Friday, October 19, 2012

Twenty-Five Years Ago in Fort Lauderdale: Watching the 1987 Black Monday Stock Market Crash

Twenty-five years ago today, on Monday, October 19, 1987, we were in Fort Lauderdale, having arrived two weeks before after spending the previous two months at The MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire and our friend's apartment on the Upper West Side two weeks before, for the day of the 1987 stock market crash. That day we started teaching a computer education workshop for public schools in the Miami-Dade school district for Florida International University and we took over an evening first-year composition class from an instructor at Broward Community College who had been diagnosed with dementia and taken back to Ohio by her daughter. Here is our diary entry for that day, found in our book Eighties End: Autumn:

Monday, October 19, 1987
9 PM. The stock market crashed today. I’ve been expecting this for months, but I still thought it wouldn’t happen for another couple of years. The Dow Jones average fell over 500 pints, landing finally at around 1700. It lost 23% of its value, compared to the 12% one-day loss on October 28, 1929.
Nobody’s using the word "crash," but it has to be considered one. Having last week read two books that dealt with the 1929 crash, I can compare and contrast (the rhetorical mode I taught at Broward Community College this evening) today to that crash. Both days were unpredictably frantic, with panic selling and no buying. But the average person speculated in 1929, and that didn’t happen today.
I had expected that stocks would rally today, but as in the weekend in ’29, a couple of days’ rest caused a total change in market psychology. Obviously program trading – a subject I discussed in my computer literacy workshop this afternoon – had a lot to do with exaggerating the Dow’s plunge, but no two events can have exact parallels.
The big question is whether the market drop represents the start of another Great Depression. At the very least, it portends a recession. The mass psychology part of it is important; I suspect the number of article and books laying out our economic problems have finally reached enough people to form a critical mass.
Is this the start of the big change I’ve been hoping for? Time will tell, but even I – a friend of the law of gravity, probably one of the few Americans who rooted for the Dow to fall – and am shocked by the swiftness of the crash.
The other big news today was a U.S. naval attack on an Iranian oil platform in the Persian Gulf. Everyone knew we were going to retaliate for the Iranian attack on Friday, but now no one’s sure if this is the end of it or if the Iranians will try to get back at us. Reagan’s reflagging of the Persian Gulf oil tankers always seemed as if it would get us into armed conflict.
It’s very weird. I get the feeling we’re turning the corner on history, and things are going to change drastically. It might be very premature to say it, but perhaps the 1980s ended today. If they have, I feel little sadder than I thought I’d be. After all, I wanted a stock market crash, I want to see a depression, I want the mood of the country to change. Still, it’s sad to see people robbed of their illusions, even if they were living in a fool’s paradise.
About my own little life, I feel good tonight. I taught two new classes today, and I feel productive and capable. I enjoy teaching, and I’m good at communicating ideas to people.
Last night Josh called. Not much was going on at his end, but during our conversation, I realized once again how faint-hearted and security-conscious Josh is. He was shocked that I rented such an “expensive” apartment (Josh’s horror exceeded even Grandma Ethel’s), shocked that Lisa would consider joining the Peace Corps and going to Africa – especially after her illness.  
And Josh said Joyce could probably get me a secure job at the DOT; Josh plans to go there December 9; he’s been waiting to see if Blue Cross will lay him off. I don’t know why Josh has become so timid about taking risks, especially after he blew all that money on Carter-Wallace stock; he lost half his investment thinking that it would rise because AIDS would lead to more condom sales. I just know I’m glad I’ve taken risks and I wish had taken more in past years.
Up early, I read the Herald, Times and Wall Street Journal and followed the markets on CNN all day. Marc was over with China – that dog is as affectionate with me as she is with everyone else – and Dad was home all day.
I left at 1 PM, grabbing my mail (mostly junk and two bills) and went to Little Havana, to the Coral Way Elementary School, where I taught my computer literacy workshop. They’ve broken it up into four two-hour classes, so I didn’t do much today except try to explain the parts of a computer and to demonstrate its use. Most of the teachers are, of course, Cubans, and I’m still not used to hearing Spanish everywhere, including the office of a public school. But I must have done something right because I got applause at the end of the workshop.
The English 1101 class at BCC seems like a good group. Naturally, they were upset that Ms. Evans is gone, but by the end of class I felt I had won them over. I feel totally confident in front of a class. Remember how nervous I used to get? Even last year I’d be nervous before a computer workshop. Not now.
Actually, working is enjoyable because I haven’t done it in so long. If only I didn’t have to grade papers, I’d be very happy to be an English teacher again. Of course, I’m sure I’ll have bad days and evenings in the next two months, but that’s part of the game.
Well, I want to watch the news tonight and see what the world is making of today’s events on Wall Street and in the Persian Gulf. The London, Hong Kong and Tokyo stock markets also fell sharply today. I’d like to know what average people think of today’s crash.

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