Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Networking Hive

  • Here’s a question: Is failure the inability to produce something of quality or simply lack of success? And if one has no audience, who is to judge the quality of what one produces? This is something I often grappled with at university…the fact that there should be some standard of excellence applicable to one’s endeavors…a way to not quantify but qualify art. In fact it is perhaps the lack of such apparent standards, and the nature of the true artist to perhaps initially shock, and then fail to shock…which has produced volatility in the current art market. And the contemporary art ‘audience’ has become so accustomed to shock value, that they fail to apprehend quality in something that looks traditional, boring…

    And what if the audience is not qualified to judge? Are artists the gladiators in the arena these days…or not… the fact is, it is the audience in the arena. They are placed there by 'artistic' managers. Most artists never make it there.

    I have been recently criticized for my lack of networking. This is something that not only terrifies but disgusts me. Networking is what my kids do… they spread gossip, share things which should remain private. Networking is what huge business conventions are all about… the whole corporate structure, in fact. Networking perpetrates the sad fact that a very few of the American workforce actually does a job…and these are the underpaid, the undervalued. The networkers are the busy bees that create the illusion of the hive. They run around, email, talk and text on phones, organize and ‘manage’. They get paid for creating an enormous hologram of a corporation based on a small core.

    Can you imagine a rockband with five or six guys that stand around waiting for a cue…creating a vibe? Well, actually… a good deal of contemporary music is just this…the scratchers, the dancers, the human ‘echoes’ who shout out the last word of the Hip-Hop rhyme much the way you and I used to yell out ‘Dock” and ‘Clock” when our pre-school teachers prompted us with nursery rhymes. Not just five..sometimes ten or twelve.. and backstage? Behind the scenes? The Music industry networkers? The hocus-pocus salesmen and their bodyguards and ‘boys’?
  • I was backstage at a Hip-Hop benefit recently and the box-office girl told me of the 5,000 in the house, 4,200 were on the guest list. By the time the VIPS got done ordering their champagne and caviar, the fundraiser was in the red. Bright bleeding red. But you can be sure, plenty of networking was going on there.

    I’ll just bet any of these Hip-Hop record companies can produce a fictitious being—literally anyone. Like you—or me…and create an enormous successful niche with all their networking and buzz and the engineers in the studio who now have every possible combination of beats, sounds, notes, production… at their fingertips. Like computer art, this is computer music. Complemented by these pedestrian street gangsta lyrics which sound okay but rarely make sense and if I hear bitches and riches or man and plan, finger and dead-ringer one more time I’ll yawn. Again.

    Is this success? Who created this? Is it art?

    If a poet reads his verse in the dark with no one listening, does he/it exist? And if it doesn’t exist, can it be good? Apparently I am lying in the forest of fallen neglected artists who do not make a sound when they die because no one was listening.

    My son discovered today that when you lose your ipod earbuds, there is no music. If he had only acquired the ability to think, he might take this one step further. Meanwhile, his mother, a failed networker and thus in the music business a non-entity, does not even fail to appear among the now digitally mute thousands of non-existent selections on this now useless device which hopelessly emits the unqualifiable but well-networked sounds of the hive.

    Not only are bees becoming extinct, but I read this summer that the ‘busy’ thing is a myth and most of them are unemployed and just making a lot of noise. Ouch.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Con Edited

Okay. This is a self-interested public-service announcement. I am going to complain about a personal issue here. To vent. Because I personally and that means by proxy all of you are being swindled by none other than our main source of power, the one that has brought us to our knees and threatens to do so should we fail to pay homage in the form of a grossly over-padded monthly bill. No, not our local parish or our shrink—I mean Con Ed with the emphasis on Con.

Having been semi-paralyzed by recent power outages in my hood, I decided on a gas stove—the one I was forced to buy because my neighbor’s bathtub flooded onto my kitchen and destroyed all appliances. Did I get a penny of insurance? Enough to cover my next upgraded rate hike. Whatever. I am over that. What I am not over is that after finally completing payments for my state-of-the-art range including the $300 plumbing fee to attach a hose, someone in my building smells gas (not mine) and the whole system is shut down. Not for a week or two weeks. For two months. And not the whole building—just my line, where the leak was located, below me. And the public laundry facilities which are used by the underprivileged few without a private laundry room, meaning me, and the superintendent who can afford to send out. So I spend many summer nights, with my broken foot, dragging wet laundry into other people’s basements where I get to spend late hours with the rats while feeding quarters to ravenous dryers. Not to mention that I was forced to buy an electric kettle and frying pan to cook with, because I certainly can’t afford takeout for growing teenagers.

Okay. I adjust. And the moment my gas is shut down, I record my meter reading: 741. Right. I continue to observe my meter throughout the summer, which seems somehow to be moving. When I call Con Ed to inform them of this, I am told by one helpful employee that ‘wow, that is like impossible’, and by the next that..’oh yes, the meter keeps moving like a clock—whether there’s gas or not’. Anyway, when the gas is finally restored, 2 months later, my meter has clocked an additional 13 therms. I have continued to receive estimated bills throughout the summer which I ignore…no gas, no charge, right? At least I am saving somewhere… although I’m sure the extra cookware is using more electrical juice than I can afford. I actually force Con Ed to send someone by appointment to check my meter and log this figure on the day I resume gas consumption…question this man about the miracle of the moving meter, and receive some consolation that we will be credited for all service outage.

I call on September 6, give them my new meter reading—have used 1 therm in 11 days.. pretty credible… the guy on the phone tells me I have a $14 credit. Thank you, I say. But today…I get a bill for $144.00 with various hocus pocus figures and credits which go back to January and after a high-decibel conversation with a calm Con (ed) artist, it seems in 4 months, with no gas use at all for 2 and minimal use for the last one (addicted to the electric pan, I am) I have used more fuel than in the entire year of 2006.

What about the guy who guaranteed I owed nothing? Forget him. He’s gone. Mistake.
Why does this remind me of my teenage son who when he comes home 3 hours late, screaming and accusing me of some horrific maternal crime? Not only am I being swindled, ripped off, and punished for their deficit, but I was humiliated by the phone agent who accused me of trying to wriggle out of my bill which was months outstanding. Would you pay for gas you aren’t receiving? Estimated bills for imaginary gas while you are spending time and energy and CASH finding alternate energy sources? Where is the compensation? When I had my flood the insurance company advised me to get a hotel room and bill my neighbors. Right. My life was completely zonked for 2 years and my neighbors didn’t even pay for a mop. Or apologize. The building management switched and the new people don’t know anything about it. The former company won’t return my calls. I’m no longer a client. In fact I have maybe the status of a rat which we all know outnumber the citizens of Manhattan by like 8 to 1.

So who is going to stand up to Con Ed for me? My building management which has literally never returned my calls because I am the smallest shareholder in the building and have no loud-mouthed husband in a suit with a job that has priority over building-management employee? I wear jeans, carry a musical instrument and do not have a cellphone or a housekeeper. This translates as ‘delete all messages’. My loudmouth kids? They scream at me, not for me.

I spend my Saturday trying to reason with Con Ed agents who get paid well for refusing to participate in logical or feasible conversations with anyone who has an issue with a bill. In fact, they assure me I am lucky they didn’t charge me more, that this seems in fact ‘cheap’ and they just might really charge me next month, or cut my gas off again if I think I am consuming conspicuously and might have a leak. How about my neighbor who caused the shutdown? Accountability? Forget about it. Go play your guitar.

If I could return the goddam stove I’d happily do without. I’ll use sterno until my son goes off to college. I’ll rub sticks together. I went to a consumer site online where there was a complaint from a couple with a small apartment who received an electric bill for $1,700. Not one response because everyone is busy watching the tennis. In case you are reading, couple in Nolita, I feel for you. I will dedicate a song to you tonight. Maybe if the 3 of us band together, we will have the power of a dead rat against these Con artists. Is anyone out there? Anyone willing to boycott and use candles? Anyone that realizes these people have us by the balls and threaten to cut our lifelines if we don’t overpay?
Maybe I can harness the rats to run an alternative power wheel. Hilary? Mike? Barak? Mr. Skilling? Is anyone listening?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Unnatural Selection Part 1

Watching the BBC at 6 AM, I get a bit panicky about how little of the real world-news is filtered into our Manhattan apartments. Our Senator Craig’s little escapade certainly sucked airwave time from candidate repartee, Princess Diana memorials, celebrity rehab and competitive adoption stories. It’s not enough that rich people amass cars, homes, wardrobe, ex-spouses. Now they compete for family-size. And since hired surrogates are changing most of the diapers, why bother wasting 9 months of possible discomfort when you get the same glossy spread with your ready-made little adoptee? And if you pick a non-matched set, you get of course extra points for compassion and political correctness.

Back to Africa. Darfur, Sierra Leone….even Hollywood got involved last year. And I begin to realize not only how little I know but how much I’ve forgotten since high-school World History. So I bought this book—kind of a text book thing, which begins at the beginning, in the era of Pangea—and I am reminded that nearly all life forms originated in Africa. Its fossil and mineral-rich underbeds hold the key to understanding not only the process of evolution, but the dynamics of human survival-economics.

Survival is something we Americans rarely consider, except as simulated entertainment, or in conjunction with illness. But when you really go back and look at the MO of our ancestors, there seems to be little biological hope that goodness and generosity and higher values will ever prevail.

There is, of course, a general rule among natural species, that when need is greatest, selfish behaviour predominates. If this were not the case, a compassionate species might have survived more than 2 generations. Sated animals do show affection for their own kind—the instinct for ‘play’ and interaction even motivates their behaviour. But when hunger or thirst is unattended, all bets are off.

So what is it that makes my Manhattan neighbors so hungry and thirsty that they share their excesses only to the degree that there is some kind of applause? Is the gene for generosity permanently recessive? Are the Astors and Rockefellers and Roses giving only the unwieldy excess? And how about you and I? My neighbors who are somewhat newly comfortable seem to be amassing ‘kill’ beyond what they can possibly process. Is this an inborn animal instinct that has become ‘refined’ into need for possessions and equipment so far beyond biological basis? Is it a symptom of emotional or spiritual deprivation? Depravity?

My son came back from a weekend in the Hamptons. He stayed in a home where there was an indoor glass-walled garage for the family Lamborghinis and Ferraris. One of them, the son told him, cost their Dad more than 3 million. A car no one drives. Anyway, when my son got back to the city, his foot began to itch and swell. It was huge. Maybe you’re turning into a pumpkin, I joked. But not for long, because I’d been reading my book on Africa and began worrying about exotic insects. So we went to the doctor who prescribed expensive antibiotics and antihistamines for his swollen foot. Personally I think he was bitten by the enormo-bug, the one that keeps these people in the market for bigger and bigger houses, more and more undrivable cars, bigger hypodermics of botox and skincreams. Swollen heads, swollen wallets, swollen needs only the capacity of a world-web can entertain.

Historical evolution teaches us the bigger they come the harder they fall. Although thus far in my adult lifetime these principles do not seem to apply. We have messed up the environment, introduced all kinds of synthetic chemicals, distorted the global climatic patterns…so what is in store? The survival of the richest? That seems to be the new deal. Even the coming mortgage crisis won’t level any field we have here.

I read somewhere a beheaded cockroach can live for 8 days and then will die of hunger. Beheaded humans die instantly. Then again, cockroaches have been here a lot longer and will likely continue to outlast us no matter how rich the exterminators get. So who wins?
I bet on the bugs. I may be bugged by the Lamborghini family, but their kids are allergic to bee-stings. By the way, my son asked me if he can sue them for the damage to his ankle. Maybe I should bet on him.