Thursday, November 29, 2007

HIJACKED!

Does anyone else out there besides chickens and rabbits live in a coop? In the old days this was a democratic sort of housing arrangement whereby homeowners were able to own and maintain their building in a way that benefited individual residents and provided group protection in the form of insurance, tax benefits, and a bit of control over quality of life. The Board or governing body was democratically elected and voluntarily bound to make decisions in the best interest of the group. Coop stood for co-operative. Cooperation. Working Together. Old-fashioned values. Recycling protocol. Safety issues. Owner control of service contracts. Grass-roots ownership of the ‘company’ stock. Economy. Volunteer gardening, architectural advice, in-house counsel. A bit of urban Utopia.

Welcome to the 21st century where any semblance of grass-roots values has been mowed down by the breed of greedy Pacmen who make clever financial decisions for our country. Take the sub-prime mortgage scheme. What a novel idea. I’m surprised none of these inventive people were nominated for the Nobel prize because this was a truly visionary concept, was it not? To offer the less fortunate of us the opportunity to live briefly in a fairy-tale version of their life for absolutely no money down, while the giggling bankers pocketed commissions on both ends of these loans?

In fact, one of these men has made enough money with these fantasy commissions to buy up not one or two but many, many apartments in my building which he has combined and extended into a living space billions of times larger than his brain. Sadly, now that these loans are being called in, the clever architects seem to be hiding. Everyone seems to have passed the buck. So it lands in the lap of the overburdened, nearly-obsolete middle-class taxpayer--you and me. The new American camels.

And have these meddlesome middlemen lost their homes… or even their jobs? Negative. Layoffs are for the non-monied. For the camels, rabbits and chickens. These guys were clever enough to have invested their profits. Too late for the whistle-blowers and us horrified old-school honest mortgage-payers. They are my neighbors now. In the newly converted one-syllable version of ‘Coop’, because that is what they have made of their honest, democratic, considerate, cooperative neighbors from the 20th century. And in a great distortion of the old system, the largest and fattest of the neighbors have the most votes, so the rest of us must eat our cake with a generous dusty layer of sawdust and plaster from endless renovations while they are temporarily renting in quiet buildings. Or vacationing with their buddies in Dubai and Anguilla. Or living temporarily with their rich parents on Park Avenue in buildings which would never have allowed the sort of ‘coup’ they have pulled in mine.

And because they now occupy the most space here, besides being the loudest, they now occupy the pivotal majority seats on the Board. Is this because they were democratically elected? I would compare our coop elections to the Al Gore Florida vote-count. It was a behind-the-curtains manipulation, with bribes and telephone calls. A few threats, although, of course, we are unable to mention these now, because our management company keeps us in check. They as well stand to profit from the in-house transfers of shares, roof-right purchases, mortgage arrangements vis-a-vis these financial wizards. And other secret arrangements we are not allowed to know about, because we are the chickens and rabbits in the coop and we are not allowed to view the books or see the checks which they have written to one another with our money. Their personal architects have now been contracted to renovate the lobby. Referrals in this business are always appreciated with a generous commission. Their contractors, as well, who hire illegal Chinese laborers who receive a tiny fraction of union wages and who continue to use ropes and home-made pulleys to create unending noise in our courtyard where all of the second-class tenants live. Because this is the new American way. And if we complain, they might decide to build a luxury hotel on our poor old coop-roof. Or a parking garage. A casino. Their architects tell them this is ‘feasible’. No matter that our ceilings are caving in and our pipes bursting from their existing renovations. Not their problem. Nor their expense. We-the-oldtimers must pay for their errors. They are busy selling themselves the air-rights for next-to-nothing, so they can make Wall-Street-scale profits and keep them for themselves. And come to think of it, wasn't 'feasible' the descriptive adjective used by 9 of 10 board-certified plastic-surgeons as they prepared to swipe the credit card just before Kanye West's late mother's recent procedure? For those who didn't ace their SAT's, 'feasible' is nowhere a synonym for responsible, safe, reliable or recommended.

They have even drilled through our 100-year-old brick wall to put windows in our landmarked building. Of course this was in the courtyard. The management does not take the calls of chickens and rabbits. Do you remember the 1990’s when there was a general shake-down of corrupt coop management, with exposure of kickbacks and padded service contracts? These were days of relative innocence, because this has now become the norm. This is the way the 21st century does business. Every single contracted professional is now in the pocket of these people whose only motive in life is: you guessed it---profit. This is their own personal fantasy corporation. They are the CEOs, the Chairmen of the Board, the young monied overdressed and spoiled who had the fortune to have ‘come of age’ in the Reagan Era, and superimposed these values on the rest of us who remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy and listened to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix in small clubs. Who swore we would change the world. And that we would fight for peace and equality. That we would listen. That we would not harm or disturb our neighbors in the name of greed. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Like a constitutional right? Like one of the Ten Commandments? Like something from any one of the Gospels? Does anyone read?

Not. Welcome to America in the 21st century.

Help, I say. My building has been hijacked. It is being flown by disrespectful and inconsiderate terrorists that enjoy driving the seated majority into a nightmarish destination that was not mentioned on the tickets we carefully purchased not so many years ago with our hard and honestly-earned dollars. Not the inflated devalued excessive amounts our new pilots have paid with their disproportionate profits of disgrace. And here is the thing. We want our plane back. We the people. But we are seatbelted and tied. Quiet, the hijackers say. You are bothering us. We are busy flying with $100-a-barrel oil directly to the pot of gold in which we are also heavily invested.

Does anyone remember John Galt?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dead Poet's Society

I have this secret habit. I write poems. Yeah, I know…everybody writes poems. The goddamn bank teller at Chase has self-published. She gave me a copy last summer—it was called “poems in the key of life” (now where have we seen that before?)…no capitals, no punctuation….lines like ‘i wonder if u feel this too’. I told her I was jealous. When the word came out, I was trying desperately to be truthful. So I am jealous. I’m jealous of her perfect little manicured nails when she counts out the bills. I’m maybe jealous of the fact that she is published and I am not.
I’m leaving the bank with this image in my head of a pile of cubed jello on a plate because that is the way I processed ‘jealousy’ when I was like 4 years old and it somewhere sticks to that whacked-up part of my brainmess that compels me to form word-images that I produce as poetry.

Do I read the status-quo stuff? I do. And let me say, Writerless is a little disappointed in a lot of the crap they publish these days under the category. I get the Knopf poem-a-day email in April, National Poetry Month and sure, there are one or two in there that I can admire, but for the most part you figure someone is doing something to someone and pulled off this deal. The poetry editor (in the old days they used to tell us ‘those who can, write; those who can’t…edit’) herself puts out volumes that are of the caliber you might expect from your childrens’ middle-school literary online magazine. The one that doesn’t discriminate, the one with the millennial policy which dictates ‘a page for every child’. At least.

Have I ever submitted the stuff? I admit. Yes. Paris Review. Agni. Atlantic Monthly. Like buying a lottery ticket. They receive 100,000 per year…which averages out to about 500 poems a day for the poor overwrought poetry editor who has her own mediocre poetry to write in her head while she peruses yours and does desk-yoga and texts her boyfriend, edits her grocery list and fantasizes about lunch.

I’ve got a friend, a fairly successful (i.e. ‘employed-as-writing-teacher') poet, who claims that you’ve got to subscribe to the ‘system’…you have to enroll in a university MFA program, network, pay academic dues in the form of tuition and your reward is maybe one piece published in the university literary journal---a poetic ‘foot’ in the door. An iambic or dactylic pass onto the next level… another publication…

I suppose I could lie, use the name of my friend… say I’ve been published years ago, that I’m recovering from an aneurism and have renewed my career which predates online verification, but I refuse. I am resigned to posthumous success at best. At least I won’t be there to receive the rejection letter.

Anyway, I confess I recently applied for a short-term Advanced Poetry Workshop. Although the title confuses, a local fairly decent poet was running this, requiring manuscript submission, a certain level of seriousness, etc. So I printed out, Xeroxed, submitted-in-triplicate. Paid the $10 fee against all personal principles. Actually got accepted, was told that for the privilege of paying $800 I could attend 4 afternoon sessions with this woman and 4 other aspiring poets. So I replied that I was so grateful for the opportunity of having my work read, which was worth $10, but was not in a financial position to come up with $800.

They replied, offered me the chance of a scholarship. 50% off. This converts to $25 an hour, to read probably mediocre poetry written by people who were willing to shell out $800 for an audience. What if I am unable to repress a sneer? What if there is someone in a wheelchair with ALS who is writing their fears and I am coldly ticking off dollars-per-minute regret? So I declined, again.

What am I willing to pay, they now asked me. Could they be desperate? Could it be they lack their quota? But they also assure me there is a huge waiting list. Move on to the waiters, I reply. I am just so sick of begging. I can’t fill out any more forms. The humiliation of being a musician had made this no longer possible. I’d rather play the subway than apply for a grant. I’d rather die with my one brilliant comment from the New York Times and my dysfunctional wasted career.

Besides, I smugly know better than anyone when my poetry sucks and it generally does. One or two can pass the six-month or one-year test, but most of them are pretty mediocre. At least I have the perspective to acknowledge my own mediocrity which is comforting, in a way, because there is always the chance I will break through this designation.

So tonight once again I will sit and struggle with lines and lyrics, I will consult my daily scribbles which I occasionally mistake for literary epiphany, and continue to envy the bank teller not only her nails but the fact that she is proud of her work and generously self-promotes to someone like me who has at most a 3 OR 4-digit account balance. Also I maybe envy the fact that she has something to send her relatives for Christmas because despite my constant gigs and efforts, it has been years since I’ve had any kind of ‘product’.

And if there’s anyone out there reading, I am not going to offer the satisfaction here of a link or an appended poem. You’ll have to wait for the posthumous volume. Unless, of course, I win the poet’s lottery (laureattery?). Incidentally, do any of you know which fine contemporary poet is credited for ‘Gotta be in it to win it’?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Joker

I passed Bloomingdale’s the other night…the Third Avenue windows are featuring Andy Warhol, in some tribute or nostalgic fashionista sort of cheap reference. My favorite Andyquote on a placard in one display was ‘Art is what you can get away with”. Of course as anyone who actually studied art or tried to make some kind of cultural sense out of what now wears the art label, this is so ironically far from Truth, as Warhol well knew, and yet so aphoristically appropriate. Warhol, the cultural oracle, strikes again.

Of course Fashion has always been about what one can get away with. The Emperor’s New Clothes, etc. New York City is the capital centre. I live in a building of all-Emperors, now… wearing their bank-accounts, mentally naked as a jaybird. Of course, they point at me. I am badly dressed, vote like an old liberal, don’t tip the staff because they make more than I do, are maybe socio-economically in a higher strata, it seems pretentious and absurd-- besides, the staff is better clothed than I am. In fact I single-handedly lower the average income of my fellow tenants by double percentage points.

But I do know something about art. If I had an art portfolio I’d run it like a value manager. Value managers aren’t quite keeping up with the astounding geometric increases in money-stash of the hedge-fund rockstars. But also they know something about history.
The high-beta purchases of this market are certainly risky and for the short-term, but as for me, no dividend could be high enough to convince me to put a Jeff Koons anywhere near any collection I’d describe with a capital ‘A’.

Recently a reviewer observed that the Guggenheim museum, especially decked as currently with the output of Richard Prince, rather resembles a toilet. At the auction previews this week, it was not just a question of the Emperor’s New Clothes, but an entire Bryant-Park-worthy fashion show for such merchandise. And ‘merchandise’ is the word for the relentless, aggressive marketing of the auction houses whose stock and executive bonuses will rise or fall according to the success of their campaign. They have done well, these art puppet-masters who have enticed the nouveau-riche Americans to participate in yet another version of competitive greed—this one perhaps the most risky, the least understood… because they are not owning shares of a corporation or building a personal mansion, but will purchase essentially a few dollars’ worth of linen and paint, or a concept…scrap metal… reproductions, in Warhol’s case…autographed reproductions, with often-faked or posthumously sanctioned ‘autographs’….photographs, in other cases—not even prints, as in the old days, but C-prints—computer-generated digital images for which they pay six, seven and eight figures.

And is there a Dow Jones, a Nasdaq for these things? There is not. There are no experts, no service except the auction houses whose participation in the whole hocus-pocus is financially motivated-- the very auction houses, in fact, whose directors have been subpoenaed and convicted for illegal practices. The convictions were minimal when compared to the larger picture of obscene price-fixing and absence of control in this unbridled industry. Amateurs are walking the streets hawking images of twenty million dollar paintings which investors are falling over themselves to snatch up before the next wave of price-increases. Authentification committees have been created to preside over the procedures, many of whose Board members stand to profit from the very market they presume to protect.

And the auctions—the evening sales—these are the benchmarks—the source of the waves, the parade and interactive performance of the Emperors-- the blackjack tables reserved for million-dollar bets only.

I’d like to ask one of the ‘winners’—the one who forks over his millions and takes home a cartoon porcelain pig, or a gigantic purple reflective heart—the largest bauble they will ever see, something which could cost thousands of rupees if it were ordered at an Indian bazaar…and hangs it, with the distorted image of his home, his family, his own self---reflected in its cheap sheen…what kind of trophy is this? What kind of joke has been played?

You have to give Richard Prince credit for at least having the double-edged integrity to make his paintings as earnest as possible…hey, this is a joke that you are buying…a joke. A cheap comic-book nurse reproduction on a canvas, a tasteless one-liner that will hang in the new version of the drawing room. So who has ‘won’ here?

As my old mother used to say when she passed tastelessly-dressed or badly-mannered people on the street: “Do people no longer have mirrors?”