Thursday, January 31, 2019


Last night I came home from a gig in the freezing tailwind of a tempered arctic weather-pocket-- three subways and a couple of cold stretches on foot with my gear.  Shivery, I turned on late-night television, along with a brief blast of warmth courtesy of my otherwise underused hairdryer.  Not much to watch, except My Lottery Dream House-- where this utterly charming host shows recent ticket-winners three alternate choices of new digs, with new money, and they choose.   The host/agent is someone you want to hang with at a bar-- this helps.  He is kind and warm and the scenario is one which keeps many poor Americans hopelessly addicted to leaking major portions of their hard-earned salary to Lotto dreams.  It's a lot more democratic than those Bravo shows--- Million Dollar Listing, etc... where we watch toxic real estate agents and their more toxic clients greedily wheeling and dealing and spending more than ten times my average annual income on open house entertainment.

Two weeks ago, the day that the $238,000,000 Manhattan apartment closed, I began this blog.  Thinking about that apartment, to be delivered as a 'White Box', according to press, makes the Lottery Dream House shoppers look provincial and homey.  In fact, I cannot imagine any Lottery Dream House contestants taking on the Manhattan real estate market where their average windfall winnings would dwarf into maybe a one-bedroom uptown.  Income requirements in most buildings in New York are far beyond those of even the luckier Lotto millionaires.

I am currently reading a book called Dark Money (also a film,  2018) which I highly recommend.  The manipulation of not just our economy but public opinion and political systems by these cloaked communities of highly moneyed individuals and self-interested foundations is not just nauseating and evil, but revelatory and jarring.  It explains and accounts for the disturbing misuse of ethics and religion to solicit unwitting American dream-buyers onto these horrific bandwagons which are puppeted by money machinists.  I have also been reading a brilliant investigative journalist named Lucy Komisar who has been following the Dark Money for many years; her exposés of offshore bank accounts and trillions of non-taxed unreported dollars are riveting.  I am not the writer she is and sadly unequipped to explicate the shameful state of our oligarchic economy. But Lucy reveals the facts behind the horrifying polarization of extreme wealth and the epidemic of poverty and inequality that co-metastasizes while we look at our phones and share our tiny narcissisms on Instagram.

For years I worked in a gallery which was a living 'White Box'.  It was a backdrop for paintings and objects which showed without prejudice or context as pure living art.  The space was easily transformed with lighting, with people-- without.  Empty, at night, I could play my guitar and experience the chill of real acoustic reverberation.  One large room, and the sense of space most of poor New Yorkers are denied both on the streets and in our tiny barely-affordable apartments.

But for these hedge-fund owners-- the ones who pay no taxes and set up fake philanthropic foundations which garner goodness points but are really just tax shelters and loopholes which leapfrog to the next level of ownership-- a White Box is a kind of diploma.  I mean-- who needs 16 bathrooms?  I can barely clean one.  Having grown up in a family of mostly women with only one-- well, we survived, didn't we?  There is actually a funny episode on Lottery Dream House where the big winner wanted a home in the Hamptons.  When asked what his priorities were, he answered--  "We're in the Hamptons, so we want lots of bathrooms!"  I visited my rich friend once in one of her luxury Manhattan renovations which she regularly flipped; when I remarked on the fragile tilework, she replied-- you don't think we're going to USE that bath, do you?

For the rest of us, I recommend the series of photographs Gordon Parks took of a Harlem family in the 1950's, where their one bathtub served overtime as both washing machine and storage.  In my first apartment, the living-room bathtub often served as an extra sleeper.  But these were the days of old New York-- when millionaires lived on Park Avenue and were relatively quiet and even a little sheepish about their spending and collecting.  Those innocent days when journalism served to inform the public and people listened or did not and usually had a conscience and were appalled at what they saw and some of us tried to change things.

In my closet I have several white boxes.  One holds cotton spools and threads of all colors.  One is filled with tiny patchwork samples of printed cottons I have collected over the years.  One holds colored papers--- origami, wrapping tissues and samples of things.  I open any one of these and a night is passed-- of memories, color, visual collages... and then back in the treasure box, back in the closet.  I feel rich-- me in my bed, dreaming in technicolor of my old mother with her knitting-- the two of us, in the yarn store, holding naturally-dyed skeins next to one another, imagining our blankets and sweaters and scarves.

A White Box, as opposed to a Black Box, implies some kind of architecture or system which is visible although not available for tampering.  The Black Box is utterly invisible, except for input and output response.  It begins to occur that this $238,000,000 White Box would not be affordable without the Black Box mentality behind it.

Ken Griffin, the hedge fund manager and White Box buyer,  has spent about 700 Million dollars recently snatching up real estate and breaking records.  He makes poor Michael Dell's $100,000,000 apartment look positively paltry.  Ken has recently gone through a hostile divorce and obviously has money to pare and shed.  Or to park in an apartment as opposed to the shaky banks.  He surely has a box in that building on the Cayman Islands where trillions of dollars sit, although there are only 45,000 official residents.  Or in Basel, where 1/3 of the world assets sit-- safely protected by the Swiss government or by shell companies and corporate 'layering'.  Also, we learn, he had an 'agreement' with the builders.  This means the same money that purchased also helped fund the building in the first place... my brain box hurts-- it's all a big 'shell' game.. and as my son tells me, at this level, the cash doesn't exactly change hands.  I mean, billions of dollars takes up space.  White Box Space.


Julie Tarney said...

I’ll take the white boxes in your closet over the ones with lots of zeros any day.

shelley slavin said...

Less is always more for me. Something is missing in a person when stuff means so much..... you are humble, honest and give gifts to all who are lucky enough to enjoy your talents. I’ll take that kind a rich over money any day

PH said...

Good Call....Spot On......Those Were The Days.....You Left Your Place And More Often Then Not, There Was A Lesson Waiting. THANKS