August 29, 2010

How Can They Go Wrong?

He was a young man sturdily built, dressed nicely, and carrying a coat. I saw him come out of the bar and wasn't surprised when he got in and said, "Grand Central Station, please."

"Perfect," I said, putting the cab in gear. I wanted to head home over the 59th Street Bridge.

"Had enough partying?" I asked.

Surprised, he said, "Yes, frankly. It's too noisy and frantic. I have some work to do tomorrow and can't stay out later. My friends are all undergraduates, but I graduated last year, and can't do this anymore."

"I know what you mean. What kind of work?" I always ask that if I can.

It was the financial industry, of course. He lived in Connecticut, way upstate, where it was quieter and more peaceful.

"I know how it is," I said. "Well, like what are you, an analyst?"

He said yes and explained that he was in his first job and just learning the ropes.

"All you can do is work hard, pay your dues, and hope for the best results for your efforts," he concluded.

I thought about it while I maneuvered up First Avenue in the thickening late-evening traffic back to Queens and uptown. He looked like a nice guy. He probably had a nice girl friend, close family relations, and good prospects. He was well-mannered and alert, though he had had a couple of drinks.

"I know what you mean about quiet," I started. "I grew up in rural Louisiana, and I've lived in some pretty quiet places, from Nicaragua to the Far North of Canada. I lived in the Rockies, and on the beaches of Texas and California. New York is an acquired taste."

He agreed. I added that I was about to spit out the taste.

"It's such a different time, mine and yours. I grew up in the 40s and 50s, and although I was older than most of the Sixties people, that really was my generation too. All kinds of things were going on. First the Vietnam War, which was the seminal event of my generation, and the Civil Rights Movement, which was happening before and during the war. There were riots, protests, shootings, beatings, prisoner issues, womens' issues, prison riots, political assassinations, and the toppling of Nixon from the White House. Things were busting out all over, and it seems like everybody was involved somehow. I had been a marine for four years, and then I started following the antiwar movement and became a protester."

I turned left on 42nd Street and the traffic was sparse so that I had a clear shot to Grand Central. Waiting at a light, I said, "I keep thinking of what Che Guevera said: "One, two, many Vietnams." I waited for him to think about it all the way to the terminal. He didn't reply.

I pulled to the curb and turned to face him.

"You said all you have to do is work hard and pay your dues. I say it doesn't matter how much dues you pay as who you pay them to. Vietnam nearly ruined this country. Now we got two more Vietnams going, and more in the works in Iran, Sudan, Korea, and South America. It's going to topple this country like a house of cards, because war is corruption. If your work promotes it in any way, like war production or working for corporations or banks that are invested in these wars and profitting by them, you're digging your own grave."

"I thank you for that," he said.

He paid the fare and we smiled good night.

I forgot to tell him to read Mr. Baruch, by Margaret Coit. Everybody in Finance should read it.

All the bright young people,
so handsome and fine,
educated by wealthy parents,
so focused, so social,
and entitled--
walking hand-in-hand on The Bowery;
which ain't what it was.

Armed with knowledge,
support networks,
decent gigs and digs and looks,
and fortified with skills,
and credit cards--
plus wanting to do the right thing;
how can they go wrong?

August 11, 2010

Joe Finnen

I'm sorry Joe Finnen is dead.
We drank together and talked.
Joe was sharp. He read books and he listened.
Joe appreciated ideas and would trade you even.

We felt the same way about the stupid government.
He wanted to shoot it down,
and I wanted to negotiate then.
But he knew more outlaws than I did.

Ironic and humorous,
He was the best pot dealer in town.
Sold it out of his boot
in a bar in Durango.

Everybody knew everybody,
But he was cool and natural about it.
Few ever saw.
None ever told.

Or I would walk home with him, not far,
where, outside his small rented place with Fran,
a big wild Irish rose tree thrived.
I'd never seen one before.

It was plush in summer with big yellow roses,
a carpet of them shading his porch
like an old green and yellow umbrella.
We joked and smoked there afternoons a-plenty.

Fran didn't like me of course.
"Don't take it personal," said Joe.
"She doesn't like anybody."
She feared I was a cop but soon got over that.

Fran had the nicest butt in town and Joe was proud of it.
She was Rocky Graziano's neice.
At their wedding, Fran's father had taken Joe aside.
"I love you Joe, but if you ever hit her, I'll kill you," he stated.

Irish Joe never hit petite Italian Fran, of course.
He wasn't that way anyway.
Joe was confident and tough and didn't have to prove it.
My best friends are all like that.

He was a tall rangy guy from Long Island,
Who'd moved to Colorado and loved it and stayed.
He had a thousand stories and so did I.
We hung together when I was around.

He'd first made love to Fran on a dark football field at night.
She was amazed he'd remembered that.
"Pretty good, Joe," she said.
Finally she became friendlier.

We had a standing joke:
He would buy me a shot of B & B,
And I would break out in handcuffs.
Because he'd bought me one and I'd flown down the road to a DUI.

Finally he managed to build a house but I was gone then.
I sent him some hash once from New Orleans,
concealing it so well he threw it away with the packaging.
Luckily I called and he got it back.

I left him like I left all my friends,
Touchstones over half the globe.
I called or wrote when the loneliness got too bad.
He always answered and helped me keep breathing.

He was the only guy I ever knew
who ate popcorn one kernal at a time;
an amazing act of self-discipline.
He cracked up once when he overheard me using a $20 word.

"Antithesis!" his laugh tickled my ear from across the bar.
He made me feel good.
You would have liked Joe.
He listened.

We both knew a guy, a survivalist militia guy,
Who is still on the FBIs Most-Wanted List.
The Feebies grilled him for days.
Joe never told them a thing.

Last time I called, Fran said Joe had died of cancer,
sudden and painful.
All I could say was
I'm sorry Joe Finnen is dead.

August 7, 2010

The System Works

World trade is a pure mess and getting messier. Fires in Russia cause higher bread prices in America and wheat shortages all over the poorer Third World; an oil spill in America eventually affects the ecology business and health of the entire planet; politics business and religion are corrupt from top to bottom; the American people and most of the people on the globe are largely-ignorant, badly-educated, and in some way depraved; materialism has run amok and hedonism is the order of the day; we live in a “friendly fascist” military state, and military “needs” are sucking us dry while our physical plant falls apart and capitalism produces more and more useless shit. Millions labor in worthless industries from flipping hamburgers to making hydrogen bombs, and the system can't be altered because they would lose their jobs and the profits which the wealthy suck from consumerism would fall. But “socialism,” which rules only in Cuba, is somehow demonic, and ultimately it always is the laboring classes who are blamed when the economy goes down in flames. The capitalist system is anti-social in character, false in philosophy, defective in spirit, and has a mean stingy and violent temperament. "Democracy" is a sad joke, the Illusion of the Age, and the excuse for every sort of heinous atrocity our rich nation does to poor ones. Most of what people are sure of is absolute doubletalk, total bullshit, and impervious to proof. Religion is politics and politics is religion. Triviality and irrelevance pervade every aspect of American life from business to art. Americans are the most-insecure and fearful people in the world. They also are the hardest-working and least-rewarded of all working classes in the industrial western world. Their "culture" is the Culture of Television: pure Thought Control, where they get their stupid ideas and idle away their lives lazing before imprisoning televisions. They live in an aura of self-congratulation and fantastic self-regard, and they are completely blind to the hard-won advantages that peoples of other industrial nations enjoy as the result of labor struggles for rights that now are taken for granted. The beliefs of "the American people" are almost mystical, and in fact the whole myth of America and most of their stupid religions is nothing less than believing in magic. They "pray" for things and favors as if their doing-so will persuade or alter the plans of an all-knowing all-controlling god which they themselves do not believe in. They have no faith but believe in "luck." Their "praying" is an act of magic. Americans are in about the same place where the “good Germans” were during the rise of corporate (fascist) government in pre-war Germany. All it will take is for us to involve ourselves in yet-another expensive and unwinnable war, and a Hitler will emerge from the resulting chaos to accuse and lynch the usual scapegoats for the failures of the Old Regime and the stupid, wasteful, mind-killing capitalist warmongering system.

And the President is too inexperienced and ultimately ignorant to know that retreat from a battlefield where his army is dominant is no disgrace, but tactically and strategically wise. He is wading deeper and deeper into "the Big Muddy, and the big fool says to push on." Just as it was in Vietnam and a dozen other places, President Obama and his cohorts are afraid to leave because they will look "weak." In fact they are weak. They will be weak until they decide that peace is the better and only option.

The fact that the American people are dumber and poorer than ever proves that the system works.