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Pessimism can be surprising

Back a few days ago when gas prices actually went down to $2.60 a gallon, someone asked me where I thought they would finally level off.

When you work for a newspaper, people will ask you a question like this because, for some odd reason, they think you might actually know the answer. I didn't, which is why I work at a newspaper and not Wall Street. So I guessed. I guessed $4 a gallon.

"Why," I was asked, "are you so pessimistic?"

Honestly, I thought I was being overwhelmingly optimistic.

Of course, I've regularly been accused of being a pessimist, so much so that I once toyed with the idea of founding a new civic group, the Pessimists Club. I decided not to because I figured nobody would show up.

Maybe I am a pessimist, especially around election times, but when you really think about it, being pessimistic really isn't a particularly awful way to approach life.

For one thing, you're never ever disappointed. If things go horribly wrong, you were expecting it anyway. In some ways, it's actually a relief. You don't have to wait for the other proverbial shoe to drop if the first one goes ahead and kicks you squarely in the seat of your britches.

Besides, occasionally you will be pleasantly surprised.

Very occasionally. And sometimes it's more unnerving than pleasant. There could, after all, be three shoes involved somehow.

Still, I decided maybe if you look hard enough at the dark cloud of gas prices you could find a silver lining. And by silver lining, I mean besides the silver that's lining the pockets of so-far-faceless profiteers who are lying low and making a killing every time somebody swipes a debit card at a pump.

It's probably foolhardy, but if you must have a go at an upbeat outlook about the gas situation, here are a few things you might want to consider:

All your assets soon will be liquid. Granted, they'll all be in the form of a highly flammable liquid located in your gas tank, but at least the pessimist will get a better night's sleep on account of the mattress, which is where the true pessimist hides his money, won't be nearly as lumpy.

That big SUV that burns five bucks' worth of gas just backing out of the driveway? It suddenly can find new life and meaning as a combination planter/lovely yard art.

And with that big, roomy hatch, the old SUV's just right for back yard camp outs. Now that's some good, clean family fun that even a pessimist can enjoy, especially if it rains and there are plenty of mosquitoes.

Gas stations, no doubt, will soon be moved to offer pump side ATMs for your added convenience.

No more envying the French and their high gas prices.

Hey, it's one more excellent excuse you can throw in for staying home and watching the Dawgs on TV when your wife wants to go and visit relatives out of town.

The old '72 VW Beetle you've been restoring suddenly looks like a studmobile.

You've been looking for a good investment between fill ups? Three words: Locking gas caps.

Just think ... since you can't afford to drive anywhere anymore, you're going to get more life than ever out of that set of tires.

And the No. 1 reason? You'll finally manage to develop that fiscal discipline that can be so maddeningly elusive. Once you pull away from that gas pump, there'll be no more self-indulgent spending on frivolous stuff such as food, clothing and medicine.

How's that for optimistic?

Jim Hendricks is managing editor for the Albany Herald and a regular contributor. He can be e-mailed at jim@albanyherald.com. His column appears occasionally.