Mental health professionals say there are a handful of things that can happen that can really knock you off your perch and leave you lying, severely wounded, by the side of life’s road – at least for a while. Losing your job is right up there with the Three Big D’s: Death, Divorce, Depression (both economic and of the individual mind). No less than Sigmund Freud put working at a job right up there with sex, family, loved ones and life’s other undeniable virtues – things that still provide a solid bedrock for us as we race madly about, living and consuming (well, we used to consume before last Fall’s economic debacle kicked into high gear) here in our 21st Century Age of Information.

Monday’s NYT had this disturbing headline: “Big Companies Around Globe Lay Off Tens of Thousands,” (Jack Healy, Jan 26, 2009), recounting in agonizing detail the numbers of all those people who will come home to their loved ones, families, cats, dogs, goldfish and whatever, with the really bad news that they no longer have a job. Most mature adults, without a fortune salted away to take them out of the Rat Race, define themselves by their jobs, mentioning what they do for a living right up front with our names and the obligatory ‘who do you know,’ when we first meet others in social settings.

Mr. Healy’s article announces about 62,000 new job layoff ‘pink slips’ given, cutting a wide swath across the spectrum of the US economy. That’s 62,000 people – enough to fill the stands at an NFL game, who each came home to announce that they really just had the quintessential Stormy Monday.

“They call it stormy Monday,
but Tuesday’s just as bad . . .
Lord and Wednesday’s worse,
Thursday’s oh so sad
The eagle flies on Friday,
Saturday I go out to play . . .
Sunday I go to church,
I get down to pray”

(“Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad” – T-Bone Walker (1947), covered by everybody from Clapton to BB King to the Allman Bros – even by Question Mark & The Mysterians, but you have to be pretty old to remember them too.)

T-Bone Walker’s reference: “Eagle flies on Friday,” means the Eagle which has been on much of our US legal tender since the late 1790’s, and is, of course, the payday that makes working at your job and mine all add up (thereby enabling “Playing” on Saturday and “Praying” on Sunday, and a whole lot of consuming too). But, that Eagle is not going to fly this Friday, or for many more Fridays, for some 62,000 people just handed pink slips, and there’s the rub for our worsening economic woes, because it means that some 62,000 more people will not be spending those paychecks and will, instead, be reining in everything now just to be able to weather the storm that didn’t just start this past Monday.

And, fewer will rent apartments or start new businesses or buy/lease new cars, or take vacations, or buy nice clothes for work, or pay property taxes or income taxes or any other kind of taxes, and fewer will ‘shop till they drop’ (at trendy stores in chic shopping areas where my 22-year old, gainfully employed, daughter tells me that 75% off sales are now the rage, reminding me this last weekend that she went shopping and saved $990!), and fewer will be able to pay their kids’ tuitions, either emptying out colleges, grad schools or private schools or further overwhelming the sorry public school system, and fewer will patronize the shopping malls or sit and sip Starbucks’ ‘$4 decaf, mocha, chai, half-whatevers,’ and those shopping malls will soon start to look like old men missing many teeth from their smiles as stores shutter and are not replaced, and fewer will be able to make their mortgage payments, adding to the massive foreclosures, and fewer will be able to live on fixed incomes or even plan to, thus bringing even more, hat in hand, to the ranks of those seeking employment, and some will not get comparably re-employed or will only find part-time jobs, or will have to work several jobs at well below their skill set and experience level, just to make ends meet and get through this.

And so it goes. The endless ripple effect continues like a stone you throw into a pond early in the morning and watch as the ripples spread outward until you can’t see them anymore in the early morning fog. Mr. Healy’s article ominously provides this quote, suitable for remembering at 3AM, staring at the ceiling when you can’t sleep: ““We’re now into the danger zone,” Chief United States financial economist at IHS Global Insight, Brian Bethune, tells us: “It really becomes pernicious because the uncertainty increases, corporate confidence is badly battered, and you get these severe measures being taken.”

And, I couldn’t agree more with President Obama, who commented on these 62,000 truly sad, recently employed, people who are just like you and me: “These are not just numbers on a page. . . these are working men and women whose families have been disrupted and whose dreams have been put on hold. We owe it to each of them and to every single American to act with a sense of urgency and common purpose. We can’t afford distractions and we cannot afford delays.”