Things turned bad suddenly, a childhood friend told me from Athens today. He was, as he put it, standing guard at his shoe store in Athens. It was just past 4 in the afternoon there, and he’d work till 9. He plans to close down the place in a few weeks time because it doesn’t pay to stay in business any longer. Sales are down and the bills are piling up. For more than a year in my conversations with him, I have sought to gauge the effects of the austerity measures on him and his family — a couple in their forties with two young children. Until recently, our conversations would leave me wondering if economic conditions were actually not as bad as they were said to be, if middle class Greeks were finding ways to shield themselves from the deep wage cuts and high unemployment. But as time passed, the trouble signs became clearer even if my friend would reassure me that things were all right: his salary at the oil company at which he works (his wife runs the shoe store) was cut by 10%; the store was going out of business; his younger brother, an electrician, had been unemployed for over a year.
Earlier this week, my friend’s father collapsed at the breakfast table and died. The father was a retired captain in the merchant marine. The mother and the younger brother were going to see about the father’s pension.