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,
determination,
and credit cards--
plus wanting to do the right thing;
how can they go wrong?

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