the kitchen sink and washed up. Round the corner on the couch, Buddy, our second-grader, was using the laptop.
``Whatcha doin'?'' I asked.
``I was going on YouTube,'' he said.
``Let's hear Esmee sing `Stop and Stare,''' I said.
``You love that Esmee,'' said Uncle Chet. ``You've been talking about her for months.''
``She's good,'' said Buddy, and hooked the computer to the television to put YouTube on the big screen.
``Is that a Dell?'' asked Uncle Chet.
``Yes,'' said Buddy.
``Does it have Ubuntu?''
``No. XP,'' he said.
``The machines with Ubuntu were more expensive,'' I said as the young Dutch singer launched into OneRepublic's hit.
``She's pretty good,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Turn that up a little louder.''
``Told you,'' I said.
``How can radio compete with this?'' he said. ``A jukebox with a million songs and no commercials.''
``And tons of other stuff,'' I said.
``Why don't you take a break before you blind yourself,'' he said. ``Drink one of your beers so I don't feel like I'm imposing.''
``You're talking me into it.'' I headed to the refrigerator. Buddy asked for iced tea, and I brought drinks to the living room.
``So, you say the depression's going to end next year?'' I sat down on a stool.
``We're at the end of beginning,'' he said. ``The panic's over, but the hard reality's settling in. Bush and his cronies stole trillions between their phony wars and the Wall Street bailout, and left us broke.''
``All you hear about are those AIG bonuses,'' I said.
``Smokescreen,'' said Uncle Chet. ``That's a tiny fraction of the payola. The corporate media are screaming about $165 million and ignoring $180 billion we paid to buy into that pig.''
``When we shouldn't have spent a dime,'' I said.
``The bailout was crammed down our throats to save the high rollers who were about to lose their shirts,'' said Uncle Chet. ``It's the old Republican standby, trickle-down economics. Feed the rich and when they off-gas, the middle class gets a little something. Of course, the Republicans were ousted, so now we have the Democratic version, the Stimulus Bill, and this one might work because money's going into more of the right places.''
``Leading us out of depression,'' I said.
``Sort of,'' he said. ``We're in hock up to our eyeballs, but our creditors don't want us to fail.''
``So what comes next?''
``The beginning of the end,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Inflation, with wages and Social Security that don't nearly keep up.''
``A further squeeze on working people,'' I said.
``Uncle Sam's $12 trillion in debt. The only way to manage it is massive inflation, shrinking the dollar until $12 trillion doesn't look so bad,'' he said. ``And they're already at it, printing money as fast as they can.''
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.