Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Reflective Perspective

On the cluttered bulletin board above my desk at work is a weathered cartoon which I cut out from The Funny Times 10 or 11 years ago. It shows a little chicken walking by muttering, "The sky is not falling...the sky is not falling". The caption reads: "Chicken Little when he remembers to take his medication."

At the time I cut out that comic, I was working with a man who was struggling with mental illness. I was concerned for him, and concerned by him. Some days he was the best newsman I've ever known, other days he was manic, obsessive, oft times mean, and occasionally incoherent. He banged between the extremes, never finding a comfortable resting place in his own mind.

I was thinking about that cartoon today as I kicked around the idea of perspective.

I'm actually pretty good at keeping things in perspective. Long ago I adopted Main's primary rule for mental health- Don't make the minor monumental.

That's it. I believe in short rules, they're easier to remember.

The national average price for gasoline this week topped two dollars per gallon...for the cheap stuff, not the special high grade gasoline which I've personally always suspected was the same as the other grades, but I'll save that thought for when I write about suspicion and conspiracy theories.

Certainly, at first blush, such prices are outrageous. I have literally seen people fuming as they fill up their giant SUV's. By the way, did you know many gas pumps turn off when you reach the 50 dollar mark? You have to do two transactions to fill some of those giant gas tanks these days. That'll make folks fume even more.

In 1950, long before I was born, the average price for gasoline was 27 cents a gallon.

I remember when I drove an old clunker car as a teenager in the 1970's, as opposed to the old clunker car I drive today, a neighbor spotted me chugging up a hill with the car in obvious distress. She shouted, "Put another nickel in!" I had to stop and ask her what she meant, and she told me that was a popular saying way back when, a reference to putting in five cents worth of gasoline. Five cents worth of gas wouldn't go far today....unless you put it in perspective.

I checked with the math experts on this, so you don't have to take my word for it, but when you factor in inflation, 27 cents in 1950 dollars equals about $2.07 in 2004 dollars. So, in essence, we are paying the same for gasoline today in our country as we did 54 years ago.

In fact, in 1980 when this country was in the midst of its first real gas crisis, prices rose to a national average of $1.25 a gallon. We were outraged but we survived.

Factor in inflation...$1.25 in 1980 would be about $2.80 today.

Perspective...sometimes it helps keep the minor from becoming monumental.

Of course if that doesn't work for you...there's always medication.