Saturday, December 26, 2015

Stalking Springsteen?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

They strolled the north end of Asbury Park boardwalk, pausing often to let people pet their rescued greyhound.
We sat on a bench after having walked several hours in Point Pleasant, and then through Asbury, searching for the usual clues from a past we came too late to witness for ourselves.
Those trips to the Stone Pony I took with Hank in the 1970s too vague a memory to count on, and that one trip through the ruins of the Casino in the early 1990s when a cold rain made it impossible for us to look more closely at what had survived the early wrecking ball.
He, an elderly man with a salt and pepper goatee, stood back as his wife talked about the dog and how it had raced for years in Florida as a champion, but might have been killed – because that’s what the racing industry does to dogs when they can no longer race.
“You can only race them for five years, and they then have to go,” she explained.
They hailed from Pennsylvania now, but he boasted of having been born here, his parents come to Asbury Park just prior to the Great Depression. His father was a window washer in a town with too many windows for anyone to count, including those in the Convention Center behind us.
“But when the Depression hit, people stopped caring about their windows,” he said.
His father took up another living moving things, which seemed to help the family some until one day while moving grand piano, he ran over his foot and crushed the bones, after which things went from bad to worse.
They were so broke that when he was born in 1936, they couldn’t pay the hospital.
“We’ve still owe them the $15,” he said with a wry grin as if he had gotten over on the system.
He was one years old when the family moved out, but he continued to return here, as if drawn back by some power he could not explain. The family took vacations here, and he continues to have memories of where things are or should have been, and sees them in their rightful place even though the wrecking ball has claimed most of them over the years.
“My daughter comes here four times a week,” he said. “She’s here somewhere today jogging. She’s consumed with Bruce Springsteen. Frankly, she’s here stalking him. Earlier this year – on her birthday – she was at the Wonder Bar when he showed up. It was the greatest moment of her life, she said. She just got tickets to see him in Philadelphia. She couldn’t believe she got the tickets.”
His bright eyes glinted as if he had somehow made an important connection, had passed down some great legacy from his own past, and his passion for this place and what it once was, his daughter finding an important connection to a town he loved so much he had to keep coming back, and their return on Christmas Day part of some mutual pack that said they will continue to share this treasure.
I didn’t ask him what he thought of Springsteen, since he was of a different generation, more Frank Sinatra than Rock & Roll, but I could see the joy in his eyes, this amazing Christmas present the whole family shared, daughter jogging through the fog on this warm holiday in December, while her parents walked a dog they had rescued, all somehow managing to save something important here, some aspect of Asbury Park they gave to us in passing.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

One giant step

January 21, 1984

Indeed, we are into the age of computers, tools like those which man (humanity) first learned to use, stones by which to make our bread.
Knowing nothing, I venture in, my hands full of data, my head full of confusion.
Pauly says, “They’re like babies. You make them do what you want.
He means this literally.
But I don’t even know that much.
What is this black bowl we have here, this thing that can do almost anything provided you know what to tell it?
“You’re only limited by your imagination and memory,” people tell me.
What I want is a tool that I can use to put out my underground magazine without having to rely on the mimeograph machines at school.
I know what I can do with those machines. But I stumble into this world filled with symbols and terms I do not comprehend.
What will this machine do that others won’t?
What are roms, rams, bits and bytes?
What is this empty space between the borders of my screen?
In a sense, it is an independent universe, and you are god.
This is a terrifying concept, and an intriguing one: man made machines capable of doing anything. Of course, there are limits, yet even within these limitations, there is a universe to be conquered.
For years, people have talked about lack of frontiers: no new worlds to venture in.
Yet in the back woods of America, boys, girls, men and women sit with their frontiers before them, some rebelling against the system, some hiding from exterior reality.
The social revolution the computer is bring stuns me. It almost a reversal of the industrial revolution. We go back to our homes again, attached to corporations, but no longer enslaved by them, and then, there are our minds – we extend ourselves now. He reach out and think with new languages, new means. This empty bowl before us is that part of ourselves which we never knew before, and we aren’t really gods, but aware.
Now the computer becomes affordable. It is more than a tool which we use; it is our minds reaching out into dimensions that never before existed for us.
Perhaps all that we see in the screen is nothing more than our imaginations personified. Yet isn’t that alone a miracle? Isn’t it grand that we can now project what we ourselves see so that others may see it as well?
Life in this then becomes grander and the future much more hopeful.

Yes, I am buying a tool, but getting myself back in the process.

Oh Christmas tree!

Sunday, December 06, 2015

People used to complain all the time about how commercialized Christmas has become, how we’ve tied everything up to how much we have to spend in order to maintain the American economy and forgotten the basic message of peace and love we hippies used to profess when we were young.
Now we try to destroy Christmas entirely, and not because we believe business over peace and love, but because some people hate the idea of religious freedom, and refuse to let it spill over into the real world where it might moderate some of the excess behavior we see in the news.
This councilwoman from a nearby town went into a near faint because her compatriots decided to keep Christmas in Christmas when they put up their annual Christmas tree. This is part of a trend, and something so ugly that it feeds into my basic belief that evil tends hide behind the mask of righteousness, and destroys what hope there is in the world by infecting good with misguided good intentions.
This councilwoman is not alone.
A whole pack of politically correct self-serving self-righteous anti-religion bigots tried to get the courts to rule against Christmas in Christmas trees, too, in their crusade to create a society where religious life cannot have an influence on the secular world.
They like this councilwoman have taken their campaign again icons of any kind one step too far, the way the jerks on the subways complained about the TV series icons used in advertising a symbol similar to those used by the Nazis or the massive anti-Confederate battle flag campaign sought to humiliate the American South with one more carpet bagger attack.
This anti-anything that smacks of belief movement comes out of the shadows of the 1960s when we believed that we should oppose any organization, law or government that violated basic moral principles – an immoral law should not be obeyed.
But the movement has become perverse. We have decided to become morality itself, and rule on what other people should and should not believe, forcing faith in anything to hide its face so we won’t be offended.
We play god and tell other people what it right and wrong, while at the same time, we as (mostly liberals) insist on certain rights we believe we should have and point to the other side as oppressing us.
It is typical hypocrisy.
But it is also evil.
Instead of embracing the message behind Christmas, Christianity and faith, we decide to destroy it, building a crusade to keep our lives free of its symbols.
Behind all this, is the old poetic concept of playing tennis without a net, when one poet complained about writing poems without rime.
We want to live in a society where we are allowed to make up our own rules as we go along, making concepts like truth “relative,” so that we have an excuse when we cannot live up to the basic rules of living in civilized society.
The last thing any of us need in this relative society are symbols such as Christmas tree that show how much we fail in living up to any rules but our own.
We can’t live by the rules of the game so we don’t merely take the ball and go home, we throw away the ball so we don’t have to be reminded how inadequate we are.
This attack on symbols goes beyond just the Christmas tree, the confederate flag or even the so called Nazi symbols on the sides of buses. We are actively destroying the past, partly because we do not feel adequate to live up to its expectations, and we live in a society where things are not going as planned, and lacking a road map to replace old road maps, we burn bridges, flags, and any reference to the rules we are unable to abide by.
We are not only trying to rid ourselves of religion and faith, but of any reminder of just how much we have failed to find any faith of our own, and how we do not need to be reminded about it.
People are offended by Christmas in Christmas tree mostly because they can’t live up to the basic rules of being a Christian, or even the love and peace we professed when we marched against war or on behalf of black rights.
We get offended by Christmas in Christmas tree or any of the other symbols of the past because these things force us to look in the mirror and see what we are not, what we have failed to become, and those things we can’t live up to as civilized people.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Going back to Phil?

May 29, 1985

I don’t trust Phil.
He’s one of those all-American business types looking for a way to stab you in the back.
And I don’t like the way he refers to blacks, mocking them as if speaking about a lower life form.
“I’m hiring new people,” he sad to me last week on the phone. “Trying to get the place half and half again.”
In many ways, he acts like the Old South did in the early 1960s when black people were seen as good for nothing – not even work.”
And here I cam going back there, knowing that somewhere in that narrowed little mind of Phil’s there is a scheme.
Maybe he intends to build the place up so he can sell it again, reaping yet another mass profit.
What works twice will work three times – although I am of the philosophy that a boy crying wolf eventually gets eaten, only in this came, we’re playing with sharks.
This is a time of dishonest living, of big fish eating little fish. But Phil is a little fish with a bloated belly. While he believes himself grown, his actually fattening himself up for a still bigger fish than he is.
Maybe that’s why I’m going back – to see him consumed.
But there is something self-destructive in this process, too.
This week I gave up the Bloomfield job, a secure position that would well have lasted me years, and took up with Phil and his brooding mall work.
Around the mall others [I knew] are slowly fading away, too, moving on, leaving behind the impression that everything must radically change.
Good old Wild Bill, the night guard for three years, changed his job to become a porter, and then quit his job entirely to leave night duties to two crazy men.
And for a time it seemed as if they could hold onto it all, keeping Mall and themselves content.
But they aren’t Dan and do not have the experience or the integrity of Wild Bill.
Nobody (mall rats) fears them the way they did Dan. And Wild Bill was a special man, stupid sometimes, but only because of his stubborn streak. He often had opinions about things he knew nothing about, and yet picked up on details that brought surprising truths out of his mouth.
He and I often conflicted. I was always trying to kept him to fact things he tried to ignore, things that as it turned out, could not be easily solved – such as locking the doors at night so that people inside could not get out without a key.
But that was the fault of the mall corporation, a Nazi-like answer to overnight theft. Instead of building on trust, they dealt in fear and intimidation, not seeking so much to catch thieves as to make it impossible for anyone to ever steal from them.
This is one of the fundamental issues of our time, and comes back to Phil’s perspective on people.
Instead of creating conditions in which workers won’t steal, malls and business people like Phil seek to make people fear them, punishing everybody with suspicion and in the case of the night guard, Dan, locking doors to keep us in.
I told Dan that any order imprisoning me was a crime against humanity and that Dan has to decide between disobeying bad orders issued by his superiors or engaging my rage.
It took him a long painful time when he finally opened the doors, he felt guilt.

His replacements keep the doors open until management catches them, and then they locked them again and shrug.

It never lasts

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The events of the last few weeks brought to mind someone I haven’t thought about in years, a boss at a baking job I worked during the 1980s.
A small, petty little man, Phil was always trying to prove how much smarter he was than anybody else, especially when it came to business.
And yet, he was always trying to get me on his side. In a business that changed hands about half dozen times while I worked there, I was in the best position as the night baker, partly because nobody else wanted to work the overnight shift alone in a shopping mall, and partly because I did my job as good as anybody else.
Phil was one of those nasty behind the scenes manipulators always calculating, always trying to find ways to get over on people he did business with.
Down deep, he must have felt shame over how he got his fortune in the first place and desperately needed to make another fortune in a manner that was more legitimate.
He just didn’t know how to be legitimate or honest, and so each new maneuver was even more unethical than the last.
At some point after college, Phil had hooked up with a soft drink distribution company, and managed to claw his way up to becoming manager. The job may have been at the request of his father, who apparently was best friends with the company owner, and needed desperately for his son to find some place to land.
As manager, however, Phil’s true talents emerged, especially when the contract with the soda providers came up. He underbid his own boss and then took over contract – a matter that ended up in endless litigation. Phil was always suing someone or being sued, and seemed to see this as a fact of life, and part of doing business.
Buying the bakery where I worked was his first real venture on his own, trying to prove that his success wasn’t merely a fluke. He had a handful of cronies he brought on with him from the soda business, hangers-on who learned how to cultivate favor by kissing his ass, and doing anything he asked them to do – ethical or not.
These cronies slipped into all of the power positions in the bakery, replacing competent people who had cultivated real and honest relationships with the previous boss through hard work and loyalty. Most of them eventually quit because they do not take having to answer to these incompetent jerks.
Naturally, business suffered. Phil was into power and so were these close associates, all leaning on the backs of fewer and fewer competent workers until those who didn’t quit, broke down, got ill or became just like the others.
Phil put the business up for sale. And he was just sly enough and had enough sly shysters to forge a contract with the new owner that set high payments, and a provision that if the new owner didn’t keep up payments, the business would revert to Phil.
At this point, he began to spread rumors among the employees – including me, dark talk about how evil the new owner was, and how corrupt, and how much worse things would get shortly, and how we all ought to get out and find new jobs before everything fell apart.
A number of people took this seriously, and got out – although being where I was and seeing what I saw I knew this was a ploy, one of Phil’s calculated moves designed to destroy the person he had made the deal with.
I asked about it later, and he laughed.
“This how things are,” he told me. “There are no rules in business or in politics. You just do what you need to do and make sure you don’t get caught.”
But like all petty dictators, Phil eventually destroyed himself. His old boss with the soda distribution company forced a settlement that took away a lot of his ready cash, and since Phil was never the businessman his inflated ego made him think he was, he was forced to sell off the bakery to more competent people under terms were far less favorable to him. He, of course, still came out ahead from when he was a mere manager his father begged an old friend to hire, but he lost the one thing he really craved: power.
“It always ends that way,” a reporter friend from Verona later told me. “Power never lasts.”

Friday, December 4, 2015

No power is absolute

Friday, December 04, 2015

A stark blue sky highlights everything in this city today.
This is a classic fall day, easing in on winter, when everything becomes vivid and unmistakable.
I ache for days like this because it is testimony to what life is supposed to be about, free of clouds or doubt, free of the haze behind which people hide their intentions.
Clouds hide things, often things that people do not want us to see, or of which they are ashamed, or feel guilt about.
But we also live in a world where knowledge is power, where people horde truth in order to dish it out in small slices the way drug dealers might, keeping people in line because they cannot get information from anybody else.
This is the nature of politics, whether this is with a big “P” as in a presidential or other world, on the more mundane “p” of an ordinary job.
There is always someone trying get inside, to become the conduit to power everybody must go through in order to get access.
Over the years, I’ve been through enough business takeovers to see the rise and fall of this middle people, who spent years grooving up to a boss only to lose power when a new boss comes.
But sometimes, the most powerful person in a room isn’t the one you think, but merely a figurehead, someone that allows the real power brokers to operate without being held accountable.
This is largely what happened with New York Mayor Laguardia, who basically did all the public functions while Robert Moses manipulated the levers of government.
Recognizing who is really in charge is a huge challenge for those who want to keep government accountable, for people to live under a blue sky rather than a hazy one.
But as better minds than mine have pointed out, everything has a season, and few people retain power for long.
Part of this has to do with the nature of power, and the concepts laid out in “The Prince.”
All power is built on the backs of other people, a shaky pyramid of potential contenders, each of whom is waiting for his or her chance to be the one on top.  This is one reason why the truly powerful have only a handful of people they trust – most often family members or people they have known since childhood, people who have already been vetted and clearly have learned their role in the power pyramid.
But hunger for power is the most addictive hunger of all. It can change your closest friends into your worst enemy, waiting only for the right moment to emerge.
Most power tends to weaken over time, a few years, maybe as long as a decade before it begins to erode.  This is true of personal power or powerful institutions – the Greek or Roman empires, the Catholic church, the Spanish Inquisition, the British Empire, or the sway of political parties in the United States.

Power never lingers in one place forever. And all you need to do is to wait for it to crumble under its own weight. It always does.