Nocturnal battle

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Babel Babble

Today I heard a story about an acquaintance who is taking a fall off a pretty impregnable perch. Third such story this month. In a string of similar months. One of the folks is a close friend and a really good person who got out on the ledge and the jury is still out on whether they can put humpty dumpty back together again. Cross collateralized and the wheels are off the coach. One of the other tales is a story of a great empire that is now running on fumes and life support.  Names aren't important. Everybody knows somebody who had a great fall.

These stories unnerve me because I have lived them. My family was in the real estate development business.  My father worked hard his whole life, came to this country an immigrant who didn't speak the language, and ended up living the american dream with a slight pause for service in World War II. He built a very successful business, something that took decades, and a charlatan and a thief stole it all in a second in a deft predacious swoop. Twelve million dollars gone in a puff of smoke.

My dad always said not to do business with someone you couldn't afford to sue but he got weak and forgot his own advice. We won a unanimous jury trial but you can't fight a billionaire. May he rot in hell.  So everything vanished. No one made out but the devil and the lawyers.

I thought I was retired in my late thirties. And guess what, John Lennon was right. About life and making other plans. Larceny, cancer, divorce, bankruptcy, there's no man or woman who can't be reduced to rubble in the blink of an eye. I know. Went through all of it. Penthouse to the outhouse in five seconds. Thank god I found a woman who said she would stick with me if we had to live in a cardboard box on the street.  And has, through all the bullshit. And we clawed our way back, with little outside help and got a second chance. Reborn if you will.

I wonder if there is a lesson in all of this pain Americans and others are experiencing? I know the pain firsthand, having experienced a total financial collapse after my bank, Home Federal, was taken over in the middle of my last construction project. I twisted in the wind and was left for dead. Thank you, Ronald Reagan. That S&L deregulation thing worked brilliantly. What I took from my experience after a painful convalescence, is that it is good to imagine that the wolves are always nipping at your ankles.  I stopped financially exposing myself so much. Never bought the nice car. Or the new house. God, I would kill for a vacation to Kauai right about now but I will probably have to wait a few more years.

When I did fall, I had several people come up and tell me that they couldn't stand me when I was an arrogant high flyer and that financial ruin may have brought out the best in me. Go figure. But you certainly find out who your friends are and the importance of family when the shit hits the fan.

I think I despised the entitled at an early age and then got slightly co-opted and then maybe suspended judgement somewhat. You know, the people who were born on third base and all thought they hit triples. It's all a matter of what is important to you. There is a line in a once popular song that goes "put your gold money where your love is, baby." The people I met in this life who were the most financially successful were certainly not the smartest or even the luckiest. They have always been the most driven. And there is always a trade off.  We have all met the people who stepped on toes and clawed their way to the top and then wondered why no one wanted to play with them because they were such innately soulless pieces of shit. 

So maybe we all learn something as a people during dark economic times, here's hoping that things are truly on the rebound.  That whatever goes up must come down and that things don't ascend forever. And they don't stay bad forever either. Things will get better. That the only things truly important are the health of your loved one's. And that we can do okay when we have to do without.  Except paintings. You need paintings.

 The lake rises above the trees:
 Thus the superior man, when he stands alone,
 Is unconcerned,
 And if he has to renounce the world,
 He is undaunted.
I Ching


Anonymous said...

It always interests me in the difference in perception of what "not having any money" means to different people. Having $20 to buy groceries for a family of four for a week? Or not being able to take a vacation to a tropical isle. How much money is enough? How little? I remember when I could fit everything I owned in my Volkswagen bug. Those were some of my happiest times.

Save enough to have shelter, food, clothing and the neccessities. Give some to others who need more.
Don't obsess, hoard, or sue to make more. It'll make you soul sick.

Blue Heron said...

You know, I've been at every level of the money spectrum, from filthy rich to scraping change in the cushions of the sofa and I think the dread of being broke is pretty much the same if you are about to lose a real estate empire as if you are going hungry. Major psychic torment.

Now the poorest guy in Watts or Harlem probably still has more possessions than the content of a small Bangla Deshi village. Things are relative.

What I find interesting is this basically american viewpoint which you seem to harbor, Mr. Anonymous, that we should live like ascetic monks and god forbid have a good time. I do love Hawaii and traveling in general. It expands the mind and gives one good perspective on living on the North American rock. I want to visit Patagonia and Thailand and Siena and a host of other places. It pisses me off that I haven't been able to travel for the last five years.

I read a great opinion in the Economist magazine a few years ago about Americans being a bunch of calvinist prigs. I think the author was right. Keep your nose to the grindstone and never leave your cubicle. That's why the germans and french know more about out national parks than we do.

I want to pay my bills, relatively on time and take an occasional vacation. Is that so bad?

Anonymous said...

excellent writing......
loved the third base analogy.
you are nicer than you were with the big bucks.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I hear the term "American Dream" and default to the term fabricated entitlement. My American Dream is that I sleep in the bed of my choice for at least 5 hours, I'm not doing the goose step down Main Street, and I can choose a higher grade of oat-mush than the knobby-knee'd Ethiopian child ignoring the fly on his eye while he suckles his mother's dry tit.

Yes these things are relative, and this is our time and this is our place and we should not long to be whipped as we build the pyramid, but often I wonder; would then I be more fulfilled. Too often the answer to that contemplation is yes.

I have, by and large, not been infected by the lust for money and mostly I am glad. Some days though, Kauai sounds nice.

Cheers my man!


Anonymous said...

BTW: You used the word "impregnable"

A good rule of thumb is that if Mike Tyson has used a word of 3 syllables or greater in an interview, jettison that word from your vocabulary. Great writing Robert. rc

Blue Heron said...

Always a treat when you make an appearance, Roy.

grumpy said...

his other character flaws aside, i dug Mike Tyson's use of words like "impregnable"; Floyd Patterson's speech i also found intriguing, and as a person i loved him...


...also, on NPR this evening, an Israeli welterweight contender, also studying to be a rabbi, was interviewed; who knew? talk about laying down The Law...

island guy said...

this posting reminds me of the erosion of the concept 'poor, but honest'. the dignity of honest poverty was ingrained in our American cultural precepts - every man as good as another - if he were honest and labored to keep a roof overhead and take care of his or her loved ones. we lost it a while ago with the ascendency of Materialism. now a poor man is just poor, no matter if they work 16 hours a day at a gas station minimart or suckle off the welfare state. this is only just starting to happen in Japan, but is is well entrenched in Thailand, where Materialism and Consumerism (along with magic and spirits, but that is not new) have supplanted Bhuddism for primancy in guiding peoples actions.

by the way, the four years in the '80s I lived on Kauai were in many ways glorious despite oftentimes utter poverty. I was poor but honest, but the nagging guilt of not having things caused me to envy those that did, and certainly made it harder to be happy. it would be even harder now, as Marin County and Hollywood have taken over part of the Kauai ethos.

I appreciate my Dad's philosophy more now than then, 'Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes life easier'

Anonymous said...

You said--"Mr. Anonymous, that we should live like ascetic monks and god forbid have a good time."..."I want to pay my bills, relatively on time and take an occasional vacation. Is that so bad?"

I didn't mean that, Mr. Sensitivity. You can be poor and happy and unemployed, and you can be rich and miserable with your nose to the grindstone.

I'm all for having a good time, traveling, eating good food. But there are people who work two jobs and still are unable to make enough money to feed their families.

It's almost Thanksgiving. Give to the Food Bank or elsewhere. Unfortunately, buying paintings is not necessary if you are hungry.

Blue Heron said...

I'm down with that, Mr. Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Such a beautifully told story Thank you for opening your heart to us readers.