At least one leading indicator is pointing skyward, even as other measures wither like a punctured balloon. There it is, right next to the graph with the descending arrow; beneath the hangdog photos: the ad for E.D.

Joy, elation. Finance, down. Viagra, up. Real estate, down. Cialis, up.

"This is the end of everything," the stories drone like Eeyore, "plus a comet is going to hit us, so let's all go leap into an active volcano."

Oh, wait, maybe there's another option. Remember to consult your doctor. And now there's breaking news about condom sales: through the roof, with shingles flying.

Even the Australian Open was propped up by a lone ad showing a couple being dropped off on a deserted island by a happy villager piloting a boat christened Viagra. This vessel, we were warned, should be abandoned if bliss was kept afloat for more than four hours.

And the news alerts pop up on our cell phones: The Handbasket Industry is going to hell and there's nothing to carry it in! So we call to console our friends in the handbasket business and they tell us: Things aren't half bad, really, and if they'd just stop saying it's so god-awful we might just come out OK.

Is it possible? Did the E.D. industry cause the market to droop to 1997 levels just to make us nostalgic for the gusto we had back then?

We'll never know. We do know, or at least we've heard, that at least one stimulus package is working quite well.

But you have to wonder: If we have four idle hours, shouldn't we be building a better handbasket? Or car? Or anything to turn those other indicators around?

John Olson is an advertising executive in Minneapolis.