Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kindness Wasted

There are a few camps about the exchange of pleasantries with strangers, clerks, waitresses and other people one might encounter in daily life.  

The first camp lives by the rules of Miss Manners and always supplies their please and thank yous, sometimes floating sorries even when things are not their fault-- say a brusque gentleman forces his way past in a crowd, these people offer a reflexive sorry and almost immediately want to pull it back lest all of their sorries suddenly seem so meaningless.  

The second camp avoids pleasantries of any kind for their inherent falseness and pretense to a kind civilization, the evidence of which is long outstanding.  People of the scond camp blast through crowds and force sorries from people in the first camp and never offer anything in reply, but life is either meaningless or its meaning is measured in the number of excuse mes uttered and so those words must but guarded at all costs and given up only on the death bed or delivered with such hostility that words amount to a fuck you.  

The third camp rests somewhere in the middle and is normally made up of people raised in the first Miss Manners camp who are affecting some kind of life worn ambivalence.  They may say the occasional bless you when someone sneezes, but only as a base reflex they are trying to train their bodies away from. 

I have oscillated between the first and second camp more or less.  These days I feel a little bit closer to the first camp.  The result being that I will frequently polish all of my interactions with some basic mundane pleasantry, the object of which can either take or leave.  There are moments however where whatever small energy was placed in the kindness is taken, pulled inside out and blown back in my face with a terseness normally attributed to evil-hearted bureaucrats.  

I have found that, depending on the neighborhood I am in, these moments can be countered. Though I seldom will give the satisfaction of entering into a full verbal throw-down with the culprit I will walk away and direct one of two basic mantras at the douche: "You should really be more aggressive, otherwise you'll never get what you want." or "You should really try to be more snotty, otherwise everyone is going to think you're dumb." Psychic sarcasm is the most withering form of the stuff. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Despereaux's Nose

Every day on my way to work I get the visual equivalent of a wet handshake.  Despereaux, diminutive mouse of questionable French lineage and hero of his own film, looks at me from behind the moist pink bulb of his all-too realistic nose. It is hard to say exactly what is so off-putting about Despereaux's nose, but it is up there with Edward G. Robinson's lips for Hollywood's most disturbing creature effect.

Far more unnerving than the Saw posters in every subway and bus stop, Despereaux's nose is grotesque in its perfection.  Too perfect.  A textured, glistening fob of digital perfection.  The amount of man hours placed in getting the moisture to sit just right, to make the skin look like living tissue: it all strikes me at the same time and my body invisibly lurches.  I get the icks and shudder. 

What merit is there in making the eye believe that this hero mouse has an ultra-realistic nose?Ultra-realism is, of course, unrealistic.  Nobody sees the world with the level of ultra-fine detail apparent in most computer animation.  The visual sourcing for most computer animation seems to be early Renaissance masters, like Fra Angelico and Piero Della Francesca, where a certain stiffness reigns amongst the figures but the perspective and level detail feel infinite. There is no call to summarize, no need to make it into a cartoon.  The surface is full, because funding is in tact.  

But if Fra Angelico painted on his knees for the greater glory of god, what exactly is Desperaux serving?   If his nose is just a symptom of our own technological superabundance, a widget on the way to an artificial age, what instinct in man calls it forward? Our own love of artifice? We normally call this level of detail pornographic, as in nothing is left to the imagination. I hate to think of what the future of porn will be once the kids who grow up on Despereaux come of age and bring their libidos to bear.  If they are subversive they'll just keep the lights off.   


Monday, January 26, 2009


If Donna Haraway's  assertion that the use of vitamins, running shoes and silicon enhancements has already transformed humanity into cyborgs, then we are ankle-deep in the margins of our machine/human binary every time we lace up to go for a jog. Though it may be true the cybernetic future has been with us for some time, it is only when we are sitting inside a machine that our organic content feels properly diluted by the surrounding mechanics to admit we may be part machine ourselves.  The cybernetic threshold for most pedestrians in the city appears to be mass transit, taxi cabs or that rarest of things the privately owned car.   

In Manhattan, a number of mythological beasts roll the streets.  There's the businessman/razor scooter hybrid.  The swift snarky slickster breezing towards the financial district on a child's toy-- if he were a centaur-type he would be half hamster half man. Another man-on wheels, this time with in-line skates, who regularly zips through pedestrian traffic with an attache case and a manic watchthefuckout look in his eyes. Seven feet tall with his skates, wheels come with a built in sense of superiority. The endless people dragging roller bags in their wakes...

I never feel more vulnerable then when I'm waiting at the crosswalk with a thick wall of people at my back, standing  in front of a running stream of cars. I'll take a lead off from the curb tentatively craning to watch for on-coming traffic around the double-parked delivery truck and can feel the other pedestrians moving up closer behind me.  Is this a leadership position?  Am I suddenly the one chosen to mark our naked progress across the street where men and women subsumed to the maniacal fluidity of their two ton vehicles refuse to stop. A guy in sweatpants and a baseball cap has already shot off halfway across the street, pausing for a moment of gentility to allow a Ford Taurus its passage before carrying onward.  Nothing will slow him.  He actually stops on the yellow dotted line and sucks in his gut to accommodate an accordion bus in one lane and a taxi in the other then moves on unimpeded, proving to the rest of us just how urgent his own business is.

I wait for the sign to turn to the glowing albino pedestrian and no sooner do I step out than a bumper swoops in, inches from my Kerrigan knees.  The driver having already calculated that if he floored it on the light he could avoid the on-coming traffic and just fit into the brief neat gap between pedestrians in the crosswalk.  I employ my standard judge of depth and send a sharp kick straight into his rear fender, catching his eyes and letting him know that if he turns within my kicking distance he will get kicked.  For a second he thinks he may have run over my foot, the panic registered before rolling over to hate, but I've finished crossing. He's lost me.  Jerkoff. Only slightly better than the cab that turns right into you and stops inches away, slowly creeping while you walk.  For that second, your life depended on perhaps the flimsiest system of empathy known to man: the New York City cab driver.  

The cab driver is the closest we might know to a fully integrated cybernetic centaur.  Half human/ half car, with a blue tooth in the ear and the radio tuner stuck between the Salsa and god talk stations. The cab driver creates his or her own musk-- unique and solitary scent that only lingers in old cabs: the true union of body and upholstery.  The new cabs, outfitted with TVs repeat the same news on a loop.  The cabbie sits behind glass. The TV takes away that last shred of humanity: the insane ability to editorialize on the slightest indication of interest, the crazy palpating conversation with which most cabbies grope their passengers. They drive now, further attended by the GPS, day and night, racking in cash or credit conversing only with the street or the loved ones left overseas. 

A Conversation with My Attorney from T-Billz


I have an idea.

NYC in the 20th century became the financial capitol of the world.  Long live NY.

I just saw an article which said that we replaced Vegas as #1 in marriage licenses.

What we need to do is combine those spheres.

The bonds of matrimony offer short term benefits (gifts etc.) in the guise of long term security.  The reality though is that for far too many bondholders depreciation is substantial.  At the same time, the already insanely high make-whole price (50% joint-assets in most cases) often shows a significant increase in its real dollar value over the term of the bond.  So therefore under the current regime, a bond holder either pays an extortionate make-whole price, or waits out the indefinite maturity period at a possible much greater loss.

This perfect storm makes marital bonds a risky and depressing instrument to own at all, let alone hold to maturity.  More importantly, these inefficiencies tie up valuable productive energy which spills over and negatively impacts the "real" economy.

What is needed is a secondary market- where existing bonds can be rationally and efficiently priced and traded.

This would allow new capital to enter the market, and would facilitate the sale of distressed assets.  A liquid, transparent secondary market would also allow for swaps and similar instruments to be brought out of the black market (creating potentially huge revenue streams for underwriters).

The possibility also would arise that an institutional party could offer marital bond mutual funds, which would allow less sophisticated "main street" investors to eliminate the volatility risk that burdens individual contracts.  If tranched effectively and not over-regulated, it's possible that risk of default on marital bonds can be virtually eliminated in the future...

What do you think?  Am I billionaire yet?should I start lobbying Obama to get some bailout seed capital? Can't wait to sell this idea and start my next venture...



Clever indeed, but how does the investor profit off of this, and more importantly, wouldn't the savvy individual opt out of the process altogether and into whatever the flesh trade version of a money-stuffed mattress is?  (stuffed honey on a mattress?) Is there ever going to be a positive ROI?




With all due respect, no one buys new issues for their coupon.

The Medici financed wars, we've added sports stadiums.  Marital bonds are for whatever reason valued by society.  Civic-minded grown ups and idealistic youngsters buy them.  Let's hope they have other revenue streams.  The point is the new issues market exists.  The secondary market would basically be insurance that there will be a buyer when the owner is motivated to sell.  That 3% coupon looks a lot more attractive 20 cents on the dollar (there's your Bernie Madoff 15% return right there!). Kind of like how the girls all get prettier at closing time.

Totally agree that a savvy investor should diversify with prostitutes (equity) and porn (derivatives).  But bonds are key for growth, especially in emerging markets.

Don't you want to be the first to securitize a gaggle of Russian brides?



I'm taking my general approach to life which is avoidance of any real investment in favor of the low risk low return option of undiversified squandering.


Monday, January 19, 2009

An Open Call to Barney Dunn

Having moved to the city after Giuliani sold Times Square to Disney, I have the feeling that I will never be able to call myself a true New Yorker.  I am one of those people who moved in with the racks of clothes stitched by Taiwanese children.  The brushed aluminum facade that morphed into computer fed high rise plans.  In certain pockets of the city, the streets have the bizarre utopian plainness of architectural drawings.  The trees grow straight, planted in their grid.  The dogs are walked by women wearing Juicy Couture.  And the men in their Hugo Boss suits stride blithely toward the next $million.

Whenever I watch movies shot in New York in the 70's and 80's I marvel at the grit.  Midnight Cowboy, Mean Streets, The Pope of Greenwich Village.  As far as I can tell the grit provided character.  Take the world's worst ventriloquist, Barney Dunn--- the poor schlemiel who Broadway Danny Rose gives up to gangsters in Woody Allen's movie from 1984.  Now Barney Dunn may have been a  paradox back in '84-- how does such a horrible ventriloquist pay the rent in Manhattan-- today he would be a total figment.  He would live in the Catskills like Rip Van Winkle and walk down arm in arm with the school teachers, artists and mimes.  

Barney Dunn has disappeared from day-to-day life in Manhattan.  Maybe he found some snug rent controlled den on the Lower East Side and became a shut-in, maybe he's moved to the outer rings of Queens or is playing pinochle in the lobby of a senior living facility in Yonkers, but no one has shown up to take his place.  New York has lost its bad ventriloquists (granted: if they ever existed beyond film) and its mimes (is that a loss?).       

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Next Tuesday... Antici...pation

When I walked into the voting booth last November and pulled the mighty lever of ol' Democracy I walked out electrified.  At that point it didn't matter if Obama won-- I was excited just to have voted for the man.  In the interceding months that electric charge seems to have arced through a good portion of the population.  Obama won and then the machine began to change.  

Dr. Frankenfurter flipped the switch on his Medusa Machine.  All barometers dropped and everyone seemed to stop in their tracks-- not Obama, not the transition team, but the population froze.  Wait and see.  The scandals surrounding Madoff and Blagojevich underlined the approach of the inauguration. Were they falling or was the country standing up? The ideals roused by the campaign paced back and forth.  Are people proud or nervous or both or neither? The last gulp of air is being sucked out of the Bush presidency.  We're standing in the vacuum of the last eight years, gathering strength.  None of the instruments seem to agree.  Dials are spinning, needles are dangling and a flashing sign reads "Adjust Your Expectations." This is how hurricanes are formed.

The fear of depression in the city is palpable.  MTA cutbacks, the loss of jobs and retirement savings, the green skinned lady in black riding her broom in the eye of the storm.  This just after the most energetic and optimistic phase of political history I have encountered. In the odd, ironic correction to the mid-nineties pop-radical mentality, political impotence (i.e. the official stance of Grunge) is gone for now.   Corporate impotence has taken its place and the long slack arms of credit are tied in a knot.  Did we get what we asked for in the way of change?

Regardless, this is the prelude.  If the country can realign itself this quickly in this short of a period to renewed expectations, then next Tuesday has a good shot of being the official beginning of a new epoch.    

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Leased by Aggression

The sidewalk belongs to babies.  Babies and dogs and tourists.  The sidewalk does not belong to strings of friends or to clustered nuggets of slow-moving family. Walking side-by-side-by-side so the poor schlep in the on-coming pedestrian lane has to step down off the curb and be splattered by freezing rain is not authorized by New York City's Department of transportation. Neither is slowly meandering in a loose daisy chain of matching DNA so the poor schlep who's late for work  has to wait for a brief gap in the amorphous and idle family formation to dart ahead. These people actually do not exist as legal entities and should be treated as such. 
Nannies with double-wide HumVee style strollers are NYC's sidewalks' priority.  The careering mother who was implanted with extra eggs and so birthed her own portion of the city's boom in twins or triplets retains the right to 5/12 of every foot of sidewalk in New York (as negotiated with Bloomburg-- they also own Harlem now, apparently).  

The city's infants are followed closely by its dogs (soon to overtake human babies as the primary recipient of adult affection).  Whether they are walked in gigantic barking sniffing canine clouds by the neighborhood dog walker or by the half asleep owner who reluctantly threw on a pair of nitty sweatpants and an open mouth to allow He-Bear the microscopic full breed to stretch a leash across the street and cloths-line the unaware, dogs and their keepers own the next 4/12 of that foot of sidewalk.      

Tourists move for the most part in efficient packs that feel the need to stop from time to time to take pictures of artifacts stolen from their homelands.  True they slow foot traffic and frequently wear matching wind breakers and drive the price of real estate up by buying whatever ridiculous scam developers can cook up in the form of luxury city living and will most likely erode all of the city's infrastructure (if the chain stores don't do it first) but they are unaware by definition and must be forgiven for taking those last three inches of sidewalk.  

Everyone else in New York walks on the edge of their feet. They flood into the gaps the tourists leave when they move on to their next sight.  They tip-toe along the utter lip of the curb.  Some blast down the center of the sidewalk, unaware that they have tipped over two strollers and upset the world's greatest picture of a Central Park squirrel looking as if he's about to hail a taxi.  When caught these people are shucked of their citizenship and forced to stand on the corner and hand out flyers for strip clubs, weight loss programs, discount suits and Jews for Jesus.           

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The City is a Neural Network, Roberto Bolaño

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño follows the lives of several poets, writers and artists associated with the short-lived Visceral Realist group in Mexico City.  A chronicle comprised of dozens of interviews, each complete with its own distinctive voice.  Whether Bolaño's work is a roman á clef for his own Infrarealist movement is beside the point.  Bolaño captures the burgeoning life of global wandering from the late 60's through the mid 90's with the same speed and acuity of Jack Kerouac.    

Each segment provides a different perspective on the Visceral Realist movement and likewise its progenitors, Arturo Belano and the aptly named Ulises Lima. At the same time it shows the interconnectivity of the various people involved in Mexico City arts-- their place in relation to the major movements of the day and their down-and-out lives. 

In utilizing an interview style, Bolaño writes a fictionalized verbal history with all of the unlikelihood, lapses and distinctiveness of the real thing.  He synthesizes the Homeric, rabbinic and monastic traditions in building the legend of the Visceral Realists.  He draws a map of influence, friendship, hatred, lust and insanity that follows the two founding characters.  Bolaño only uses linguistic polish as an extension of the character's voice.  He keeps the details raw, strung out in the cold, dangerous world.  

The novel continually returns to Mexico City: its slums and suburbs.  The world is endlessly compelling because of its truth and its equal nearness to mortality, obscurity, survival and immortality. Questions of fiction and meta-fiction are secondary.  Bolaño succeeds in showing the world, exactly as it exists-- within the minds of the people we know, the voices we hear, and within the relative striving to know and capture it in its purest essence. 


The Door

Holding the door in New York City can turn into a full-time occupation.  The job of the doorman developed when the few brave souls who were willing to unabashedly hold the door for a loved one then the string of people who followed realized they were being taken advantage of and so decided to organize.  

For the rest of us who hold the occasional door without tip or guarantee of monetary retribution, the feeling that you can wind up holding the door for every living person in New York arises every now and then.  The door is held and here comes the never-ending line of people-- some of whom acknowledge the gesture and others of whom ignore it completely. Generally I find it my duty to let go of the door if no acknowledgment comes-- whether or not it swings right into the person's face. 

For a while I felt rude doing this, but once I realized that these people are most likely skating by on doors held open for them all over the city and thus living the life of ridiculous privilege. If I don't let go of the door I may as well get a crimson suit with gold braiding and an impressive hat. 

Friday, January 2, 2009

Butte, Montana

This town dwelled in its own past, which was literally embodied by a series of large holes dug in the hillside above. The mines had never been rich with copper, but they'd made up for it in volume. The result now was a bunch of glorified wounds in the earth. Some also contained uranium, and she read me something in the guidebook about pilgrims who stood on the edges to soak up supposed healing properties. And sure enough, a highway sign plugged "health mines," this exit.

I wondered about the people here. The same two teenagers seemed everywhere, on all the streets. Funny how kids walk and walk when they have nowhere to go. I wondered what they might say to me, who so obviously regarded them from from behind a credit card and a map, and would probably swirl them in the martini glass of subsequent conversations.

Calculating violence, I factored in the boarded-up saloons, town halls, and company headquarters; the old Peregrine Hotel, the Copper Kid lounge, glint street, flint street, boom street, bust street, dust street, meth street, and meth recovery program street; along with the old impossible alleyway that failed prospectors snuck down to feel the last vented warmth from the past, and to awake foaming at the mouth and soiled; before finally considering the impervious sheen of newer corporate entities that had landed on the wreckage like amiably double-dealing extraterrestrials. I concluded, in classic tourist fashion, those kids were trouble.

Still, I would walk with her two or three blocks along the history vacated downtown, that had once been lit solely by the gleam of precious and semi-precious metals.

Passing Time with Strangers

I have long since resolved to always have a book on hand whenever I take mass transit.  The trouble I have with my eyes on the sidewalk triples when I'm placed in a cramped car with a work wearied legion.  So my eyes stay glued to the page, except for the occasional busker, hammer fight, or drunk-girl late-night throwdown.  

This really just gives my peripheral vision a great work out.  I'm able to read and process what's on the page while still taking in small glimpses of my surroundings.   I get to wonder for a minute why a girl in head-to-toe make-up wouldn't paint her fingernails.  Or like the time I was reading Franny and Zooey on the A train back from SOHO-- in the olden days when I lived in the tippy-top of Manhattan-- and attempt to keep my eye on the page even though a crew of high latino gay twenty-somethings decide to populate the seats around me and just stare at me. This one was bizarre enough to make me wonder 1) am I also high? 2) do gay latino twenty-somethings usually travel in packs? 3)why is Mrs. Glass in the bathroom with Zooey?  

There were also the kids with the camcorder on their way to the beach who took the time to turn the camera on each of the other passengers and narrated their assessment: Here we found her, fresh from the milk carton-- about the skinny midwestern girl with Manic Panic hair passed out with her head against the window; Powder-- about the pale bald man sitting next to me; Clark Kent-- about me; Chef Boyardee-- about the fat man over-flowing the seat perpendicular to mine, my knee was inescapably nestled into his warm soft thigh... and on and on.  And no one said a thing back to them. 

The pack of gay latino guys stayed on the train for about eight stops-- no short amount of time to be stared at.  The girl with the unpainted nails stayed on for one stop.  I got off of the train before the beach kids.  The people disappear, along with the imagined scenario that explains them.