December 29, 2011 - December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Why I'm InstaPunk
I got away with it for 50 years. We looked alike. The second 50 is harder.
DIATRIBES. I've been reading all the comments, and all I feel is
disgust. Nobody knows anything. No joke, I feel like Neo at the end of
Matrix I. Do your worst and all I can see is digits in slow motion.
Why? To the extent that anybody can, I have lived every life in America. Somebody
said if you would be a writer, live your life as a writer. I have done
that. I was born a country boy and played all alone when I had to in
the woods, where I was the Swamp Fox, General Sherman, Lord Nelson, or
a dying soldier -- as drama dictated. My first love was on the French
Riviera, my first apartment was in Paris, all before I turned twelve.
Before I reached twenty, I was a pool shark, a saber fencer, a redneck
motorhead, a newspaper editor, a Harvard final club president, and a
college graduate. When I grew up, I lived in cities, got paid for being
a leading-edge technologist, founded two consulting firms aimed at
saving American industry from foreign competition, got a huge work of
fiction published, and became a member of the corporate ronin who spend
half their lives on planes. Then I graduated to failure, where I
learned how the supposed victims live. Where I learned what it means to
be a divorcee, a father, a mother, a cook, a housekeeper, a pet, and, finally, a
husband. I've been a snob, a pretender, a punk, a lord, an artist, a
genius, a helpless idiot, a bankrupt, a prodigal son, a rich man, a
poor man, a winner and a loser. But always an American.
I am stretched so thin and wide that every criticism causes me to pop a
vein. Why? Because none of you knows anyone who has lived so many lives
as me. Whenever any of you tries to tell me what it's like to be this
or that, I pop a vein. I've done more manual labor than most of you. I
know about weak coffee in unheated timecard rooms. I've had countless
smoke breaks with toothless amphetamine junkies who need today's money
to score. And I also know the history of philosophy, art, music, and
culture. You think I'm old and parochial because I like the Stones. I
like the Stones because I also love da Vinci, Mozart, George
Washington, and Albert Einstein. But you'd have no way of knowing that.
I'm not sharing this to boast. Only to point out that forty years of
observation may count for something.
I've been a music clerk at Border's. I may have introduced you to Miles
Davis or Doris Day. I might have changed your life thereby.You see,
when I was a music clerk, I was trying to be the best music clerk I
could be. Which meant that I also tried to learn from my most learned
customers. And I did.
I was a business-to-business phone marketer. The best one in my pod.
The ladies thought I was a god. They protected my earpiece for me
because I couldn't hear in any other. They warned me against one
another. I was offered jobs by people I sold -- people who knew, as I
did, that what I was selling was a load of crap. At the hour and minute I couldn't do it anymore, I walked out. Which ended my life at the time. Including access to my (step)daughter. I know how that feels. Do you?
And -- before all that -- I was also a consultant and speechwriter for Fortune 100 CEOs. I
wrote all the Just in Time training materials, from executive briefings
to factory floor manuals written at the eighth grade level, for one of
the most fabled divisions at General Motors -- the one whose facilities
included the Wright Brothers's bicycle shop.
When Whirlpool Corporation went global, I trained all the communicators
how to think in global terms -- scratch that -- I tried to train them how to think,
period, which they didn't know anything or want to know anything about
for 50K a year, and I failed, because even though I kept them up all
night in exercises designed to entertain as well as instruct them, they
never learned a thing. Because it's too late to start learning how to
think when you've already spent your youth not learning anything. I
made a lot of money failing in this way. I also lost my way.†
I've been to Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, and England on
business, as well as South America and Asia, and I've seen Africa from
a ship, and nearly drowned in a ship along the way. I've crossed the
ocean on the Queen Elizabeth I, I've seen the Isle of the White
Peacocks, driven 150 mph on the GM test track in the Black Forest with
no hands on the wheel, motored through Paris on a London bus with
champagne in my hand from Napoleon's Tomb to the finest Michelin
restaurant where the greeting hostess makes Catherine deNeuve look like
a Woolworth's cashier, I've stood on the exact spot where Mussolini's
corpse was hung upside down, I've lied to my hosts that Colombian beef
doesn't taste like burned Texas cowboy boots, and I've refrained from
holding my nose in Hong Kong's fabled street markets -- dead fish, live
snakes, and rotting chicken feet -- and marvelled at better French
bread in Hong Kong hotels than I ever had in Paris.
Yes, others are better travelled than me, so why am I stretched thin?
Because I've always been from here, from South Jersey.
From the marshland. Tidal. The smell of death and life competing. Salt
and water and flat fields that grow tomatoes, the world's best sweet
corn, and the best roads anywhere for fast cars and faster motorcycles.
No matter where I was, I always wanted to be here, to be home. Even
though death is everywhere here. A concept most of you don't know at
Why I'm InstaPunk. The most widely read, thinly educated of anyone in
my generation. I actually know something
about everything. Quantum physics. Sleeping on a grate in Philadelphia.
And the whole beef about consumerist culture is bullshit. It's been
with us since Sumerians and everyone in between. Sumerians preferred
a pretty pot to a utilitarian pot.
Ever since then, some people have been seeking a better way of life
because others said, "I'd like that way of life too. Nice pots. Pretty
The story has NEVER been about the 99 percent. It's always been about
the 1 percent. Unless you love documentaries about stone age tribes in
the Amazon, everything good that has ever happened comes from the one
percent. Democracy and capitalism are latecomers to that old old story. The role of democracy is that the rest of us can dare to want a better life. The role of capitalism is that we can have a better life by following in the footsteps of the one percent. Nobody in ancient times made money from
Pythagoras or Archimedes or Leonardo. Millions made money from Edison,
Tesla, Ford, and Rockefeller. Freedom -- meaning democracy + capitalism -- isn't the only thing, but it's
the most important thing. Except for the brilliance of the one percent.
Why I'm tired of phony comparisons between "active millennials" and
"passive millennials." Goops are goops. You want to succeed? Do something great. Inspire.
uh, no. We just want you to make our lives better. Somehow.
The role of democracy has been to make the fruits of the 1 percent an
available aspiration for the 99 percent.
I don't see that understanding in the comments. Why I'll be back to
explain it to you in terms you might be able to understand.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Don't read this, Eduardo:
The 1970s Flyers.
Mike Tyson on skates.
PUCK. My wife is excited about the Winter Classic, Flyers against
Rangers. The papers are devoted to showing us the high-tech graphics of
masks on both sides. Slick? Yeah. But I still prefer the
blank malevolence of the mask above, which Bernie Parent wore in
winning two successive Stanley Cups for Philadelphia. (What he'll also
be wearing in the alumni game a day before.)
The best thing about the Winter Classic is that it allowed us non-HBO
subscribers to see the slam-bang documentary about The Broad Street
Bullies on cable. Which we watched last night.
Jeez. The whole
thing is here.
I don't even know what the best thing is. The two Stanley Cups? The
fact that Slap Shot was a
poor imitation of a real and much better team? The unexpected
iconography of Kate Smith? The only ever fair treatment of Philadelphia
sports fans in a major media product? Or the humiliation of the Russian
Red Army Team, when they'd crushed the NHL's best and suddenly the most
hated team in hockey was conscripted by a commissioner who loathed them
to defend the honor of the NHL, Canada, The United States, and our way
of life. Oh yeah. It's the last one.
Forget the Miracle on Ice. This wasn't
like that. It wasn't the Olympics. It was Philadelphia. The Russians
came into town riding a wave of victories over NHL royalty. The disreputable, no-talent Flyers
began by preventing them from penetrating the blue line, which no one had ever done. When they'd
accomplished that, they set about beating the shit out of the Russians.
Who left the ice.
Until they learned they wouldn't get paid for quitting. Then the Flyers
rubbed it in. The Flyers way.
In the Cold War, this was maybe the second closest we ever came to Hot
War. If you've never seen the story of the Broad Street Bullies, watch it.
It's not hagiography. It's a warts and all account. But as someone who
had to follow this history at a distance, in Boston, home of Bobby Orr
and Phil Esposito, a city seething with angry contempt of the Flyers, I
was thrilled to see Bruins of that era acknowledging what so few in The Hockey
ever do: that the Flyers won not because of their thuggery but because
they could play The Hockey.
Watch the Winter Classic. It's a spectacular once-a-year event.
Merry Christmas, everyone. And a Happy New Year too.
I'm not going to critique the lists, but I will characterize what's on
them: Obsolete nostalgia that caters to adults, not children. Grown men
are arguing back and forth about whether Christmas Story has finally
eclipsed It's a Wonderful Life,
while others are still charmed by Miracle
on 34th Street, White
Christmas, The Grinch Who
Stole Christmas, and Holiday
Inn. I don't think anybody much cares for The Polar Express, but the Hallmark
Channel is disgracing the whole subject with an endless set of treacly
movies involving Santa's family and various dysfunctions therein that
can only be resolved by has-been actors checking the "heartwarming" box
on their fading resumes.
Hollywood, in all its native generosity, wants
to give us various Bad Santas who rob banks and Christmas charities
but back off at the last second in a nod to, um, peace on earth and
But none of these is actually a movie for children. The only
magic ever cited is that of grownups rediscovering the innocence of
childhood for a day or a week at most.
What I'm about to say is heresy, but I have to say it anyway. It's all
junk. And this isn't a rant about post-modernism. The problem was
intensely exacerbated by the Coca Cola company, but the real problem
begins all the way back with Clement Moore's T'was the Night Before Christmas (which postdates the last surviving vestige of Old Christmas, Dickens's "A Christmas Carol.").
That's what separated Santa Claus from his Christian roots. When he
became a "jolly old elf," he became secular, and the division of
Christmas into two co-existent but contradictory holidays, one
religious and one commercial, began. Why the current favorite, A Christmas Story, is almost devoid
of religious content. What kid actually gets more than a tenth of the
wry humor in Jean Shepard's admittedly amusing memoir? If they do, it
speaks more to their observations of silly parents than their own
experience. Ovaltine decoder rings? If they're laughing at that, it's
only because you're laughing and they're sharing your laughter.
Even the new movies are just remakes, dressed up with sophisticated
industrial allusions or the toleration of childish credulity, designed
to drive home the point that Santa Claus doesn't, can't possibly,
exist. The apotheosis of this intention is a new iPhone ad. Santa
receives a text from Mrs. Santa: "You have 3.8 billion appointments."
Santa Claus -- otherwise known as St. Nicholas -- was once a Christian
not a commercial symbol. He wasn't magical; he was a sliver of
divinity. He was each child's introduction to the consequences of moral
obligation. If you'd been good, he would reward you. If you'd been bad,
you might get sticks and lumps of coal in your stocking. He was a
Christ figure in children's terms.
I remember. I remember worrying whether I'd been good or bad and how
that might be judged by someone who didn't necessarily hear all my
excuses. My earliest memory of critical self-reflection. And then, when
Christmas morning came and there were presents instead of coal, I felt
joy. So I am not such a bad boy after all. That's the message of
Christian redemption in a nutshell. Kindergarten Christianity.
All gone now. Even the oldest of the most revered movies postulate
Santa as a kind of idiot who exists only to bring delight to children
one day of the year. Unless they're conveying the dark truth that Santa
is a figment of childhood imagination, best responded to by learning
the truth sooner rather than later or, more sentimentally, later rather than sooner. (Poor Natalie Wood.)
So Santa Claus is dead. The MSM revels in stories about drunken Santas
at malls, unvetted Santas who might be child molesters, Santas who are
coached to keep children's wishes within their parents' economic means,
and on and on. My parents once walked a similar but far less deadly
tightrope: the street corner Santas were his helpers, as were the
department store Santas, and the Clement Moore poem was a Christmas Eve
ritual almost akin to confession and absolution: Yes, all is forgiven
and he is on his way; you can sleep peacefully tonight. A kind of
preparation for Communion. Why, perhaps, we reciprocated with cookies
and a beverage for the one who was going to sanctify us by his presence.
One final point. I know it can be argued that the Santa question has
been rendered moot by time itself. The myth is corny, inconceivable,
preposterous. No wonder there hasn't been anything new in a couple of
generations. Adult nostalgia is the only possible corner of Christmas
in which Santa can still exist at any level.
But this, too, is a falsehood. The extraordinary success with children
of all ages of Harry Potter points the way toward a new Christmas
classic -- if only anyone wanted to make one. Is there not room in a
Harry Potter type universe for a new version of St. Nicholas who does
indeed see and remember what each child has been up to and rewards or
admonishes them individually? He doesn't have to be fat or jolly or
small, and he doesn't have to have a factory filled with toy-making
elves. He's a spirit who guards and instructs the children, fabricating
their gifts on the fly from the goodness of their own souls. That's his
inspiring energy. He could look like Dumbledore or Gandalf. He could be
a little bit frightening even in his goodness, which mix has been a
staple of childhood fiction from Hans Christian Andersen to the
Brothers Grimm to Charles Perrault.
I don't know about you. But I miss the old guy. Maybe, like Lazarus, he
too can rise from the dead. If we could just stop thinking that
Christmas is about us and our memories rather than the kids we pretend
Ha ha. I notice your little tantrum fizzled out. It must have been
quite a high, though. Even big shots in a sympathetic national media
pretended your high ideals are what made you camp out in the parks.
But, deep down you know that wasnít it. A sign carried by one of your
comrades that read, ďWe want more, you have moreĒ was closer to the
truth. And now that youíre back in your cozy room above your parentsí
garage, I can tell you something you donít even know about yourselves.
What you are really demanding is much more than money. What youíre
saying is, ďI demand happiness.Ē As in, you expect someone else to do
whatever it takes to make you happy. Someone else? Do you mean me? No
one said what was in it for me.
I could call you a spoiled, pampered brat, but that doesnít seem to
cover it. A demand like the one youíre making has to be deeper than
that. It must come from an emotional corruption, a character deformity.
Yeah, thatís what you have. You feel that happiness is your right and
you demand that it be given to you by someone else, in unlimited
amounts. I know who you are -- youíre a student who racked up huge
debts and canít get a job. Now you feel itís not your fault and youfeel
entitled to debt forgiveness and an easy office job, despite not having
any employable skills. That would make you happy for a while, wouldnít
it? But what about the person, the organizations, the nation expected
to provide it? What was it you said about them, the lenders whom you
would loot and employers whom you would rob? Oh yeah, I remember: You
called them the evil 1%. And you expect them to guarantee your
happiness. You snot.
I have some news for you. Your little scam is old. Way back in your
grandparents' time, some dude named Salinger wrote a short story, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, about
two broads sitting around boozing on an icy afternoon. But the story's
really about you. The host is miserable (like you) and convinces her
friend to stay and guzzle scotch instead of going back to work, and as
the drinks go down she starts crying over the long-ago death of her
lover. The guy was poor but could always make her laugh, and thatís all
she remembers, because to her that meant he would always make her happy (happiness as a gift -- sound
familiar?). She was promised the gift of happiness and didnít get it.
But the kicker is. she wound up marrying a serious man, one who
actually provided everything needed for her well-being. But she is
still miserable and hates her husband. See, she wants laughter, which
is an emotion of happiness, but she doesnít get it that happiness is
nothing if itís not derived from a fundamental well-being. Character
deformity: her emotions are disconnected from reality and will never be
real. Sheíd be miserable with either man; she will always be miserable,
no matter what, and she will always be a sinkhole of wants. Can you
You're playing a rigged game, and youíre late to it. Have you taken
note that your demands were not met? Youíre like the last looter at the
store who finds nothing but broken glass and empty shelves, and as a
final blow the police finally show up and nab you. All the other
looters already got the goods and left the last vandal to take the rap.
Thatís you. Take a last look at the devastated store as they slap on
the cuffs and haul you off. All the news about the struggling economy,
unemployment, hopelessness, debt, default, and misery -- thatís the
legacy of the other looters who already took what they wanted because
they feel entitled to happiness, just like you. The only difference is
that now no one is replacing the glass and restocking the shelves,
because they expected someone else to do it. Which, sorry to break it
to you, will be you, as terms
of your parole.
But guess what? The old producers of the things you want and believe
yourself entitled to are tired. They canít and won't support a
degenerate generation of thieves. Which means it's your generation that will have to
become the new producers required to support the waves of new looters
to come Itís all fixed -- thatís how the game ends.
Oh. Whatís that? No one told you the rules? Hmmm, thatís too bad.
Jokeís on you. Ha ha.
I didn't really mean that "Ha Ha" part. I meant HA HA. Or HA HA HA.
Unless I meant, Gawd help us. Yeah, that's the one.