Remember when neighbors were secretaries and grad students?

By Daniel Meltzer

The government keeps telling us inflation is “in check,” that the economy is “stable,” “on the right track,” “growing at a steady pace,” etc. and so forth.

This is despite, apparently, golden gas prices, rocketing real estate, the tab for tickets to the theater and movies, escalating utility bills, not to mention a cup of coffee, a cab ride or the bridge and tunnel tolls to get into or out of town.

My own average monthly electric bill now tops $130. I live in a modest-sized one-bedroom apartment, own no major appliances and few minor ones. No microwave or a wine cooler. I don’t use a hair dryer or an electric toothbrush and I shave the old way. I take my toast light and I am not afraid of the dark. Being of a romantic nature, I do a lot with candles. A hard-working Queens apartment dweller I know told me he pays more than $200 a month for gas, electric and hot water.

The Con Ed person I spoke with on the phone explained that the company is permitted to raise its rates based on the floating fuel prices on what is known as the “open market.” Shades of Enron. I want to believe the company is not profiteering in times of crisis and socking away capital for executive bonuses. The utility reported recently that its rates for New York City are up 35 percent from a year ago. I’ve calculated my own as 40 percent higher. They will very likely rise even further through the coming year, I was assured.

Time Warner Cable, without whom I would get 24 hours of snowstorms on my TV screen, informs me they are raising my rate next month, again.

“You raised it last February,” I told the woman at the other end of the line.

“We raise it every February,” she replied.

I have gotten the same response annually since well before the great liberating war in Iraq that sent petroleum prices through everybody’s sunroofs and into the disintegrating ozone layer.

“I’ve never asked for them,” I tell her, “and with more than 200 channels to choose from now, why is there still nothing for anyone over the age of 14 to watch night after night?”

Who is hoarding all the good movies? Even the embarrassingly inadequate newscasts have gotten worse. Except for Bob Schieffer, all the other anchors look suspiciously familiar from toothpaste or shampoo and conditioner commercials.

“Why do you raise your rates every February?”

“We are always adding new channels.”

“But I have never asked for them.”

“We just do,” she said. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Thank you for calling Time Warner Cable. Have a nice day.”

Unemployment is said to be low enough not to cause concern. But what about all those languishing garment and auto workers? When did you last buy something labeled “Made in America?” If you did, it was as likely as not put together in a privately owned penitentiary. My new HP Printer was made by Motorola, I was told, in China. The old Canon printer was made by HP, in Indonesia, the Gateway computer likely in San Quentin.

How can anyone who makes less than six figures afford to live in Manhattan today without at least three roommates? Everyone in my neighborhood is now a lawyer, a stockbroker, a psychotherapist, a real estate broker, a hedge-fund manager or an entrepreneur of some sort or other; in some cases, combinations of several of the above. Where have all the dancers and violinists gone? The graduate students? The secretaries, bookkeepers and fourth-grade teachers?

“Inflation is in check” sounds a lot like “the check is in the mail.”

You remember that one.

Daniel Meltzer teaches journalism at New York University

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