Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Bear Stearns Crash Diet

So whatever happened to American justice? Are rich people just worth more, the way the heavier populated states have more delegates? What if delegates were allotted according to the proportion of money generated by each state? Hmmm…..

Seems to me the punishment should somehow fit the crime, that being caught selling a joint to your friend for $2 shouldn’t be equated with selling several thousand kilos via a network. Magnitude. Restoration. Seems to me these Bear Stearns bastards should have to pay, maybe do some prison time, be fined and stripped of their goods in direct proportion to the damage they caused. What kind of example is the Fed setting here? Or is this deal, as Rogers commented, ‘welfare for the rich’? How is it that hundreds of employees have lost their jobs, while the true criminal minds have been airlifted to safety?

My teenage son has been guilty of much rule-breaking at school, has not taken seriously the onus of detention, the threat of suspension. But at the same time, the principal at his high-profile school does not want a negative statistic on her record. He knows this, and continues to cross the line, whereas at the high-school across the river, poor kids are tossed for less than this.

Another parable: the overweight kid who, for his own health, must be forced or encouraged to exercise. But he refuses. So, his overpaid nanny bribes him with a cookie. He does a few jumps and hops, returns to the bench. Another cookie. Ups the ante. Until the whole box—every day— just to get him on his feet. By the third month, no way is he giving up the cookie habit. He’s fatter and fatter…blood sugar rising. Doctor orders ‘cold turkey’. But now, the cookie company will see a downturn in daily sales. So do we secretly cut a deal? What now?

Fat people do not like to have their plate taken away. Alcoholics do not like it when the bartender pours coke in their shotglass. And investment bankers are not willing to give up their excessive cookie money, no matter how many employees and American communities they must ruin to keep their bellies padded.

Have any of you seen this film ’Body of War’? The defense department, Dick Cheney, George Bush and John McCain should be strapped into a straightback unpadded chair and forced to screen this repeatedly. For that matter, now that Prince Harry’s been shipped home, how many boys in these wars gave up seven –figure incomes for the privilege of fighting? How many Bear Stearns sons are fighting in uniform? Why doesn't the Fed show them the money?

A protest was held in the Bear Stearns lobby yesterday. A journalist friend of mine described the demonstrators as ‘poor people’. This pissed me off. I think these Bear Stearns guys should be lined up and made to put their money in a pot. All of it. Then their lines of credit, their stock and gold shares, their overpriced condos. They can’t give back the holidays in the Caribbean, the private school tuition, their wives’ plastic surgery expenses. But they should be held responsible to the extent they profited from their bad behaviour. That word again. Accountability. These guys don’t like giving up their million-cookie ration. Instead they like pointing their finger at Eliot Spitzer and tormenting the tenants of my building and taking advantage of the rules and then burdening us with lawsuits so their kids can have more cookies than all the kids in China and Africa put together, in 10 lifetimes.

At least in the UK the judge shamed Heather Mills for her greed and gall. And Paul McCartney didn’t wheel and deal and steal for his billions. He made something. These bankers make nothing. They borrow and lend and squeeze and then legislate and manipulate, eat all the cookies and sit on the bench with the Feds. They con the rest of us out of our own and refuse to give them back.

I smell the smell of American sewage. I smell the smell of BS. This is a rotten state of affairs. The only hotseats here this month are those of our former and current governor whose middle-aged sex lives seem to sell more papers than the biggest scam of the year.
These guys have made off with all the cookies. And in case the cookie-makers are bankrupted, the Fed and JP Morgan will make sure they have plenty of cake. Brownies.

Want to know where to find the money to quell the housing crisis? From the bastards that caused it in the first place. Let’s play the film in reverse and make them give back all the commissions. But first to the wounded vets and their families. Then to the wounded middle class. And just to show them how justice works? Let the Bear Stearns executives earn minimum wage while they clean up the mess. I’ll sleep better. And while they’re figuring out how to pay for the family’s pizza and coke on an average American salary, they might remember how to do real math.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Women and Children Last

Bianca has mold, the Helmsley has bedbugs, and I’ve got Bear Stearns in the house. Like green slime, these investment banking types have seeped through walls and usurped larger and larger apartments in my building. Surreptitiously, like a growth—they wheeled and dealed, wined and dined the gullible and naïve among us, flipped mortgages until—lo and behold, hocus-pocus three-card Monty—they have a majority, have voted themselves via secret blackberry-driven bloc onto the pivotal seats of the board of this old venerable co-op and now sit there like shiny new Porsches in a used-car lot.

And they are hungry, these boys. They are hungry beyond what is humanly possible to consume in a lifetime. It is hard to imagine what happened or didn’t happen during the adolescence of these people…because where most of us move on to a life and some semblance of maturity, they are stuck in that infantile phase where one cups one’s hand over the testpaper and looks over at the desk beside. Just checking! Or those furtive sidelong locker-room glances. The rolled-towel smack to cover it up. Hmmm…

Good thing we had that nasty Eliot Spitzer scandal to distract us from the version of 3-card Monty played by Wall Street, the Fed, Bear Stearns and JP Morgan who appeared like a fairy godfather to wave their wand over the whole matter. While America downloaded the latest Girls Gone Wild video and rated the Emperor girls alongside their NCAA brackets.

But what really happened? That $2 a share price. Well, seemed like a good deal to me. Apparently only for the bottom half of the totem pole, the meat and potatoes of the firm-- those in operations, salaried workers with pensions who are now unemployed and reeling from having their bear-rug pulled from beneath them. The ‘caviar’ of the firm? The players? The ones who cheat the government by claiming an on-paper salary of $200,000 and receive 7 and 8-figure bonuses even when the billions of dollars is loss? They cut a deal with Uncle JP. Not only were they not punished, but to console the poor humiliated criminals…they received huge bonuses and awards of Morgan stock to seal the deal. In other words, they threw their rank and file under the bus so they wouldn’t miss a single 5-star meal. And of course the stock has risen. God and the Feds smile on JP Morgan.

In the good old days of true corporate spirit, everyone shared. Everyone took a pay cut. How about Bloomberg at the helm of our city ship? He takes nothing from the till. One has the feeling that if his companies and holdings were bleeding out, he wouldn’t be pouring Drano into the holes the way these Bear Stearns executives did. Can you imagine their version of the Titanic? Fuck the women and children! Save the traders. A little submarine equipped with wireless service and sushi and vodka would have appeared to take them to safety. Of course… because they would have been the beneficiaries of the insurance policy, would have sold the ship the insurance in the first place—no backs! Etc., etc. They may even have been filmed by TV cameras contributing to the Titanic memorial fund once safely onshore and dry, with sad TV faces.

Well, at the moment these peg-head crooks are at the wheel of my building, my home. They don’t even know the place— they just got here. They don’t have a home, they have ‘homes’. They trade real estate and sometimes roost there long enough to turn a profit. When they are bored on Saturdays they smoke a cigar together and plan how to take over the building. Like a merger. First they will bankrupt the small shareholders. They will vote in expensive unnecessary improvements and services. A gym. Yes, a gym, because many of the older tenants are handicapped, have had a stroke, and can scarcely make it to the elevator. A yoga room! A play room! They will even hire their architect friends and receive commissions! Pocket money! Don't forget expensive faux-furnishings for the lobby. Oh such fun to run up a bill the old homesteaders won’t be able to pay. Compulsory manicures? No, that’s silly. That was from one of the attractive wives who is on the nouveau decorating committee. Can she tell real wood from fake? Of course not, silly! But they can also cause massive service inconveniences and refuse to compensate. They can flood and drill and crack old walls and install air conditioning vents in windows of the poorer apartment-residents, so eventually, if they are not dead of stress, they will give up and sell their shares for $2. Just like the corporate model!

They say the meek shall inherit the earth. Well, these are the nouveau meek. The old guard has been driven to a sorry state by this corporate bedbuggery. And this building is a corporation…it is illegal for the government to interfere with the ‘will’ of the corporation, no matter how the old majority hands have been bilked and tied and our mouths gagged. How come the Feds come running in to bail out the banks and no city agency will witness the criminal and reprehensible behaviour of these insatiably selfish people? We couldn't even get a crooked inspector to do battle with the slime because they had already been paid to not return our calls.

My old building had a lending library in the laundry room. When there was a strike, we all manned the elevators, bagged up the trash. When our finances were low, the richer of us bought paint and painted. We cooked for one another and shared Christmas cheer. The green thumbs planted the garden. We babysat and borrowed and loaned our children.

Good Friday. I stopped by the Morgan Library tonight…thought about old JP and looked at some of the Books of Hours on display. Thought about all the great old masters he could have bought instead of the Bear Stearns pretenders. I also thought about justice. “JP”, I said, to that great portrait—“these people belong in prison, not on your staff! They are Judases and Enrons. You know what they’re up to! Sam Waksal is a schoolboy by comparison.”

On the way home I gave my change to anyone homeless even though I scarcely have money for bread tonight because of the pretentious hideous faux-furniture for the lobby which no one will sit on. And has anyone noticed the price of eggs these days? Forget about gas and oil—it’s Easter.

The lobby as I enter now looks like a once beautiful woman in drag with garish make-up. You want to leave it behind as quickly as possible. But there is a God. I know it. His son was crucified on this day. Unforgivable. He rose and forgave. On the other hand, I am not a god. But the Bear Stearns 'heroes'? On Easter these people will eat Godiva bunnies. They are praying to St. Bart's. I will be looking at my drilled out bathroom—the one my new neighbors-on-the-board apologised about and promised to fix the next day, and now basically tell me to shove it. I have the status of a share of Bear Stearns stock. I remember my old building…in my bathroom… ‘Andy was hear’ on the wall. I miss him. I miss everything great. Everything real. Even Andy-style real. I hope Andy rose, God.

Does anyone remember several months ago there were bedbugs in Spitzer’s father’s building? Was this an omen? A plant? An ironic parallel to the bugs and wiretaps on his son? Come back, Eliot. Next to these people, even you are a saint.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dear Mr. Spitzer:

Dear Mr. Spitzer:

I’d like to say I know how you feel, or I feel for you, but I’m no longer sure of this. Alan Dershowitz and I were hoping you’d tough it out and not let the bastards get you. After all, at least you’re heterosexual. And $80,000 is trivial these days. Not even the annual gubernatorial clothing allowance (quite a pricey suit you were wearing to walk the dog when I passed you on Fifth Avenue recently!). Far less than a year's triple tuition at Horace Mann. Not enough to even suggest an addiction. And you had the moral rectitude to use your own money. I was a little charmed by the innocent way your neighbor observed you repeatedly withdrawing your ATM maximum like a law-observing customer. Not establishing an offshore account like some of your colleagues. And how many of these breathed a temporary sigh of relief that Kirsten or Kristen or Amanda hadn’t given their pseudonym to the FBI in exchange for whatever they might have been offered. The book deal will be huge. Not to mention the Hard Copy payment. If Jennifer got 6 million for a picture of the twins, what might they offer for Kristen’s cellphone?

But what happened to the good old days when these well-paid employees had class and style, not to mention sufficient dedication to the job not to violate the old honor code? Is there no binding contract? No one you can sue in turn? And were you not paying top price for hygiene, for manners, for that je-ne-sais-quoi? Whores are not what they used to be. Nor is honor among thieves, as you have learned the hard way. My 18-year-old found Kristen marginally attractive. Not the kind of girl he’d have bothered to take back to his spring-break hotel room because, as he said, she looked like she might be the coyote Sunday kind. She looked desperate. He could have found you a better alternative-- closer to home-- and without a weakness for FBI drama. Makes me almost want to start my own brothel. It’s certainly as respectable a profession as massage and I could find you some women who are a lot more competent than half the TV shrinks who’ve been running their botoxed mouths on CNN.

So was it the thrill of the chase? Were you not informed that the FBI had staked out your hotel several weeks ago? And if not, I find your lack of private vigilance charming as well. Do you not get points for your naivete? For risk-taking? For catering to a human need? For a kind of charity? Was tennis boring? Or were you framed? Don’t you watch Law and Order? You went to Princeton and Harvard. Are you going to allow a twit like that bring down the house? Okay.... your wife is devastated. Or not. She looks pretty smart. Your kids. But it’s done. FEMA may not come to your assistance, but I will. Alan Dershowitz will.

And it’s not just my sincere frustration that the crooks on Wall Street— those billionaire brats who maybe put the FBI up to this in the first place— will be running as free as the rats on Park Avenue tonight. They are celebrating with treasures from the wine cellars of 5-star restaurants which will be paid for by their corporate expense accounts. Some of these are sharing their best vintage with a paid escort-- not Kristen but one who (dressed) could pass for an employee or consultant or daughter. And it’s not just the loss of term-closure or the sting of defeat, even though I actually believed that you were going to exterminate some of the vermin who have polluted our city and state and economy.

I think, on top of it all, I am disappointed in your taste. I was expecting at the very least some Elizabeth-Hurley type. Not a hamster-eyed Jersey girl with a dysfunctional past and a tabloid reading-list. For $4,300 an hour, I expected someone--well, less 'cheap'. Maybe not a Rolls Royce, but not a Honda. I wanted some hot gorgeous thing to convince me this was all about sex and passion. Even Hugh Grant had better taste. And he didn’t back down.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about tonight: Remember your kids, when they were little? How they picked one story…one tape, one TV show…a song…and they played it over and over. Until it came out of our ears and eyes and wound into our dreams and nightmares and forever and ever will be a madeleine of fatherhood. But at a certain point, they moved on. They wanted variety. And like the internet generation they are, they began to need variety. Like a drug. They don’t even have dog-eared White Albums and Last Exit and Are You Experienced. They just delete and delete. Download and delete. Is that it?

Here’s what else I’m thinking about. Loneliness. Abandonment. Not just the kind you’re going to suffer in coming months, but the kind you might have suffered all those months you were making the ATM withdrawals.

Forget about the apology. Come clean. Are they threatening to hurt your family? Give us the real story. We’re not as dumb as we look. And we’re certainly smarter than to buy into an organization named like a cheap hotel from one of Bangkok’s seedier neighborhoods. Give us a story. My favorite Springsteen tune is Candy’s Room. I went to the same schools as you. You owe me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Public Detention

My son who is habitually out of sorts with his school administration has just informed me that it doesn’t matter whether you are licking cocaine off your history textbook at lunch which you financed with the very same tongue before homeroom by servicing a senior boy. What matters is how you look-- the first commandment of all teenagers-- and also apparently whether your notes are neat and orderly when the proctors come in to observe your class.

What my son has unfortunately not learned at this juncture is that you must put the proper face into use when proctors come into the room or somehow maintain a status quo and not insist on rocking the boat of those who hold your fate in their petty bureaucratic hands. At least not until you’re old enough to pay your own way and make your own decisions and properly maintain your own personal moral code.

This is something he has in common with our poor governor who has simultaneously delighted local news parasites and boosted their pathetic ratings, while distracting us from dismal economic news and depressing democratic campaign tactics. Another victim of hyper-vigilant bureaucrats whose own lives and careers are precarious and in need of a little media acclamation like a steroid shot.

Only in America does a man’s private life merit this kind of feeding frenzy. Only in America would a political figure, in an important political year, with the economy turning into fairy dust, have to consider abandoning ship because he had a professional appointment with a woman he paid for out of personal, not public money-- for something that should be processed as personal training or a massage. Only in America, land of rampant pederasts, perverts, molesting priests, soliciting senators and billions of dollars in questionable earmarks moving freely day by day, do we point the Uncle Sam finger like a gun. While half the world is starving, trillions of dollars bleed out everyday on presidential wargames, our FBI boys are proudly spending millions of tax dollars to ensnare a politician whose version of hubris, I admit, was getting tiresome. How about John McCain and the lobbyist? I guess he didn’t actually pay her….or did he? How many payments go unlogged every day…how many meals, earmarks, favors...billions of dollars each month…in bribes, cover-ups, wasted funds? Don't forget our own Giuliani and his Judith Nathan… not to mention every single congressman or senator who fools around with a staff member; always convenient to pass favors between people on the same payroll.

I had a brief internship during college in Washington. Believe me, maybe times were different, but no one in a position of power would have to pay for sex unless they wanted to make absolutely sure the woman would keep it professional and private and clean.

Eliot Spitzer has made a lot of enemies, but any of us who are naïve enough to think that this is about sex…well, think again. You’ve all read those Scott Turow novels. The comic icing on the cake was that pathetic Mrs. McGreevey. Maybe she didn’t get enough from her book to finance Botox-for-life. If I were in Mrs. Spitzer’s position, I would find that far more insulting than her husband’s behavior. Besides, at least he’s heterosexual, always reassuring for the wife.

It’s a Democracy, not a Hypocrisy. But as my son says…what matters is how you look. Hilary’s eye surgery, McCain’s necklift. Let’s move on. The fault is with the FBI, hemorrhaging tax dollars on this kind of thing when federal and state corruption, bribes and embezzlement cost us probably half of our annual tax budget. Getting paid to investigate great looking women who probably actually pay taxes? Give us a break.

Let Eliot serve detention with my son who was caught texting his girlfriend in class without a pencil…whatever… and then move on to business. The Board of Ed is not paying for his cellphone bill and from the letter I got in the mail yesterday they are going to be paying for $238,000 less at his school. Why don’t we take the money they’ll waste on crucifying Spitzer and give it back to the Board of Ed? Leave him alone…let’s get those Wall Street criminals who have bankrupted our economy a little nervous. A lot of people were celebrating last night. Does that get anyone thinking? Apparently not.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dress Code

I think I’ve been mourning Heath Ledger. Not that I knew him or anything. I did see him in a bar one night, looking unshaved and a little disoriented, although I may be attaching that judgment retroactively, which is unfair. Celebrities need a disguise sometimes, and there’s no camouflage as effective as 'unkempt'. When you’re badly dressed you’re invisible.

One Christmas in the old days of New York I had to pick up a gift for someone on Madison Avenue at some pretentious boutique where I’d normally be watched by security as a potential thief or stalker. So this bearded skuzzy guy attaches himself to me, and seems literally to be shadowing my every move like a monkey. I get a little nervous, knowing I’ve got my friend’s wad of cash stuffed into my back pocket, and I give the salesman that look. ‘Mr. Jagger’, the salesman pronounces in this sycophantic tone…’I’m so sorry…’ and it seems Mick himself is wearing a beard and army coat and trying to avoid some paparazzi hound by concealing himself behind the unphotogenic me. He apologized and I was so astonished I accidentally came away with some form of grace. I bought the whatever-it-was and got the bonus celebrity-brush anecdote we New Yorkers act as though we could care less about.

What does annoy me are these little perfectly-coiffed salesgirls at Club Monaco and Banana Republic who are making undoubtedly less than the Starbucks baristas but who manage to convey complete disgust for people of my age who obviously have not cultivated an addiction to their merchandise.

So I ask myself…what is my building’s aversion to our homeless woman-visitor who is better dressed than either Mick Jagger or Heath Ledger on the two occasions I shared a moment? Does she remind them of their neglected mother or aunt? Is she a personification of guilt, a reminder of all the less fortunate people they overlook in their mad fashion-furious quest for ever-more décor, more clothing, better cars, invitations? Have they been watching the ‘Real’ Housewives of New York? These women whose grammar and diction betrays a level of class that is as slim as the latest ipod model? Do they realize how whisper-close they can be to either society? That their address, just nano-seconds ago in universe-time, was maybe a slum or a castle for the local rats who really have little prejudice and are just as happy in their Park Avenue digs as they are in the sewer.

I came in Saturday night, noticed yet again the empty stool placed for our latest version of ‘doorman’ who is nowhere to be found in the wee hours despite a salary which would easily house and care for this poor woman. After a brief exploration, I frightened said- employee in the laundry room, absorbed in a film on his portable dvd player. I apologized and left. I don’t want to cause his family to suffer by ratting him out. Besides, he’s at least keeping the rats out of the laundry room during these hours, although there’s very little damage they are inclined to do in there. Maybe romp a little. Snack on the dead waterbugs stuck on the gluetraps. Recycle.

If the newly-hyphenated residents of my building are so concerned with security, why don’t they employ the homeless woman to stand there and keep out undesireables? She could use the gig and she is much more conscientious than the security employees, appreciates the job and, in a way…belongs? She's better-mannered than most of them, doesn't judge me by my clothing. She's probably smarter and actually reads the Wall Street Journals stacked in the vestibule at 5 AM. Besides, they could use the money saved for an even more pretentious set of lobby furniture because the stuff they’ve selected for now looks---well, pedestrian. It’s like a doctor’s waiting room, frankly. What was there before, one might ask? The most tradable and coveted of all New York City commodities. Space. Empty, unoccupied, glorious space. The sign of luxury…class… old New York… grandness of scale… generosity.

Things without a name, without a price tag… make these newly-rich nervous. They don’t know quite how to behave. Stuck in an elevator with a delivery man? They have nothing to talk about. Forced by some natural or man-made disaster to survive among the non-labeled? Unthinkable.

As for me, I do not discount the possibility that the homeless woman is an angel, a sentinel. I strongly doubt this, because I have a feeling angels do not have that earthy scent. But we need her…as a reminder, maybe even a small annoyance…although unfortunately all the ones that need reminding are in Ambien-induced slumber and have forgotten about the magic of New York nights and the reason this real estate was coveted in the first place. At least Heath knew about this. He was just a little innocent. I miss him. Unfortunately it is most likely that the tenants who take over his pricey loft will not inherit his values.