Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On Sheldon Kornpett - and the interruption of the American Dream....

Sheldon Kornpett, a very successful Manhattan dentist, is at a point in his life when he should be collaborating with his family to finalize his daughter's wedding plans.

However, less than 24 hours after meeting his daughter's future father-in-law for the first time - and the day before the wedding - Sheldon's life is in an uproar. Instead of treating patients for crowns and cavities and celebrating his daughter's upcoming nuptials, Sheldon instead finds himself dodging bullets on the tarmac of a primitive Central American airport.

If you're a fan of Alan Arkin, you know that Sheldon Kornpett is a character he played in the 1979 film The In-Laws. His counterpart, Vince Ricardo, the man who dragged Sheldon into a bizarre plot to take down the global economy, is played by Peter Falk. Here, the day before his daughter is to marry, Shelly learns to serpentine....



With the entrance of Vince Ricardo into Shelly's life, all the normality of his life has vanished, replaced with mayhem and chaos. As I watched the movie, I realized that Shelly Kornpett felt the way so many Americans feel today, caught up in a mad swirl of something completely crazy and incomprehensible.

Americans today want to work productively; they want to plan a wedding, save for retirement, go to college - but they've been laid off or fear being laid off and have seen their investment funds plunge catastrophically in the last year. Like Shelly Kornpett, their lives have been turned upside down by an invidious caper to take down the global economy.

The In-Laws takes place at a time when tuition at one of the pricier Seven Sister colleges is $6,000 (so cheap!) and the primary threat to the economy (in this film) is a Latin American syndicate who wants to destroy the world economy by counterfeiting $350 billion American dollars. The flood of so many US dollars would crash the international monetary system and a global catastrophe would ensue.

(I think about that plot device - the $350 bil needed to bring it all down and compare it to the $9 tril in debt our government has on the books today and realize it was so cheap, thirty years ago, to crash an economy.)

In 2009, we cannot blame a Latin American syndicate for the collapse of our economy. No, the fault lies in ourselves - in our financial regulatory agencies, our bankers and yes, even in all those consumers who decided that debt was the best path to riches. We've tossed out trillions into the economy - most of it in bad debt.

In The In-Laws, Vince Ricardo may or may not be CIA; he may or may not be sane; he may or may not know what he's doing in the high stakes situation involving a Latin American syndicate eager to destroy America. He's a man full of stories that may or may not be true.

When Vince meets the Kornpett family for the first time, he regales the party with absurd tales of tsetse flies the size of eagles who carry small Guatemalan children off in their beaks. Shelly Kornpett's incredulous response ("Beaks? They have beaks?") echoes the incredulity we feel when told stories today about our economy - like the story of the imminent "recovery" of the US economy - without jobs.

(Without jobs? Really? A recovery without jobs? In an economy that relies predominantly on consumer spending?)

A few months ago we were told that the banks passed the stress test - not to worry ... though in the last year, we've seen $35 billion drain out from the FDIC's insurance reserves. The fund that insures $4.5 trillion in bank deposits has just $10.4 billion left to cover future losses in a system that has more than 400 banks on the FDIC's problem list.

And just the other day, we were told that TARP is profitable - based on the reimbursements from banks that were the healthiest to begin with. Jury's out on how profitable it will be after we settle up with the real sickies.

There's nothing at all funny about the recession - but laughter itself can be very good medicine for a variety of ills. If you're looking for laughs, check out The In-Laws (the 1979 version!)



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