The Sugar People

Jean Harlow, Sugar Baby

Jean Harlow, Sugar Baby

The NY Times Sunday Magazine featured an article (link) which I’m sure raised eyebrows throughout married households on East Coast. Or at least I thought it would. I tried to bring it up with my long-suffering wife, J, this past weekend. Trying to stir outrage, I asked, “Did you read that article in the Times about the website young, attractive women can go to sign up as sugar babies?”

Refusing to rise to the bait, she clacked away at her keyboard of her Macbook. I pressed, “I read this and think, why didn’t I come up with that?” I think I was meaning to say, “why didn’t I come up with that?”

Click, clack, Facebook post, clickety-clack, email, clickety clack, google search -“getting rid of pests.” No joy for me.

In medieval times, there was a spectator sport called bear baiting where you put a bear in the pit of a theater, and audience participants would jump in and poke the bear with a stick.

I poked, “Women can sign up for free and they get matched with a sugar daddy. It strips dating to its essentials.”

Every once in a while, I play this potentially fatal game of bear…I mean wife-baiting. It lets me push boundaries, probe for any weaknesses (absolutely none found so far, 15 years in May!), and bargain for man-stuff. Motives for this Sunday afternoon shenanigan?

  • Boredom from lack of golf
  • Desire to show that 15 years of marriage has not left me slowly turning gay (okay, so I use moisturizer, exfoliate, and watch What the Buck on YouTube -but it’s manly now because Esquire and Dr. Oz say so…….okay – show tunes are not gay).
  • Create an alibi for leaving http://www.seekingarrangement.com on my browser history
  • Final push for my next toy acquisition
  • Because I love her

I decide to invade Poland, “It’s outrageous! What do these guys think they’re doing, purchasing the attention, conversation, and comfort, of attractive young college-age women? It’s a terrible thing to see, America being turned socioeconomically into a third world country where middle-aged men with money can take advantage of women in need of college tuition (and Fendi purses).”

Clickety, clackety, click. The focus of this woman, my lovely wife, is mind-bending. I give up. She wins. Love, set, match – Sugar Mommy. I go to play with my son and his Lego Star Wars models.

The Bonfire of the Bonus Babies

 

The Fifth Horseman - TARP Fund Distribution

The Fifth Horseman - TARP Fund Distribution

 

On some level, I understand why the management at AIG took their bonuses. If it was part of their contract, why shouldn’t they? If their pay was part of the balance sheet that the rescue package was meant to help pay for the negative side of the sheet, why shouldn’t they collect? After all, the laws requires the company to pay its debts. Are we then to decide which of these debts take priority? Is it then not a fiction that we are rescuing these institutions when in fact we are just paying out to companies owed by AIG who in turn have their own contractual bonus obligations to meet. Why must the AIG boys hang and not the people about to collect on insurance floated by AIG.

It begs the question: is it wrong to be rich?

The Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel

It’s a question that comes starkly to me as I wandered around ground zero of this pickle. I got to visit Southampton on Long Island and stayed in a luxury building on Central Park South. I ate Chinese a stone’s throw from Wall Street, and meandered past the half empty emporia of the vilified wealthy.

 

I noticed that among the well heeled, they never feel all that wealthy and they envy, resent, or at least are aware of someone wealthier than they. It is human nature to feel inadequate and to want. It is easy to live in the myopic view of the world in front of one’s face and not see the wider world around.

We notice only this world of the nearby and can be disassociated from images of suffering around the globe. Its that most people living near the median never actually see the lives of the people living one or two grades above them. The talk has always been about the invisible poor, the hungry and the homeless, but reveal the invisible rich, and it’s “to the barricades.” The French had these spasms of violence against the rich. Most recently in 1871, where mobs ransacked, butchered, and raped (in random order, usually all three) the wealthy and privileged of Paris. We are coming close to this when we vent rage at the managers of AIG.

 

View from Central Park South

View from Central Park South

The culture of the past twenty years has degenerated to a worship of things and their acquisition. By putting credit in front of people not used to wealth, the earnings of many years and even generations were made available to people who could not manage this kind of wealth. The packaging and selling of these loans and the skimming of fees as they were passed around, the leveraging of fractions of this debt, and the insuring of the particles thereof produced great wealth for a time, but it all came due. 

 

Everybody is at fault. This is a national vice issue where  there were pimps, whores, and johns, and no victims, but lots of perpetrators. If you’ve ever carried credit card debt beyond a month, you have been a party to this. If you bought lots of stuff borrowed from the value of your home, you have been a party to this. Right now, though, we’re concentrating on destroying the narrow class of Ivy-League educated ruling class living in smart enclaves in Connecticut and Manhattan, with their retreats in isolated burgs and islands.

Atlas -aka as President Obama

Atlas -aka as President Obama

I have to say, it is a terrible injustice to point the finger at a few and say, these people did it, and by burning them at the stake, we’ll be free. Everyone carries some of the blame. 

For the so-called middle class, this comes in the form of giant homes made of pressed wood fiber and synthetic petroleum byproduct, filled with unused exercise equipment, scattered and broken toys, and flat screen televisions. An anodyne futuristic lifestyle made available by the floating of a couple of years worth of disposable income.

The whole country’s occupation for the past generation had become the building of far-flung exurbs reachable by SUV, with no town center but a giant parking lot attached to a WalMart or a Costco. This was our wealth, to build these pressboard homes and borrow future earnings against their ever inflating values to accumulate jet skis and recreational vehicles, and Praise the Lord in colossal arena churches with concert level sound systems, sermons delivered in Powerpoint, and self-justification assured in the liturgy of accumulation and consumption.

The poor managers of AIG, the ones with death threats and private security guards, are merely the sacrificial scapegoats, the fools thrown out to the zombie mob in hopes that its attention will be distracted. What we aren’t seeing is a concerted message that the old ways are done. International commerce is done for a while, especially after we wash our hands of the accumulated debt by devaluation and nationalization.

What to do? Think about what it was that sustained life in the area around you. There is no reason why millions should live in the desert when the original population density was a few people per square mile. These areas should be abandoned. The general population should get used to working for and creating food. Our treasure and work should be spent creating sustainable economies, healthy strong communities, and planning for the future  rather than consuming and destroying and breeding with the hope of some end of the world bringing salvation. Or worse, go to Greenwich, Connecticut, to burn it down, and turn eastern Long Island into Rwanda.

The President gets it when he and his family started a garden. Say hello to your neighbor and wake up to the fact that he is really your fellow tribesman, and not the guy relocated there last year from Charlotte by his multinational now going belly up. The people around you and your relationship to them are the most important tools to survival. Humans were evolved to live in bands and tribes. The idea of holing up in some mountain redoubt with a lot of guns is a failure to recognize the lessons of zombie movies. 

We have to see these times as transformational, and that in fact we need a new contract that returns to the basic framework of the Constitution but acknowledges the challenges of the modern economy -too many people, not enough resources, inefficient ways of distributing them. 

For myself, the ethos of golf applied to life out of the bounds of the fairway, the application of the USGA rules of Golf to life, makes perfect sense. It is the need to create a new concept of the citizen and player in this country.

The Mast at the Empire State Building

The Mast at the Empire State Building

The Trustworthy

The Iowa Orchards on Meredith Parkway in Urbandale, Iowa, is a working apple orchard. It processes apples into all sorts of appley good products including a world class apple pie. The shop is open 7 days a week from 9 to 6, but there is no one there. You pick your items and you put the cash in the honor box. The lesson in values is enormous. I could take everything including the box and walk out. There are no cameras. I am completely alone.

This us the same situation you are in playing golf alone. You could give yourself Mulligans, kick the ball out of the rough, and give yourself putts, but that would be no different than stealing apple pies from the good people of Iowa Orchards. I take two frozen double crusts and put a twenty in the box. Par.

The Indebted

The great international shrinkage is upon us. The shriveling, the destaturing, the descending, call it what you will. I watched the President’s speech last night, and gave it a B+. I think that I’m getting kind of used to inspiring speech from him -it’s called refractoriness. My 100 meaningful conversation rule applies to him as well as any friend (over course of a relationship, one should and can only have 100 meaningful conversations before the relationship ends), and with his books and speeches, the President is on #58 or so.

I have a very good friend who decided to divest from Western Civilization in 2001 after 9/11. He had been reading books about peak oil, and had recommended to me Mr. Kunstler’s The Long Emergency. He bailed out of his 401k’s and mutual funds, and put them all into gold and oil, did very well by the way, and now is building a compound off the grid in some undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest. 

The only problem I have with that scheme -of going it alone in the woods with a lot of guns, plans for a vegetable garden, and long hours fishing and hunting, is that it completely disregards the lessons of zombie movies. ‘Nuff said.

It takes a community to survive these times. It takes caring neighbors and taking care of neighbors. We’re social creatures whose evolution was based on bands, small groups. Your neighbors and your relationship with them is your assurance of safety in the difficult times ahead. 

By some accounts, the recession will be over by this fall. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

The Optimist

img_0801As we lurch forward into the new era, I am comforted by the dissipation of the overly hopeful buzz that I had from about election day to about yesterday. It was infatuation -the same thing that makes Valentine’s Day a commercial juggernaut. We were a nation of giddy school girls infatuated with the hot new Social Studies teacher, until we realized that he gave a lot of pop quizzes, and he’s really, really mean (stomp – twirl). 

The NYT’s (link) writes about a gang of moderates hijacking the stimulus legislation from the left and the right, and this does give me hope. This centrist bloc is where we should all be as a nation as we detox from a two decade binge of mainlining easy credit while enriching the dealers of said credit. And this is it -we should be detoxing to some degree by abstinence and not by replacing easy money with public money. If cold turkey hurts too much, then a limited run of nicotine patches for the addicted nation until sobriety and clean living within means return to the norm. 

big-love-tv-46

It's hard out there for a pimp

So where do I turn in these troubling times for examples of clean living? The TV of course, in  the form of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. I checked out HBO’s Big Love to see what all the buzz was about. It’s an amazing show, and not for the reasons that you would expect. I know, I know, Chloe Sevigny is one of the most important actresses of our generation, and she gives a mesmerizing, hypnotic performance as the-one-I-wouldn’t-mind-being-plural-married-to.

The show’s popularity speaks to a desire to be a part of a larger connectedness that we lost when we chose to accept live as a nuclear family unit, that we move to dislocated exurbs in Charlotte, Atlanta, Nashville, Houston, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, and Peoria -moved about like pawns on a chess board. In these troubled times, the sight of three homes circled like wagons around a common backyard with your own tribe, your own peeps, having dinner at a long table is a splash of cold water in the face. The show focuses on the people and does not dwell on their lifestyle too much, but that’s not unexpected for a great show. The plural marriage thing serves to triple the emphasis on the man-woman interplay, and correctly shows that with three wives, a man can suffer 9 times more than if he only lived alone with a high speed internet connection and a microwave. I rather enjoy this thought – if you support gay marriage, then you have no right to oppose plural marriage. So maybe that’s what I’ll give my wife for Valentine’s day -permission for her to go look for a second wife, for the both of us.

Scenes from the Mall

snc10189Scenes from the Mall

 

It will be an icon of the Bush years -the call to shopping after the terrible days of 9/11. I went to have some lenses changed on my glasses. My prescription had changed and I decided I couldn’t wait the several weeks that Costco or the neighborhood optician would ask. So I went to Lenscrafters at the local mall. 

 

Being a workday, it was eerily empty. I dropped off my prescriptions and went for a walk. I dropped in on the Apple Store to meet with the Geniuses. My Apple related questions ranged far and wide, but I was angling for a replacement on my iPhone. It had been acting up, dropping calls in the middle of important phone calls and not during trivial ones. I asked if upgrading my hard drive myself would void the warranty (yes). I asked if Airport would recognize my USB hubbed hard drives as network drives (yes, but go to the support section). My iPhone was rebooted and reset to factory settings. He also pulled a wad of lint out of my headphone jack. I was to return for an exchange if the phone kept dropping call -nice man, a true genius. I bought a 500gB hard drive for his troubles. 

 

I wandered over to the J Crew store -I always feel like it is a fossil of the 80’s, the last time it was ever close to being edgy and new. I have a fondness for what they call critter ties -silk ties with little emblematic animals or symbols embroidered on them. They are an expensive attachment, going for about 60 bucks a pop. My favorites: the classic Whale which is a ripoff of the J Press original, and the Shark. I was in a bidding war for a vintage J Press whale tie on eBay, but the bastard at his trading desk outbid me to the tune of 185 dollars -I was just curious to see how high he’d go, and glad that he won the damn thing. I’m happy with my knockoff. Abercrombie and Fitch blares its techno at me, its doors framing the unblinking face of a glammed up boy selling his body for food. 

 

I stop by the FYE (For Your Entertainment) which sells CD’s and game cartridges -this mode of distribution is obsolete for me through iTunes, Hulu, Pandora, and a plethora of other entities, but for most of America who can’t afford broadband, this is it. No cable modem has a bandwidth advantage over reality, but the visceral pleasure of looking at an album cover cannot be matched by eyeing a CD jewel box. It’s a shriveled era, and the store is empty. “May I help you” sounds more like, “Move on.” I do look suspicious with my parka of many pockets and laptop bag with more pockets. 

 

I go up past the fountains -would it be wrong for me to scoop out a few bucks to get a latte? I drop by the Orange Julius, and grab a small one, which would have passed for a large one back in the day. Two o’clock arrives and I meander to the Lenscrafters. The gal has only some of my glasses ready, but her round face comes in loud and clear -she’d be drop dead gorgeous if she ran on the treadmill thirty minutes a day. But the same goes for me. We’re going to missing these extra calories in a few years…

 

I should feel relieved after spending this time after lunch, but I leave anxious for an America so depleted of credit and cred.

 

addendum:

Soon after I posted this, this article (link) in the NY Times was published about the troubles in US malls. It’s a basic reorganization going on, where people will have to live more hand to mouth within their means.

The Good Mike versus the Bad Mike

img_23821img_23822

When Lehman Brothers was about to tank, the Treasury bandied about a scheme to divide the bank into a good bank with all the profitable assets and a bad bank with all the bad debt. The plan was to allow the free market then take care of the good and bad bank. Turned out, the whole bank was pretty bad, but it made me think. What if we could divide into our good and bad selves?

The good Mike would be basically indistinguishable from the present whole Mike, I suppose. But let’s stretch our imaginations and reflect a bit on this. The image on the left is actually an enhanced picture with all the blemishes kindly removed -all the bumps and moles. Looking deeper, the good Mike would be more humble and less profane. He would think and talk less about himself and work harder for the greater good. The good Mike would use coasters and keep everything tidy. The good Mike would obsess less about his own petty needs and be more generous with his time and attention. The good Mike would be patient and kind with people’s faults and foibles. The good Mike would exercise more and eat less. The good Mike would flush.

The bad Mike refuses to submit to an interview but instead asks that all questions be referred to his office in Dubai.