Bounce Castles and Bratwurst
The July event our family looks forward to ever year is a party held in Connecticut by Evil Jesus, the guitar player for Premature Strangulation. Premature Strangulation hasn’t played since their record breaking* world tour in 2015, but this annual gathering predates the concert series that served as a featured element.
After making a modest batch of Double Satanic Deviled Eggs and packing our children and other necessary accoutrements, we set out to make the journey from Queens to Killingworth. Despite typical heavy I-95 traffic, one children’s bathroom emergency and monsoon-like rains on I-91, we made pretty good time.
The Double Satanic Deviled Eggs were a hit, and others inspired by their long-standing success brought their own delicious but less Satanic versions.
It was a family-friendly event where children were so well occupied that attempts to check on them were met with a mix of perturbation and disgust. Older girls were magnets for young children and were incredibly gracious in minding toddlers. There was even a piñata that yielded great treats for the gathered children, and it was miraculous that no one was rendered unconscious with multiple youths swinging aggressively to break open the treat.
There was plentiful food and drink, but the real attraction is catching up with old friends. Our host, Evil Jesus, has known some of us since high school and others from college. Like his mother’s house was when we were in high school, his home is a center of an expansive social scene, a community. The guests at the party included includes Republicans, Democrats, Christians, atheists, lawyers, housewives, and other derivations of the human condition.
I met a young man who did extensive work in North Korea working to help reunite people with families in South Korea and has a grandmother north of the DMZ who has not seen family for decades. I learned another good high school friend is pursuing his dream of being a radio DJ, and heard about our host family’s recent trip to Paris.
The members of Premature Strangulation were not all there. The band has as many as nine members at any one time, like a more intoxicated and less-well-rehearsed Allman Brothers. Those members who were present discussed the possibility of getting together to play songs again. Maybe next year will be the reunion world tour that their adoring public is waiting for**.
The drive back was along less-crowded highways and under a clouded sky. Buzzing as best one can on diet Pepsi and Five Hour Energy, I was the only one awake for part of the drive. A slender golden moon haunted the night sky with a sense of beauty and adventure yet to come. Fireworks silently illuminated the sky from the far side of the highway.
Evil Jesus did it again. Another great gathering is in the books, and it produced good memories and good times, and a true sense of community. The human race needs more of this.
*largest concert attendance by a cover band in Killingworth Connecticut in the first-half of July on a non-leap year, according to the Evil Jesus Research Institute for Beer and Cynicism
**adoring public may be limited to sympathetic spouses, children, and pets
The start of a long, hot summer
The 7 train was unusually crowded coming home tonight, especially for the late hour. The consolation prize of working late at the office is that the trains usually aren’t as crowded. Not tonight. There’s no Mets game so there must have been a bad delay that is still making the trains more crowded. It happens all the time.
I don’t get out of work much earlier than 7 p.m. these days, and I’m usually at my desk well before 9 a.m. It’s at least an hour and change commute each way, but I can’t really complain. I have a job and the kids are fed and we have health insurance.
It’s a small office where I work. Everyone has too much work to do and not enough time to do it. We get emails on Sunday night which I do my best to ignore until Monday morning, but I can’t always. There’s always one more thing to mark on the calendar; we won’t remember it otherwise, and our work will suffer. None of us want to do a half-assed job but there are too many clients and not enough staff. The boss stopped telling us that “help is on the way” months ago. Now he fesses up that it will get worse before it gets better. I daydream about quitting all the time; I keep reminding myself that I have kids to feed and I need this job.
A woman who crammed herself onto the train at Queensboro Plaza is trying to move to what she thinks is a better place for her to stand, but she can’t get there. She’s asking people to move and they answer her back that they don’t know where else than can go. We’re all packed onto the train as tight as our bodies will allow. Some poor slob lucky enough to fall asleep on his commute has too much luggage in front of him and that throws everything off. The woman struggles in vain to make it to this coveted space, trying to nudge her way past people who don’t budge.
I was lucky that I got on at Grand Central and got a good spot to stand in. I try to read but wind up looking out the window of the train. It’s almost 8 p.m. and the setting sun shines a punishing glare across the city.
There is hate and violence in the streets of the country and it will get worse before it gets better. There is ineptitude at every level of governance and service and the promise of more of the same. There will be more fighting and less fixing at every turn.
The kind of political violence we’ve seen in other parts of the country has yet to really rear its head here this season, but it’s still early. I like to think that we’re an exception, that New Yorkers are accustomed to a certain level of general animosity and dislike for one another and that by necessity we don’t let it get out of hand. But this year could prove me wrong; it’s proven me wrong at every turn so far.
When I was in high school I was lucky enough to visit Rome. It’s a beautiful city full of great history and art. The people were nice too.
New York will survive and be here forever, long after the American empire has done the way of the Roman one. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for at this point. We do what we can and look out for our own, try to remain strong and leave our bloodlines in good shape for the future. Let our blood survive while society drives itself asunder. It’s happened before; we can fight one another but we can’t stand except from human nature or the forces of history.
This is going to be a long, hot summer.
Thankful in 2015
Thanksgiving is coming up and there are a lot of things to be thankful for. It is easy to look at the state of the world and feel that our generation got the short end of the stick and that things were better years ago. The human species has a habit of romanticizing the past to a fault. The present always looks lacking to Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular because we are an ambitious people who always see better possibilities.
But if we are living safely with food in our stomachs and a roof over our head, we should be thankful; there are a few billion people who would gladly trade places with us.
Here are some things I am particularly thankful for:
Family. I am lucky to not only have a wife and kids who love me but numerous other relatives and step-relatives who love me also. I can tap into the wisdom of several aunts and uncles, cousins, and my amazing grandmother, the indomitable matriarch who is our rock. My family has demonstrated time and again how to persevere through hardship and loss with grace and strength. I am lucky to be of such strong blood.
Health. No doubt my steady diet of weekend egg sandwiches has left me the worse for wear and my back is a scramble of slipped disks and strained muscles, but compared to many people, I am in very good health. I know too many family and friends who have suffered bad setbacks to take my health for granted.
Employment. While I have known great unemployment and underemployment in my time, I am currently gainfully employed at a stable company. Having worked as a journalist for nearly 15 years, I crossed over “to the dark side” of public relations last year. I landed in a good place with smart, friendly co-workers; a lot of people can’t say that.
Creative Ambition. One of the reasons I am lucky to have the family I do is that I’ve inherited my family’s desire to create. My family is full of writers, musicians, actors and more and I am honored to be among them. Being creative gives you a constant reason to live even when all else looks dismal.
America. While the American Empire is deep into its twilight, the America I grew up with and love is very much alive though casting a cautious eye towards the future. America is the greatest nation on Earth because it is my country. We have a lot of problems, but we have a lot of freedom that many people never see.
New York City. No city inspires as much simultaneous love and hatred from its inhabitants as New York. There is no other place on Earth that is constantly rewriting its own mythology and acts such a magnet for creativity and ambition. New York will outlive us all. As much as we hate to see New York change, we know it will never die as long as the Earth remains intact.
Two Presidential campaigns, one city
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have their presidential campaigns based in New York City. If both get their respective party nominations, we will have an all-New York presidential campaign. New York loves a big media circus, but America can do better.
Hillary Clinton moved to New York so she could someday run for president. She wasn’t the first person to do so. It was fitting that she held the seat Robert F. Kennedy once held, she was following his example. New York is now her political home. New Yorkers don’t resent her for this. Ours is the city of opportunity and even our current and most recent former mayor are originally from Boston. If she hadn’t quit her seat to run for president, New York voters would have returned her to the Senate even if she was found in bed with a dead girl or live boy.
Now Hillary Clinton is running for president again and her campaign headquarters is in fashionable Brooklyn. Democratic voters are desperate for someone else. She has unexpectedly fierce opposition from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who originally hails from the Brooklyn that was. There are so many strikes against Sanders by the dictates of conventional wisdom that his rise as a viable candidate is somewhat astounding. There are a few other candidates in the running for the Democratic nomination: former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
Donald Trump has been a New York City fixture since he was born. His father, Fredrick Trump, was actually a self-made man who started his construction business at age 15 and built things that weren’t tacky pieces of crap. Some of his earlier buildings have historic recognition in Queens. Donald Trump gets credit for investing and revitalizing parts of Manhattan and Atlantic City, but his business acumen is highly suspect and he’s been a famous bloviating loudmouth for decades. Like Democratic voters who are drawn to Bernie Sanders, Trump supporters are desperate for anyone who is not an empty suit corporate mouthpiece. Trump has taken populist positions that run counter to what corporate donors want to hear. If he’s not willing to spend a lot of his own money on his campaign, he will likely not win since his campaign will run out of money without the support of large wealthy donors.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump share some important things in common: both coasted to their notoriety through family connections, both will take whatever position will earn them the most votes, and both would rather enjoy the trappings of power without having to talk to real people.
Clinton at least comes across as knowing what the job actually entails and having the capacity to do it, but she would be the same kind of vacillating, self-interested establishment politician the public despises; it’s no mystery that many Democratic voters are sick of her and rightly so. Donald Trump may not realize that being President would seriously restrict his accustomed lifestyle, and what works in closing real estate deals in Atlantic City isn’t going to work when negotiating nuclear arms deals. The cabinet is not a game show.
Trump has at least pushed the Republican Party to the right on immigration. His plan for mass deportations is poorly thought out but at least he’s saying a resounding “no” to what was considered standard conventional wisdom.
New York City would benefit from the media circus a Trump-Clinton matchup would bring, but we already are a 24-hour media circus. And New York and the country can do a lot better than a Clinton or Trump residency. A Trump nomination, or another Clinton or Bush nomination, will demonstrate that our republic has slipped past the point of no return down the slope of oblivion.
Labor’s Love Lost
This past Easter Sunday, my family ate heartily and discussed some of the current political and economic issues of the day. There may be better ways to wash down a tasty Easter ham than a lamentation on the state of the republic, but we haven’t found it yet. Our conversation settled on how many pension holders have been screwed by their municipal or corporate overlords.
The unofficial conclusion we reached over our Easter meal was that the United States is long overdue for a resurrected organized labor movement.
Labor unions represent only about 11% of the American workforce, and a majority of union members today are government workers who can’t strike. The upside to this is that a lot of government workers have very good, stable jobs that are safer and more lucrative than their non-government worker counterparts. But most workers are continually getting screwed.
The labor movement was spurred on by the large impact of industrialization and it was designed to protect industrial laborers and tradesmen. It has not adapted to the changing economy. The majority of American workers today are not industrial tradesmen.
If there was a viable labor movement in the U.S., I would have a real union to join. I work as a financial journalist. The company I work for actually cut our salaries years ago during the financial crisis. They technically restored the salary cuts years later, but haven’t given raises since and continued to cut our pay in other ways, such as stopping all matching 401k contributions, gutting healthcare benefits, and the like. They’ve also done a lot of outsourcing. Employees with many years of service to the company under their belts were shown the door, their jobs shipped off to India.
A labor union would have fought all of those things, but there is no labor union representing us. We are considered too “professional” to join a union, though not professional enough to be tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage if someone outsourcing shyster can save the company a few dollars. But we don’t have much recourse since there is no collective bargaining going on. People vote with their feet and while people are leaving the company in droves, the rest of us are there are spending our energies looking for other work rather than fighting a good fight (and since I need my job and have four mouths to feed, I’ll kindly not mention the name of the company I work for here).
I dream of the day when the outsourcing C.E.O. gets a brick through his living room window and four flat tires on his way to work. There should be real unions to contend with when companies want to cut pay, cut benefits or cut jobs. This isn’t because I think the answer is some kind of socialist worker’s paradise. To paraphrase what Winston Churchill said about democracy: Capitalism is the worst economic system there is except for all of the others.
There seems to be a great illness of myopathy among our current class of capitalists. They think only in the short term and only in terms of the bottom line. I have no problem with businesses making hard decisions and scoring a healthy profit, but a lot of executives are not thinking ahead much farther than the next quarterly report. Sure, the slash-and-burn fiscal ass-fucking they’ve been giving American workers has increased profits now, but what kind of company are they going to have in five years?
But our companies have pursued these policies and the results are predictable. American capitalism no longer means industriousness and hard work, but rather golden parachutes and amorality.
Just as democracy doesn’t work without real political opposition, real capitalism doesn’t work without American workers having some kind of say over their working lives. Labor unions were once the source of that power. They can be again.