Everyone's looking for silver linings in the dark clouds -- as in, how we can get those clouds, rip them open and hoard the silver? Because if we're going to go to a barter economy, I'm low on the whole pigs-and-chickens part. Some people note that you don't actually lose money in the stock market until you sell, and that's true, but somehow it sounds like "if you die while you're asleep, it doesn't really count." No one's feeling optimistic, and we need a few reassurances. Here's one: The pumpkins are out at the grocery stores. I was heartened by the sign above the gourds: PUMPKINS

You think: So? What else could it be? Well, if the happy heedless boom-times had gone on another few years, pumpkins would have been $17.99 per pound and come with an elaborate pedigree: They would have been certified as the offspring of the giant gourd displayed at last year's State Fair before being put out to stud; they would be free-range pumpkins, totally organic, fertilized only by manure gathered from albino donkeys under a full moon. People would have paid for them with a credit card. Twenty-three-percent interest be damned! My house is worth a million. Heck, my bathroom's worth $300,000.

It's not good that things collapsed before we hit that point, but there is something about seeing PUMPKINS just described as PUMPKINS. We'll see a few more things get simpler, I think. It'll take awhile.

Just drove past a new store devoted to nothing but boxes to hold your things; it's a block from another store that sells nothing but boxes to hold your things. People would be interested in another such store, but only if it sold boxes big enough to live in.

Simple is good, we've been told; now, perhaps, some get to test out the idea. On the other hand, I fear we will see many poorly carved pumpkins this year; once people start stabbing the thing, it may be hard to stop. Buy two. Take out all your frustrations on the first one.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/buzz