Thursday, May 22, 2008


My Godfather occupies one of the oldest seats on the NYSE and for some reason everything he’s ever pronounced still resonates economically in my underpaid brain. One such remark was ‘the stupidity of the American people is beyond anything I could ever have predicted 60 years ago.’ This popped into my head as I accepted a promotional bottle on a corner, two days ago, from a shy-looking girl who was obviously embarrassed at having to accept the humiliating work of what is essentially reverse-panhandling.

So to help her out, I took it, and being more thirsty than stubborn, I drank. The words on the side were: Smart Water. Now I’ve seen this label before, but suddenly all those ‘misplaced modifier’ alerts came into my head along with my Godfather’s comment. So if Americans are stupid, how can water be smart? Phones are smart, bombs are smart, so I’ve heard… and the water somehow managed, despite my Norton anti-virus subscriptions and identity theft insurance, to not only enter my house but pass through my intimate organs. What am I thinking? Did it have something to do with the label? Of course not. But I’ll bet there are a few out there who think by drinking this particular brand, they’ll be improved. The same ones who buy the info-mercial stuff endlessly. When it comes down to it, is it any more absurd that some herbs can make your male organ larger or rubbing your face with some rotary vibrator can erase your wrinkles? Maybe the herbs on your face or the vibrator somewhere else could give you a few chill minutes and reverse the temporary scowl-lines.

Do they still make those Baby Einstein toys? Do people think that this stuff improves their kids' SAT scores? How come Princeton Review and all those other services are making nearly as much as a small investment bank? And how come there are like 4000 times as many autistic babies? Maybe all this Smart-labeling is making us stupid. Certainly paying for water is the 21st century version of the Emperor's New Clothes.

We know water can’t be smart. And if it doesn’t make you smart, maybe it’s the brand for smart people. Like the Everyman library, which pretty much publishes the classics, read primarily by the educated. Another contradiction. Or that whole Whatever-for-Dummies series which is published by smarties who have made a killing selling manuals which mostly sit on the nightstands of people who are too lazy to follow directions and certainly are not going to invest the 20 hours or so required to read these things.

How many people can actually distinguish between Poland Spring, Evian, and Smart Water? And where do these actually come from? Are there standards and regulations the water bottlers must comply with? I once saw a truck driver of Poland Spring gallon containers filling up the glass bottles at a roadside gas stand in Maine with the station hose. Same water they used to wash down the outhouse floor. ‘Where do you think it comes from, lady', he laughed when he noticed me watching. ‘It’s the same goddam spring that fills up your toilet!’

The inanity of paying for water is part of my crankiness. And although San Francisco has outlawed plastic bottles, New Yorkers seem to prefer the pretentious disposability of the designer-clear…not to mention the environmental undesirability and the deposit. I wonder if Midwesterners walk around with these bottles? Somehow I get a vision of coke and beer drinkers. Americans are consumers. Bottling and selling water was genius. But how about bottled air? Maybe I should discuss this with Starbucks who have managed to charge monthly fees for the use of a wireless signal which in most places in Manhattan is ubiquitous. Maybe not secure, but for any of us who think our computers are private, think again.

Getting back to Starbucks: how about that new coffee for Dummies? Pike Place? Tastes suspiciously like MacDonalds. Swill and cheap swill. But for those who take their coffee with foam and sugar and flavors, who cares? For me, $2.28 for a dumbed-down version of coffee is unacceptable. I’ll have a smart coffee with that water, please. Trust me, I could write the Starbucks for Dummies instruction booklet; this is not the way to improve stock prices. When Mercedes has a tough year they don’t start putting Honda parts in their product. For that matter, why not serve Christmas blend every day? It’s better than any other of their coffee and it consistently sells out? Why reserve it for December? That’s marketing for Dummies.

In England M&M’s are called Smarties. They’ve been making blue and purple ones for years. Here it took like half a century to figure out that mostly brown and a few yellow, green, orange and red just wasn’t cutting it. Did it cost more to produce colors? Were they afraid of alienating conservatives who maintained that anything chocolate should be a shade of brown? Was there any difference in taste between the pale and the dark brown? Of course not. But now look at the prime real estate they occupy in Times Square. They must be drinking Smart Water.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Jean-Michel Crude

I had a minor meltdown moment in a ghetto grocery store tonight which promised 2 dozen eggs for $3 and predictably had no stock. When you’re paying with food stamps, this is no tragedy. When you are counting your own end-of-the-week available change, the wasted trek-time takes a toll. A year ago, these undersized eggs were everywhere and cost 99 cents.

For those complaining about the price of gas, the price of eggs is maybe less crucial. At least they have cars, and don’t have the added humiliation of hoisting overstuffed grocery bags onto public buses where the better-dressed and overdrawn move aside as though the symptoms of poverty are contagious.

On the bus someone has left a newspaper which informs us that Hilary has loaned her own campaign 6.5 million dollars, as though this is something to cause shame. What is shameful is a) the obscene sums of money spent on the most high-profile marketing campaign every four years, b) the obscene sums of money spent marketing any and all American products which double and triple their cost to the consumer, and c) how any true grassroots candidate can compete with the fast-lane politically overdressed A-list whose very income and portfolios are a chasm over which 98 percent of voters must step on their way to the polls.

Also in this paper is the report on this week’s impressionist and modern art auctions which are not much more than ‘flat’ but are tarted up as ‘healthy’ despite our impotent dollar value. Armed with $10 worth of this week’s pasta special, I begin to transfer my egg-wrath to the couple who purchased 22 million dollars worth of oil paint and canvas, and how they can live with themselves when they could have treated 10,000 kids at St. Jude’s for like 30 years, or fed the entire African continent. I’ll bet they complain about the price of gas, too. I’ll bet they try to act like anyone else when they pull their whatever-gas-guzzler up to the pump, sipping one of their mandatory 8 bottled water servings. Does anyone else find it strange that people are whining about gas and paying 1-2 dollars a bottle several times a day which amounts to …what…16 to 20 dollars a gallon…for something that is…absolutely free? Not to mention the environmental damage done by the masses of plastic debris which rivals carbon emissions any day and even has been shown to be a fairly effective carcinogen.

But back to the art market. Who sets these prices anyway? Those bow-tied sycophantic well-groomed figures with the catalogues who walk the auction-house floors like maitre-d’s smelling out the monied and aesthetically challenged who cannot confess they barely know the difference between Monet and Manet? The ‘market’? The unbridled, unregulated and highly manipulated art ‘market’? The 'haves' who want to entice the have-nots and will-haves to up the anti and keep desperate pace with ever-grander walls which need to be graced and hung with treasures which guarantee the taste and vintage of the owner?

And who decides what is genuine and what isn’t? The ones who know real Gucci from Canal Street? What about all those paintings with the dicey provenance that fall into a shadowy grey? Like religion, it is a kind of belief system. The Warhol Foundation sacrifies any questionable unsigned Warhol. They crank them out, too…we all know that…long after Andy’s large and over-silkcreened heart stopped beating.

And Basquiat, my old friend, whose work a handful of disreputables could identify without hesitation….what about that committee which documents his work? How many of you out there used to party and drink and drug with Jean-Michel and who of you can remember what you did or who you did it with the night before? Especially when there was a whole bunch of you doing the stuff together. I had a Basquiat--okay, I sold it for near-nothing, but a price I considered at the time to be obscene. And it was real. I watched him paint it, I gave him $100 for it. A bass player got drunk and pissed on it that night...I'll authenticate it anytime. I sold it to pay for an apartment. Unfortunately now I could have bought a townhouse. Or another 'cleaner' Basquiat. Which may or may not be real.

The barrels of oil begin to make more sense. Andy might be serving crude at his parties. At least $123 a barrel gets you something real, something which will power your truck or car or airplane as opposed to 3 million gallons worth you spend on that questionable painting of some mediocre camouflage which isn’t even signed but stamped by a foundation which stands to profit hugely by its sale? Makes the Campbell soupcans look ever more innocent.

And if our economy is ‘fueled’ by Wall Street, why can’t they figure out a way to make our cars go without making Dick Cheney and the Bush family and the Saudi Arabian bank accounts grow more obese every day? Looking at New York City during art week, those barrels of oil look damn cheap compared with all that art. Which in a dire energy crisis would heat your house for about 10 minutes.

How about that Elizabeth Peyton? Did she ever even meet Kurt Cobain? Sleep with him? I seriously doubt it, because that angelic portrait with the red lips looks more like Buster Brown. I’m not bragging, but I met him twice and both times he was stressed out and wrecked and had a wicked stomach ache. Somebody help me here. And while I’m on the unmitigated subject of contemporary art, does anybody remember that the Emperor in the fairy tale was Chinese?

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