Twenty Things to Do During the Recession You've had the best. Now try the rest.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Corporate earnings are up. All right, they're not up. But they're not down. All right, they're down a little, but not as down as we thought they would be. For that reason, the market is all ebullient. Things suck less than we thought they would. Huzzah! It's a pretty pass we've come to.

In short, and I do mean short, it's time to buckle down and wrestle with what the next several years will bring. Money, which used to grow on trees, won't. That doesn't mean we all can't have a lot of fun. There are lots of activities, pastimes, toys, foods, and drinks that can--and will--replace the ones we enjoyed before our houses of cards got whiffed all to Hell and back. Here they are:

1. Conversation. Conversation was perfected during the Renaissance, after people stopped the incessant prayer that characterized the tedious High Middle Ages. Here's how it works: Two or more people discuss issues that concern at least one of them. One person says one thing. Another says another. Pretty soon, everybody's talking. Then you go home. Time to go to sleep! Total cost? Zero. Cool? Duh! (Replaces: theater, $500 an evening; concerts, $100 a ticket; movies, $8 a pop.)

2. Reading. Books take a long time to get through, so their price per page is all out of whack--unless you can find a way to get them for free! Now check this out: There are folks who get in the car on a Saturday morning, maybe take the kids with them, and drive to this building where people...give away books for nothing! Okay, they don't really give them to you. You have to give them back after a while. The best part is that it's not just good books they've got there but bad ones that a person can really read by, say, Nelson DeMille or Tom Peters! Total cost to you? Zilch! I kid you not! (Replaces: reading expensive magazines.)

3. Stamp collecting. On the back of your matches, there's sometimes this offer. Millions of stamps from really weird places. Cost? Maybe five bucks. You send away for big packages of these little babies and paste them into a book, then look at your collection and feel good about yourself. No, they're not worth anything. But neither is that 401(k) retirement account whose value is set by the price of your stock, right? (Replaces: cigars.)

4. Poker. This is a really good game, and it involves gambling too. You get a bunch of cards. If you can convince the other slightly tipsy guys at your table that they're good cards--or at least better than their cards--you can win money from them. Even small winnings can feel big when the losers are your friends. (Replaces: investing in the stock market.)

5. Scrabble. During recessions the importance of intellectual pursuits becomes more apparent because there's no money to do anything better. Scrabble is a game that exercises the upper 20% of your mind without engaging any of its capacity for profound thought. It's also a way for people who don't have anything to say to one another to spend cheap time together. (Replaces: $18 of latte at Barnes & Noble.)

6. Spam. It's fatty. It's spicy. It's repulsive to those who haven't been admitted to the club. It's filling, too. After a while you develop a taste for it and can't believe you ever got along without it. (Replaces: sushi.)

7. Your old Pentium. Imagine! Using the same computer, without any upgrades, for three years in a row--with no social stigma whatsoever! Anyone looking for the positive side of recession need look no further. (Replaces: your new Pentium III 500-megahertz tower with Voodoo VI, a 16.8-gig hard drive, and a modem so fast it leaves skid marks.)

8. Driving. The front seat! What a concept! Don't cry. You can still talk on the cellular phone as much as you long as the company is still paying for it. (Replaces: being driven.)

9. Walking about aimlessly. You see them every day. People moving around under their own power. Some of them are wearing exercise clothing because they are walking for exercise. Others are simply perambulating for no reason, which is allowed during a recession. For the first time in years, these people are not lurching from place to place inside an enclosure for the purpose of spending money. (Replaces: going to the mall.)

10. Bowling. A very frustrating game that costs less than 20 bucks for several hours of humiliation. The ball seldom goes where you want it to, and only one person in 1,000 looks like anything but a geek doing it. Afterwards you can drink a lot, though. (Replaces: golf.)

11. Watching the fireplace. You put a few logs in a box in the wall. You light the logs. If you're lucky, it's interesting for a while. After a time, you fall asleep. (Replaces: your satellite dish.)

12. Gettin' out that fondue set! Fondue is melted cheese, for the most part. You put bread into it, then eat it off long forks. People used to spend whole evenings doing this. Sometimes they drank or swapped spouses. It was very '70s. Take a look. There should be a set in your attic. (Replaces: nothing, but fills the gap fondue made when it left in the '80s.)

13. Bad wine. There's a world of swill out there. It's cheap! (Replaces: good wine.)

14. Bad cheese. How do you spell Velveeta? (Replaces: good, smelly cheese.)

15. Darning/mending. Folks used to do this all the time. An old article of clothing can be "fixed" with a needle and thread to look almost like new. (Replaces: style.)

16. Raking leaves. In some locations, you can still burn them when you're done, creating one of the great smells. In summer, you can extend your new skill in this area to the concept of mowing your own lawn. Hey! Put your head between your knees! I was only kidding! (Replaces: somebody else raking your leaves.)

17. Car trips to Toledo. It's you and the spouse and the kids and the budgie, all in a large van of some sort, heading off to the great American backwash. You drive, oh, six hours to your motel. You see the giant ball of twine at the local museum. Then it's dinner at an authentic local beanery and off to bed. Tomorrow it's the same thing. After ten days, it's back to work. (Replaces: two weeks in Tuscany.)

18. Keeping your job. Remember all those new horizons you were going to explore? Do it later. (Replaces: telling them to shove it.)

19. Losing your job. It's not personal. You rule, dude. It's just your position that was eliminated. (Replaces: keeping your job.)

20. Sleeping. Hey, call me when it's over, huh? (Replaces: working.)

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.