Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Where is your God now?

Old Chas has gotten a bit maudlin these past few posts. Guess that’s a reflection of the world he sees around him. Note, it doesn’t bother me so much so long as there is a waitress nearby. And as I’m writing this, there is.

I took a little jaunt to see some friends who have a house on Sanibel Island in Florida. (It was hot, but the rum punch was cold, so I enjoyed myself.) I flew down and back on JetBlue which has DirectTV from take off to landing. With this, plus the newsweeklies I picked up, not to mention Harper’s Magazine and the NY Review of Books, my 3.5 hours were sort of a little self- contained media orgy. I surfed back and forth from the 24 hour news channels to the History Channel to others, reading the whole time, pounding Dewars and Amstel Light. And there, I had one of those little epiphanies which so rarely prove to be of interest to others. As such, I decided to share it with you anyway.

As Joe Conrad’s Marlow noted,

“We live in the flicker - may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.”

We live in the flicker. Savagery does not exist at the fringes of humanity, lurking in the shadows. Rather, we enjoy a tiny pool of light within a dark world. A respite. Like a flickering candle, the light could go out any minute. This truth is all around us. We just have to open our eyes.

Chaos is as much a part of man as civilization is. The two concepts are linked in a horrible dance which ends with glimpses of promise, but ultimately, will always include significant suffering.

  1. Violence is a vital part of the human experience
  2. Domination is the antithesis and thesis of civilization
  3. Violence is the currency of domination, operating at its periphery
  4. Where dominance is unclear humans become violent and ultimately suffer
  5. As long as people struggle for dominance, there will be suffering
  6. At present it does not appear people will ever cease suffering because dominance is unsustainable

What do I mean then? I was, after all, intoxicated as this was scribbled on a cocktail napkin next to some delicious Terra Blue chips.

I will endeavor to elaborate.

Violence is a vital part of the human experience.
If you disagree with this, you’ve led a sheltered life and may be deluding yourself.

Domination is the antithesis and thesis of civilization
Domination is something we repress these days, yet it is a drive which lurks deep in the hearts of all of us. It comes from a primal place of struggle for rank and territory, the state of nature (Hobbes). We are programmed to sniff out weakness in competitors and strike. The naked aggression therein is quite the opposite of civilization and makes for a life filled with fear, violence and conflict with few winners and many losers. (Think about a prison).

We still manifest remnants of this behavior, but for the majority of us it is tempered by the society in which we live. There are rules we all bow down to. Dominance is thus the thesis of civilization because it lies at the heart of the social contract (Locke). The group will exert itself upon you, unless you respect the rules. This may include violence, but state sanctioned, as “peace keeping”. In this way, order is maintained and a civilization kept safe from internal threats. Its members, in exchange for submitting to the will of the group, remain relatively safe from violent action.

Right? So what the fuck am I talking about? I'll tell you what...mob mentality. Something inherent which creates new external threats, organically. Domination is the antithesis of civilization in that its original, untapped essence (in the state of nature) occurs at a larger scale, with the state/group acting externally as an individual might, without the constraints of social contract.

Violence is the currency of domination, operating at its periphery.
In the animal world, rarely do battles for dominance result in the death of a combatant. In the human world, outside of the social contract, this is not the case. At times, human conflict, particularly within “civilization”, is resolved without overt violence, as in corporate proxy fights and political elections. Yet, at the periphery, should domination be less than complete or should no non-violent means seem to exist, threats will likely begin. This is evident in all revolutions, and in civil war. These threats have as their foundation one core element: if you do not behave differently I will kill you.

Where dominance is unclear humans become violent and ultimately suffer
The notion of winning seems to overcome human compassion. When a group one sees as “the other”, a group it may in some way compete with, it will use its strength to dominate. Should the group be unwilling to submit, some violent action will ensure. This is how groups have acted from Paleolithic hunting tribes to modern states and militias.

As long as people struggle for dominance, there will be suffering
From economic hardships like embargos, to all out war, the human cost of conflict is well documented.

At present it does not appear people will ever cease suffering because dominance is unsustainable
Even within the semi-viable social construct intended to take place within the UN, there still are many areas of unrest where conflict, violence and suffering are inevitable. Even within the UN, as evidenced by the current conflict involving the US, there is a push and pull struggle for control and domination. As long as people seek to improve their lot through force, as individuals, as groups, suffering will continue. Because this drive is hard-wired, it does not appear to be going anywhere fast.

Yikes. Yes, can see that you too need a stiff drink after reading all of that shit. How the fuck did I come to believe this was important to note, even in such superficial detail. I’ll answer you: because it’s everywhere…

In the most recent issue of Harpers: Lewis Lapham makes a brilliant case demonstrating the connections between the Power of Will, Military Might and Capitalism, charting the path of the “societies of acquisition” from the crusades to the modern War on Terror.

On the History Channel: The history of state sponsored torture, on every continent save Anarticia, through to the modern controversies today.

On and in the news: The usual bombings, asymmetrical warfare, coupled with layoffs, housing market woes, genocide in Sudan, saber rattling across continents and no bid military contacts. You know the drill.

So why this title? Because there is no comfort. I think, like Conrad’s characters many people embedded in the warm bosom of what we call civilization remain relatively removed and untouched by the darkness and violence in the world. The Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, and most recently the Pax Americana. But this comfort is fleeting and illusionary. We are not safe. (As our heavily military minded administration is more than aware.) We were never safe, and no one is going to save us, not even ourselves. Not until dominance ceases to be the means by which we prosper. And violence the threat by which we maintain our dominance.

May the flicker last as long as it can, but darkness looms. We saw that on 911 and we see it today. Many people see it every day.

Consider that when you're sipping your latte.

I wish there was something funny about all this, but there just isn’t. It’s absurd, but dead serious. Horrifying, actually.

Note that only Chas Chesterfield could take a great time on the beach with friends and find a way to return with a treatise on the evils of human frailty. I’m a ray of fucking sunshine. Well, at least I’m honest. Or striving to be.

Monday, September 11, 2006

This 911, I am Pissed and Screwed.

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I am pissed because I was there, five years ago, watching the whole thing from the vantage of an office building not twenty blocks immediately north of the twin towers. I am pissed because when I saw the second plane strike, I realized this was no accident. I am pissed because I wanted to know why. I am pissed because I now understand why. I am pissed that it has been five years, and no one has yet addressed the root causes of this disease, but only contemplated addressing the symptoms. I am pissed because even the base satisfaction of a properly virulent revenge has been denied with 2,885 Coalition military dead, chasing the wrong criminals. I am pissed because my anger is pointless and will change nothing. I am pissed that we are all screwed.

Allow me to elaborate. I will begin by saying I am lucky that no one I know personally died that day and my most heartfelt sentiments go out to those who did. Like many Americans I didn’t think a lot about the Middle East before 911. I grew up during the cold war. I was 5 during the Iran Hostage Crisis. The attack on the Cole and other incidents had nothing to do with me. They had to do with my country, but not my person. Of course, this perspective changed after the attacks.

For some, it was about blood. They wanted revenge. Understandable, no? Personally, I expected a post Pearl Harbor-style response wherein we’d all change our habits and gear up for a country-wide war. But that was far fetched, and unlikely. We had to keep shopping…or else the terrorists would win. I was prepared for a mass response of the highest order, physical and intellectual. I expected that our greatest minds would cease working in the world of commerce and begin to look deeply at the problem itself to develop a rational and multi-faceted solution. This didn’t happen either.

Once I cooled down somewhat, I began trying to wrap my own feeble head around just what was going on. I read whatever I could find. “Why they hate us” was the title of more than one article and cover story in the news media from left to right. The administration’s party line was “They hate us for our freedom”. With this, I began to become pissed at more than our enemies.

Former CIA Bin Laden Chief, Michael Scheuer’s excellent book, Imperial Hubris details how stupid the above statement really is. He notes that it is our policies and actions, not values, are the cause:

"The fundamental flaw in our thinking about Bin Laden is that 'Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than what we do.' Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands. It's American foreign policy that enrages Osama and al Qaeda, not American culture and society."

Aha! This made sense to me. I began to become furious that we were not looking at our foreign policy and determining how we could change what we were doing. (That this would indicate the value of terror as a tactic to shift policy, did not yet occur to me. I merely wanted us to be safe.) But then, I began to see that while I had the right to be pissed it was pointless. This is where the “screwed” part of this post begins.

Scheuer final chapter details some hard questions/suggestions for dealing with the threat of fundamentalist wrath. Included are:

  1. attain energy self-sufficiency
  2. examine whether we have a duty to defend freedom beyond our borders
  3. examine what we gain from backing corrupt tyrannical Muslim régimes, except for cheap oil
  4. determine if there is a need for bases on the Arabian peninsula
  5. Decide if it makes sense to spread democracy
  6. Examine whether support for Israel serves U.S. interests

While these are points worth raising, they fall apart under an examination of how the US economy actually works today. Scheuer seems to preach isolationism, which it seems, in application, would cripple us more than another 911.

What do I mean? Our national security is not limited to defense of our country. Not when it comes to economics. Not anymore. Rather, it is our interests abroad, those in foreign sovereignties, upon which our livelihood depends. This is the great strength and the great weakness of the American Empire. Our rule is fueled not through military conquest, but through the individual success of our publicly traded corporations.

A little marketing for dummies, if you will. To have a successful brand, you need to grow revenues. You can grow them by increasing price point, but more likely you will aim to do one or both of two things instead: lower costs and increase volume. If you’re a consumer packaged goods manufacturer, you possess a range of brands in your portfolio. These brands are overseen by a brand manager. The brand managers’ bosses want to see significant (read double digit) growth from the brands every year. If they fail, they get fired.

Why is this? Because a publicly traded company only sees its stock go up if it is able to meet (and surpass earnings). It has to grow. If it doesn’t…its value is affected. If CEOs don’t make their earnings, they get fired.

All this is well and good when you’re selling your goods to your fellow citizens. The problem is that consumers are a finite variable. There are only so many people that will be willing to pay $7 per unit for a bottle of name-brand laundry detergent, no matter how many promotions you do and clever product innovations you offer. What do you do when every last person who is willing to buy that $7 unit is buying yours and not the competition? Where does your next stage of growth come from? The answer is new markets. And new markets are found overseas.

New markets are a key part of the process of nationals and multi-nationals truly becoming global companies. And, because it is not just volume that matters, but cost, these markets are also explored as areas by which one can attract inexpensive labor and materials.

Wikipedia defines Globalization as “an umbrella term for a complex series of economic, social, technological, cultural and political changes seen as increasing interdependence, integration and interaction in between people and companies in disparate locations…The concept has been referred to as the shrinking of time and space.” The benefits of a global society, without owing debts to the citizens of those countries outside your own, is the cornerstone of the US brand of imperialism. It is not our country that rules. It is our businesses. Businesses which fund the government and employ our people.

Interdependence. Openness. These are the essential truths of a global market. And they extend beyond the consumer sphere to that of commodities and financial transactions. This works to create exponential opportunity. And, sadly to create exponential vulnerability.

What war we’ve waged in the post Cold-war era has been to protect our national interests not so much in terms of the US government, but in terms of US-based global corporations.

Yeah, I know...DUH. But it puts us in a difficult place. The smart ideas Scheuer puts forth would curb growth, putting a pinch in all our lives. You will be astounded how dependant we all are, not just on access to oil, but to access to unfettered trade. We will always play a heavy hand to facilitate this access.

Here's the deal: we can't change our foreign policy. Not without changing how we do business. And because we're in so deep, that seems unlikely to me. Policy makers are screwed. And that means we will maintain a military presence around the world, and that we will support those regimes that help us, despite what they may do to their people. And, through this, we will continue to curry resentment and put ourselves at risk. In other words, we're all screwed.

The world is interlaced now more than ever. Some terrorist beheads a journalist and it can be emailed around the world in minutes. We see each other virtually in real time. A market crash in Asia affects the US. A typhoon in Australia can affect a CEO's job in Switzerland. The floodgates are open and there isn't a lot we can do.

Winston Churchill is famous for saying "democracy is the worst form of government...except for all the others." Well, if you look at the last 100 years, democracy means capitalism, with varying regulation. Taking a good hard look at the US, I don't see how we can truly be successful changing our basic business practices. Not now. We're post-industrialist. We're a giant branding machine. And potentially, we will have to face the music again for the policies we put into place. This does piss me off. But, moreover, it makes me incredibly sad.

Respect to those who lost their lives on 911. And to those soldiers doing the bidding of their country. We owe you. And it is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Go ahead. Get drunk.

You really should learn to enjoy being drunk more often. I recommend it to each of you. Why? It’s simple. Being drunk helps you live in the moment. And living in the moment is therapy for all the stress and bullshit swirling around you, all the projecting into the future with deep questions of whether such and such will work out the way you’d hoped.

I live in an Art Deco building in Gramercy. It is a fine structure with a series of nice doormen. Like many other older buildings, we have a range of tenants, including many widows, some of whom appear fairly infirm, yet who remain residents. I don’t mean your grandfather who can still swim 40 laps a day and who is learning Capoeria. I mean the sadder end of the spectrum. Walkers. Blindness. Tremors.

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When I first moved to New York full time, I found it shocking that all of these older people remained in this fast-paced, hectic and potentially dangerous city. I was a little appalled. And, at times, such as when I was forced to walk behind them, I was a little annoyed. I realized some time later that these people retained a much larger sense of involvement than had they moved to a retirement community. They probably couldn’t drive. And, as such, living in a suburban environment would essentially make them housebound. In New York, they could walk to their favorite coffee-shop, pick up the paper, do their own grocery shopping, see a movie…whatever. The city is an alienating place to be alone and surely, a fast moving taxi could spell instant doom…but in some way, what a better alternative this is to similar alienation through sequester among other old people far removed from the lively bouncing world of the city streets.

There is one older woman, who has to be in her 90s. To her credit, she gets around pretty consistently. Pushes a little cart to the grocery store every day. She moves pretty well, but is a little shocking to look at. I don’t know what it is. It’s like her teeth are too big for her wizened face. Cheap dentures maybe? She looks like a living skeleton. This is mean, but it kind of makes me sick to look at her. I was interested in this sensation and have contemplated it. I believe I understand why it bothers me. Memento Mori. That’s what it is. And I should treat it as such.

I’m 32 now. That’s not old, and it’s not young. For those further along, it seems young to you, sure. But as much as 32 seemed like yesterday to you, so it seems to me that only yesterday I was a crafty 1st Former at Eaglebrook playing Zonk for the first time and not knowing how to handle my buzz. Time moved quickly. And you never feel old on the inside. It may not feel like so very many years until I am the teetering old son of a bitch in the elevator, freaking people out with my shaking and enormous dentures.

It’s a fact that we’re less firm, less healthy as we age. All the more reason to live. To embrace today. To take hold of those things that please us. The joy of live music. The movement of women on the city streets in their various stages of summer fashion. The first sip of a extremely fine bottle of wine. Whatever it is that moves you. Whatever moments make you most happy…seek them out. And be happy within them.

And drink more. It helps put you in the today and now. Plus, it takes years off of your life. And that will save on the years spent scaring people in the elevator.

Hell, maybe next time I see Mr. Jenkins and his walker, I’ll ask him up to the apartment for a glass of scotch.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Blogging is retarded.

Admit it. Not just the writing part. The publishing part. The instant gratification of something which could be exposed to potential millions. As if anyone cares. (We don’t.) So why waste the time in the first place? Why this narcissistic contention that what you have to say is actually in any small way interesting to others? How many blogs do you see that start out: “I d0nt even NO why Im starting this bl0g, do U?” (I’ll tell you…a lot.) People who wouldn’t keep journals, private thoughts just as banal, will line up around the block to offer up even worse musing to strangers. It’s irrational and childish and often boring.

But understandable.

Writer Chuck Palahniuk noted in an interview "…if you haven't already noticed, all my books are about a lonely person looking for some way to connect with other people." Isn’t this what the internet, its forums, its social networking sites, its anonymity are truly all about? A cry in the wilderness, and the hope of one returned? Palahniuk’s characters are notoriously alienated. They find through embracing their most ugly, personal dysfunctions a sense of connection with other, similarly afflicted. I suspect this drives the urge to hit the “new account” button on blogger and begin to spit out your useless shit along with 12 million other sorry motherfuckers. (37% cite "my life and experiences" as a primary topic.) But see, the thing is...most people just aren’t very interesting. Or at least what they choose to write about isn’t.

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Let me tell you a story. It’s a quick one, I promise. I was recently at a dinner where people continued to refer to a young lady present as “a writer”. She is 25. She is not a writer. She is not published. She hasn’t written a short story, much less a novel. She writes a journal. But people glowingly make comments like “oh, you’re sensitive because you’re a writer.” That throughout the evening people continued to provide such sycophantic supplication brought out the worst in me. I turned red. I frothed at the mouth. I hated myself for it, but I could hardly control how annoyed I was. (Yes, I'm a petty little shit.)

The young lady in question watches Sex In The City and sees writing as a glamorus and respectful thing to do, but with all the time in the world, I'm not sure what she has to show for it. I suspect that when she places her little words on a page they won’t amount to a literate effort because she hasn’t experienced enough to have any true understanding of what people really go through in life. Those things which make for literature, or even interesting anecdotes are beyond her grasp. Shit, they're the beyond the grasp of most young people.

I’ll say this first, the problem with writers is a part of the problem with bloggers, there is a pretense there. A self-absorbed sense that you’re any good. That’s why you practice. That’s why you pour over the work of real writers in deep examination and contemplation of their craft. Chances are, you’re a hack. But to see that and aspire to something else, through work…at least it’s honest.

What pissed me off about this “writer” I met was that she didn’t seem to be trying in any way. She speaks of the journey the way celebrities do when contemplating a tell-all expose. She doesn’t understand that writers try to create literature. Something that has meaning, as a text. Bloggers publish diaries and hope people will read it. That said, in the world of best selling chick lit,The Devil Wears Your Ass, Candace Bushnell bullshit I am sure it is only a matter of time before the young lady in question lands a book deal. Bitter am I? You bet your sweet ass.

The disease that inflicts this broad is the disease that makes people create weblogs versus a writing a journal or writing a book in the first place. People don’t want to write. They just want to BE WRITERS. Morons included. Myself included. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony of this rant. Go fuck yourself. Isn't it obvious?)

In a society where fame comes devoid of true accomplishment, often to the very young…the allure of easy-found notoriety is compelling. But no less retarded. Or fruitful.

There is already a good expression to cover this. In a corruption of Warhol’s often quoted remark “in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes”, Scottish artist Momus was the first to point out that “In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people”. And the patch-eyed weirdo said this in 1991. Prescience indeed!

New York Magazine recently reported on “the haves and have nots of the blogging boom” http://newyorkmetro.com/news/media/15967/ . It makes the following interesting points:
  • “There is enormous inequity in the system. A very small number of blogs enjoy hundreds and hundreds of inbound links…but almost all others have very few.
    “…there is a scientific explanation…the social dynamics of the internet, including ‘network theory’: a mathematical model of how information travels inside groups of loosely connected people, such as users on the Web.
  • “In scientific terms, this pattern is called ‘homeostasis’ – the tendency of networked systems to become self reinforcing. ‘It’s the same thing you see in economies – the rich get richer problem.’”
  • “…’it’s still possible to create a top-ranked blog…The bad news is the way…now seems to be public relations’…Just posting witty entries and hoping for traffic won’t do it. You need to actively seek out attention from the press.”

So you see, much with almost anything there is no real point in starting a blog. And, much as with almost anything, this lack of a point is unlikely to dissuade people. Those with something to say and those without it. This is America after all. If a no-talent person can’t make it here with little effort, where the hell are they supposed to go? Fucked if I know.

Of this, I am sure: Few people will see this comment. Which is probably for the best. It is also likely that my own blogging experience will be the closest I get to seeing my shit in print anywere. It is likely that, like so many other hacks, I long to create connections, but having failed, continue to try. It is a disease without a cure. This is a stroke of luck, as I am a right sick fuck.

I gave up aiming to be part of the solution years ago. There is no solution. So, I will continue, stupid as it is, boring as I am, to remain part of the problem. But you, however, may want to do some serious thinking.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Not every man's life is a soldier's service.

Holy shit on a stick. I must have been living under a rock. How could I not have heard until this weekend that a movie adaptation of one of my favorite novels is hitting theatres this month. Factotum. Henry Chinaski brought to life by Neanderthal-browed Matt Dillon in what many reviews say is a career-best performance. Guess they’ve produced the novel in a modern setting. Which probably works just as well (and helped with the budget, I’m sure). I have a new love for Norway. Or Norweigians…Bent Hamer adapted the bastard and shot in Minnesota in 2004. Guess it did okay at Sundance, as it is getting distributed. Hope this is better than Barfly, for chrissakes. The trailer seems to capture the proper tonality at least.

How I found out about this development is almost as good as hearing about it in the first place: from the bearded mug of a 58 year old Boatswain's Mate, Petty Officer, Second Class (Ret)Richard Kaczmarek. “You shit-bird son-of-bitch, preppy ass motherfucker…you call yourself a Bukowski fan?” Ricky, as he’s known, is one of those people who, when you describe him to others, seems like an exaggeration. Before I get into all the details, know this: the guy has a tattoo on the inside of his bottom lip. When he folds it down (revealing deep yellow ochre teeth, receding gums and plenty of silver filling work) you can read in navy blue his “mantra”: FUCK IT.

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Mantra. That’s one of his words. You imagine him repeating the one on his lip to himself over and over and you begin to feel a sense of dread as to the fragile threads of impulse control in place with this polar bear of a man. What was I doing drinking pints of Yuengling with this character? A good question.

See I had a meeting with my accountant. Seems there were a ton of missing receipts in my “entertainment” deductible. (Another story). I was feeling particularly chipper that day and laid a rap on the receptionist, a cute eastern European, who surprisingly agreed to give me her number. Her name was Katia. She asked if I wanted to go to a party. I had visions of crushed OxyContin and Polish Martinis. Boy, was I wrong. She told me to meet her at this Lower East Side bar, Rolf’s, that Friday. I walked into the worst dive in the neighborhood full of Polish and Polish Americans celebrating a young solider about to head out to Iraq. I shit you not.

The kid, Private First Class USMC Richard Kaczmarek, Jr. was fresh back from Ft. Lejuene, NC. 19 years old. Can’t wait to deploy. His big brother is a NYPD policeman, Officer Joseph Kaczmarek. Officer Joe was dating Katia’s sister. Hence her attendance. And mine. His dad, you guessed it. Ricky, Sr.

It is important to note, I rolled into Rolf’s dressed completely inappropriately. “Look here, we done got us Bruce Fucking Wayne!” bellowed pater famamils, Boatswain's Mate Kaczmarek.

Ricky Kaczmarek, Sr. stood all of five eleven, but with the hands of a seven-footer. Huge mitts, the fingernails bitten down across stubby fingers. On his left hand, a wedding band, thin, gold. On his right, a skull ring, large, silver. He was a wide figure, with a huge stomach. Barrel-chested I guess you'd call it. His arms were heavily tattooed, the right with an Japanese style sleeve and the right with various naval motifs.
"This one here," he said, referencing his wedding band "…this shits a rememberence. So's this”, he drawls, bringing the sausage link fingers of his right hand into a fist. “My left is my past. The right, my future. I done fucked up the best thing in my life when I lost my wife. She had every right to throw me out. I was no good. Weren't until her funeral a year and a half ago that I reconnected with my kids.” He calls the rings “Memento Mori”.

See, once Katia came and introduced me to the family (and once I was able to pound about 3 pints) the Kaczmarek’s took a shine to your hero. “You really do nothing all day?” asked a young man, maybe 22. “Shit…I’ll be your bodyguard bro. Pay me to sit around your house, man. Guard your money.” “Yeah, I bet you beat off like a hundred times a day,” said another.

Ricky Senior asked me flat out…”all I want to know is do you support the troops.” Now people…I didn’t survive to 32 years, the better part of the last dozen frequenting bars, by not seeking to “remember my audience” as much as possible. It’s part of my charm. Of course I support the troops. And I do. I may not be such a fan of the war…but I sure as fuck don’t hold the men and women fighting it responsible for the decision to invade. I said none of this, of course.
“Hell yeah I do,” I think I said.

It was early, but that didn’t seem to affect the degree of intoxication in place at this function. There were a number of National Guardsmen there. Most of whom had seen active duty in Iraq in the Army before recently coming home. These were E-3s and E-4s, grunts. And they were shit canned. The topic of group therapy was heavily discussed. These guys had seen people die. They weren’t complaining. They were all firm in the statement that “they knew what they signed up for”. They all agreed the situation was 100% fucked up, but they wanted us to “win”. A lot of them said how hard it is to keep your temper once you’re back home. How they hate it that people assume stuff like The Mahmoudiya incident happens on a regular basis. When asked though, they agreed that it probably did “go down”. One specialist put it this way, “…it’s confusing. You like these people, you’re trying to help them and then they go and try to kill you and you want to lash out. Soldiers are getting fucked up, and bad shit can happen.”

Bad shit indeed. Boatswain's Mate Kaczmarek had seen his fair share of bad shit. The younger soliders had kind words for Ricky Senior. They had been welcomed home as heroes whereas he was “spit on”. He’d been moved from the Green Water Navy to the Brown Water Navy in 1968 and saw some significant action. Never wounded in combat, Ricky Senior is on disability. His stories help paint a picture why. They each involve drinking a ton and some sort of physical violence. Disrespect is a big thing with Ricky Senior. Jarhead assholes? Stomp em. Fly boy brown shoe shit heels? Stomp em. Uppity Gold Bar Ensign? Stomp em. Ricky was in the brig a lot. Busted down from Chief twice.

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“They discharged me cause they said I was crazy,” he says, poking me in the chest with his finger. “You know what? I am.” I pounded my beer and replied, “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must live.”

“Holy shit…that’s Bukowski!” remarked Ricky Senior. “Yeah I’m a fan,” I noted. So was Ricky Senior. That was how I came to find out about the film. People are a strange animal, are they not?

As for Ricky, Jr…his father has said he requested Marine Corps MOS 0351, Infantry. An Assaultman. With a tear in his eye he looked at the ground. “I’m proud of him. He’s got courage. But I wish he was in the rear with the gear. Something safe. Something administrative and shit. Stupid fucking kid.”

As for Katia, she took me home that night…said I was quite a hit. This surprised her. She expected I would have had problems with those guys. I said, I expect I would have had my ass kicked had I not been properly invited. She said, no…you know, because of where you come from in relation to them. I said, no way. I respect those guys immensely. I have problems with what seems to happen to them over there. That they have to get all fucked up. “It’s their choice,” she said. She was right of course.

I think of the stresses these cats face. The way it seems to haunt them not for months, but for decades. I think of the rest of us, snug in our entertainment cocoons, politicians included and I think again of Bukowski:

you never had it to begin with.”

Monday, August 07, 2006

Men will be boys. Duh.

Ms. Belinda Luscombe recently commented in a major newsweekly how frustrated she is with the repetitive nature of romantic comedies featuring the pairing of “together” women with loser men who willfully embrace unemployment, drunkenness and other extended adolescent silliness.

She describes it such: “The shift in power between the sexes has never been greater than in romantic comedies. The men are about as useless as a pitcher of spit, while the women have careers and well furnished apartments and vast freighters of wisdom.”

(Pitcher of spit…useless? Bah! She’s obviously never set the bar on fire doing volcano shots.) She asks: Where did Gregory Peck go? The answer of course, Bella Belinda, is that Mr.Peck is dead. He died in 2003. And his heirs aren’t quite so sure being a man is all it’s cracked up to be.

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Now…to be clear, Ms. Luscombe is complaining about movies. However, many would argue she makes a point valid beyond the multiplex. It’s not new news that dudes could be a might confused over when to be sensitive listeners and when to be MAN-tastic. It has, after all, only been two generations since the era of sheer chauvinism. Those of us in our thirties were just born, or at least young children, during the big equal rights push. The next decade, the Greedy 80s saw the birth of the glass ceiling. But women were beginning to become a real force in the workplace. (That’s why Chet and Bubba worked to build that ceiling.)

By the time ol’ Chas Chesterfield was in college, the PC 90s were in full swing. All the chummy Alpha Male shit was, if far from eradicated, at least driven underground. For all its backlash today, I feel strongly that there is something to be said for getting privileged white kids to be aware of the experiences of other citizens in our culturally and economically-diverse country. And, beyond that, for men to learn to work with women in setting not charged with bullshit sexual innuendo at every turn is good for business and for women. In the most advanced fields, great strides have been made. PC made this a reality. That, and lawsuits.

Today, while women still need to battle for position in the workplace, it is their skills which seem best suited for success. Saatchi & Saatchi CEO, Kevin Roberts notes, “This is a new era for feminine power. Deep emotional connections are where it’s at and every company has to be up for it. FastCompany just ranked emotional connections number one out of ten corporate challenges. Sir Mark Moody-Stuart knows it. Writing the foreword to an April Judge Institute survey on corporate reputation factors, he registers his surprise at the low ranking by CEOs of 'emotional connections'.”

Roberts goes on to point out how women, by being more open to collaboration, dialogue and team work, versus piss contests and the like make better executives. How the macho posturing of type A males is bad for business.

Let’s say for a moment that women are empowered. I’d argue that they are, in many respects. One stat that says so is that over the last decade women-owned businesses have mushroomed. One in eleven women in the States is now a business owner. How is the Alpha doing in these environments? Do you really want a team coordinator or other entry level player swaggering around, acting dominant and over confident? In the inverse ‘survival of the fittest’ world of business it is not the physical leader who always succeeds. It is the person who can ‘adopt an effective attitude’, who has ‘emotional intelligence’. Probably not the man of action.

The superficial examination of business aside for a moment. Let’s get back to love interests. Are you familiar with the Cads and Dads study? It seems that when it comes to enflamed passion, fucking and the like, women tend to prefer a dominating, powerful and promiscuous man. The Type A jerk. However, when considering the long-term relationship, women are more likely to turn to a compassionate, sensitive and monogamous man in touch with his feelings. Sure…you say. No shit. But this is science, people!

"About 60 percent of the women said they would prefer to have sex with a cad when considering a brief affair," notes Daniel Kruger, psychologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. The study tested evolutionary mating theories using hypothetical scenarios involving classic “cad” and “dad” character types from 18th and 19th century British literature. The subjects were an ethnically diverse group of 257 female undergraduates at a large Midwestern university. While the women said they preferred dads for long-term relationships, they found cads more desirable as short-term mates.

I have noted before and will do so again that we are merely animals battling years of instinct and societal patterns in an environment where the primal drives must be curbed. Yet in those times when primal drives emerge: the bedroom, the war zone, our civil constraint and rules ring hollow. But day to day, it’s a different story.

So where are we? Women are attracted to type A jerks but they don’t want to live with them, work with them, for them or supervise them. You’ve come a long way, baby. Because society has. Advanced society does not share the same rules as one in which the top hunter/warriors ruled the roost. Physical prowess is irrelevant. Collaboration is king.

Art, after all, mirrors life, or so they say. And if you can call Hollywood films “art” at all, you don’t have to look much further than the types of males found on Hollywood’s A-List these days. As Ms. Luscombe might say, “where have all the men gone”? Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Tobey McGuire, Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal, are boys. Some of them, 40 year old boys. But boys all the same. Even when Pitt gets huge from lifting, he still looks like an 18 year old Adonis. Where are the Burt Lancasters? The Bogarts? The Robert Mitchums? Like Peck, they’re six feet under.

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This is no call for a return to the tribe, to painting faces, banging drums and killing animals. It is a request to cease the complaints. Why did human males control society for so long? What makes us different? Testosterone for one. Pump enough juice into a woman and while she may not feel like a man in terms of gender identity, she’ll start to look like one and act like one. Men are important because we made ourselves important. Food first, conquest and empire next, then business. But business doesn't really require biceps and fists, not literally at least.

In 2006 we see a workplace more equal opportunity than ever before, and as such…women are performing. And dominating. Within a few more generations, they may prove to be unquestionably superior at the kind of management required to make companies succeed. Men may have a role, as sales people, gregarious backslappers, or as ADD afflicted Wall Street Traders, but within the flat team-based organization…where do they fit? They may not, at all. They may become relegated to those jobs where physical prowess still means something: law enforcement, manufacturing, construction. Those that prosper in the office-place, are likely to be sensitive “dads” and as such, while good partners, are unlikely to get the blood pumping on the silver screen.

This is bad news for Ms. Luscombe.

Look, I complain a lot, so I feel for Belinda. I really do. It’s just that her gripe is of such a common quality. The “why are things the way they are…they didn’t used to be” complaint. This complaint infects the writing of many an opinion-column. From sports, to music, to “values” (whatever), things never hold up to some past standard. With nostalgic zeal many readers, viewers, throngs of all sizes, pound their fists in agreement. Of course, this is just silly.

As Heraclitus wrote, “all things pass and nothing abides; you cannot step twice into the same stream.” The Gregory Pecks are dead. Long live Greg “G-Dog” Peck who can get you a sweet deal on a quarter of kind bud. He works in shipping. You'll find him living in his parent's guest house.

Sorry love, that’s just the way it is.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The importance of a good ass-kicking.

I’ve had my ass kicked a few times. Probably not enough times. I’ve done a little asskicking of my own. There is something primal and stupid about violence. It accomplishes very little. However, among the few things it accomplishes is a reminder of one’s own frailty. An ass-kicking is a taste of failure, at its purest.

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Drunk Buck thinks he’s tough shit. Lifts weights a bunch. Was on his high school football team or whatever. People tell him he’s the coolest. Likes to drink a bunch of crappy domestic beer. One night Buck drinks too many crappy domestic beers and takes umbrage at the attitude of a bouncer at a night club. Big dude doesn’t look so tough. Buck could fucking take him. Buck starts something he can’t finish. Buck is shown what tough shit is really all about. Buck is beaten, and embarrassed in front of his friends. He withdraws. He becomes depressed. He calls in sick. He begins to wonder is he was ever really tough at all. He may be prone to bouts of crying. He’ll certainly hold himself in different regard in the future, one can hope.

This phenomenon has a mirror in the animal world. Depression follows a beating and the defeated male withdraws to lick its wounds. It is, in that savage setting, essential less an injured combatant return before ready and risk further injury or death, eliminating its chance to procreate and pass its genes down the line.

Humans of course are animals, albeit amazingly sophisticated in many aspects of behavior and interaction. As such, not all asskicking needs to be of the sort poor Buck experienced, although the Bucks of the world do deserve an honest physical retort to their crude outlook, a reminder of the frailty of the human body, the danger of the human ego.

An asskicking could be defined by range of experiences common in day-to-day contemporary life. Being dismissed from a job. Rejected by a lover. Being chastised by a client, or a superior. Any action whose result is the deflation of hubris and a more careful consideration of self. It is a painful experience, but one which is sure to make a difference in considering one’s actions.

Look at every asshole you know. What they need, most likely, is a good asskicking. Seriously. You’ve seen people who’ve waltzed through life without every having someone say to them: “What the fuck is YOUR problem!? Don’t you know you’re an asshole and that you piss off everyone around you!?” It could be quite a curative thing, I suspect.

Buck is to bargoing cretins, what thousands are to their employees, subordinates, service staff, even the regular guy on the street. Swaggering, thoughtless, egomanical. And desperately in need of some sort of awakening.

I propose a federal bureau of asskicking. It could be part of the IRS. Claim your dependants. Claim the jerks who need a swift kick in the ass. Every American can submit three names a year, and have waved all potential assault and battery charges.

Sir…based on our records, you had it coming. Please feel free to fill out form 234B for an ice pack.

Say…does that sound fascist? It shouldn’t. It should only apply to biggest assholes of all. If someone only beat up Goebbles every time he thought he was helping build a master race, maybe he’d begin to question his superiority and take up knitting or something more tame than genocide. Imagine a certain former Haliburton CEO, taken down just a few pegs. Maybe he could use his powers for good instead of evil? Who knows? Such possibilities.

Hey, I’m against corporal punishment in schools. And I sure as hell am against bullying. But you have to admit, the smug factor in this country just might decline if you knew this guy could legally take a swing at you some day:
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“Hey…we’re only doing this for your own good.”

Monday, July 31, 2006

Admit it. Fashion is ridiculous.

1. It is irrational and subjective.
2. It is juvenile and superficial.
3. It is wasteful and silly.

I am sure to irritate people with this post. But I feel there is something that should be said on this subject. Let me begin first by acknowledging the right for people to express themselves however they like and, if the only aspect of themselves they find important to express is found via their appearance, then great. Good for them. They might be idiots, but good for them all the same. Let me also say that I support fun. Buying clothes and slapping them on is exceptionally fun for some. My gripe is not with clothes. My gripe is with the arbitrary “in and out” artificiality of the industry.

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A case in point (and what sparked this opinion): a major national news program leveraged a “use it or toss it” segment from a well known fashion magazine. Certain items were deemed no longer appropriate, such as cowboy boots, chandelier earrings and cargo pants. Other items were declared freshly important such as oversized bags, leggings and ballet slippers. Sorry…is someone making a joke? Because I can’t stop laughing. We are supposed to be this country of rugged individualists, yet I suspect in a year’s time the assertions made above will become cardinal and widespread.

Where does this nonsense come from? There is a lot to mull over on this subject.

Consider the historical angle. How could the very rich distinguish themselves from their inferiors? By constantly updating their wardrobes is one way. The court of the 17th and 18th centuries demonstrates this brand of insanity in a dramatic way. Courtiers follow the royals, haute bourgeoisie and rural aristocrats follow the courtiers and so on…until you run out of people able to expend the needed monies to keep up. Status could be instantly recognized by how behind the newest look you are. The pinnacle of this madness featured individuals so decadent as to have custom clothes made for them to wear only once and never again. It also demonstrated how moronic things could get as in the adoption of powdered wigs originating from the hair loss of Louis XIII after a nasty bout of sypillis. In what way other than one of sheer absurdity did this…look good?

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There is developmental psychology to consider. The anxiety of peer approval. The obsession begins in middle school doesn’t it? Mapping out social equity. Cool kids vs. uncool kids. Styles selected in order to be presentable in a light that portends to elicit favorable social response? Of course this has nothing to do with the actual, physical material items themselves, but with the arbitrary rules of the setting. A boarding school in New England would have a much different set of standards than a public school in south central Los Angeles. A school in Dallas would have very different definitions than a school in California. This underscores the meaninglessness of opinion. What matters is perception. Becoming a follower begins early. And it never really goes away.

Then lastly, perhaps we should consider the gender studies angle. Beauty and fashion are aspects of culture seemingly more appealing or widespread among women. Now, I’ve had a whole gang of discussions with women about the horrible impact on self esteem and body image that comes from an environment saturated with unattainable ideals of beauty. Still, when the voices of Style speak…everyone snaps into place. And what is the point? Say what you want but on some level it is about being attractive to the opposite sex. Drawing attention. An example of the strange inverted policy among humans versus the rest of the animal world where it is the male who must work to attract a female partner via vibrant adornment. (Ladies, you’re helping make it a man’s world.)

Stupid, isn’t it? Allowing others to proscribe what is worthwhile and what isn’t? Okay. I began this diatribe with some assertions. Allow me to put some meat on the bone point by point.

Fashion is irrational and subjective. The aim is to zig when others zag. Why the trucker hat came (and passed) or the frightening return of tapered jeans is upon us is seemingly without reason. Irony at play, then adopted by those who cannot define irony even if their lives depended on it. Who are these tastemakers? Because I’ve got a piano necktie with their name on it.

It is juvenile and superficial. Children learn that cruelty to others makes them feel better about themselves. In a more nuanced way, the woman with her Birkin shames others to see how superior she is. (They hate her. But they’d love to have the bag.) In a society without formal class demarcation, the very rich want to put the well-off in their place. It’s a giant school yard. Full of bullies. And…what is more superficial than the beauty industry? That we live in a society where there are $60,000 handbags may be worse than one where you needed to pile a giant tower of white horsehair on your head and paint various black moles about your mouth.

Finally, fashion is wasteful and silly because it is of fleeting importance. It is intended to mutate. Items with immense margins are paraded about for consumption as ‘must have’ replacement for other items which are perfectly functional, but no longer ‘acceptable’. The one constant is that if you buy the most fashionable items, you will rapidly look ridiculous. (Ahem, UGG Boots?)

We simply have too much disposable income, as a society. We revel in entertainment and distraction. God knows I’m aware of this. I’m part of the problem. I’ve bought my share of Hermes ties. I drink like a fish and throw up on Gucci loafers. Wasteful and Silly is the subtitle of my life. However, as noted…I am a clown. Don’t be like me. Admit fashion is stupid, ladies. Don’t get sucked in. Wear what you like. Be yourself. Put down the magazine. Who cares what Scarlett Johansen wears to the supermarket? Don’t be bullied. Aren’t there other aspects of your identity that are more important that your accoutrement? If only there were.

In the end, the next time you feel shame about a magazine saying your earrings are SO last year…remember that Fashion and Fascism begin with the same sound.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A tax on all your houses.

The rich hate taxes. Why should we give up what we fairly made off of the backs of hard working consumers? We own the means of production, after all. (Or…our trusts do.) The middle class hate taxes too. But they don’t quite benefit so much as the extreme rich. Nor do they receive the same size cut, following the GOP’s slash-and-burn run-up-the-deficit, what-me-worry-eschatological policies…as the rich. Trust me, as a kid who does nothing to earn his checks but log on to check his statement, I shouldn’t complain. But I do. Why? Because I’m willing to pay taxes. I think it’s the cost of living in a larger society. Tax policy is not my point here. My point is to entertain you. Taxes are not entertaining. They’re boring. Sort of like City Clubs.

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Let me give you a glimpse into an amusing world. The New York City Club. Most people have no idea these things exist. (Silly Hoi Poloi.) Even people who live in New York, but who weren’t Manhattan private-schoolers or aren’t employed in the finance industry are unlikely to be certain just what I’m talking about. The archetypal clubs are populated by ancient Upper Class men who lunch with their class of ’38 Exeter cronies and complain about the outside world and wonder why their grandchildren have all turned into such little shits. These institutions are exclusive, open to men only, incredibly homogenous and reek of WASP establishment rot. In the past, if you weren’t blue book society, even if you could obtain a sponsor, you would be refused membership.

Of course new members have to come from somewhere. They PAY for chrissakes. And so, these days, there is a drive on. A recruitment. Class for sale. And look out for the stampede. My father and grandfather were Knickerbocker and NYYC members. My great-grandfather belonged to the Knickerbocker, NYYC, and the Union Club. I am a member of none. Thank Fucking God. You will see why.

A cousin of mine, Geoff Courtlandt, who works in some shitty middle office job at JP Morgan that his mother (Aunt Petunia) landed for him is a member of one particular club. I won’t say the name out of respect but an anagram is Nouni (which ends in an “I” and would exclude an applicant from membership). Geoff and I were drinking a lot together one spring in 2003. About half in the bag, he asked me if I would consider becoming a Summer Member of this specific club. “We can play squash and everything!” Great, I said. (I’m horrible at squash compared to most preppy scumbags and get dangerously close to a coronary in a matter of minutes. I detest the sport.)

Being drunk, and a good friend, I agreed to check it out. And what did I find? You have to remember that these things were invented as a place men could go after work to have a drink, potentially gamble, smoke pipes/cigars and talk about politics. It was a place where a “gentleman” could escape the familial distractions of the home, and the restrained behavior required there. Sound a little like a frat house for grown ups? You’re not crazy. Except fraternities are focused around girls. Attracting them, getting them drunk, etc. And women aren’t allowed in the “bar” of a city club. That’s fine and well if you’ve been married for 20 years. But what about the younger members? There's something a little odd about electing to forgo the typical Manhattan bar scene and all the filled single women therein to sit around, play backgammon, and drink single malt scotch with a bunch of single dudes, not to mention middle aged married men. Somewhat suspect, mmm?

My journey began at this “rush party” thing where I met a gang of older gentlemen, members, all of whom spoke kindly about my parents and grandparents and made me feel uncomfortable and somewhat creeped out. (Particular this ruddy faced guy in lime green trousers named Binky who dwelled a beat too long reflecting on my mother.)

Following that, I was in. For the summer. See, for a small fee, you get to try out the facilities and the membership, in turn, gets to try you out. See if you cut the mustard. Now…a White Shoe, Blue Blood, Black Heart like me should have no problem. But what about the other guys?

What a bunch of losers. I mean, I’m a loser…but I know it. I…EMBRACE it. These sorry characters actually believe they’re living in a Joseph Conrad story or Tom Brown’s School Days. Plenty of rich people are good-hearted, kind and decent. But these parasites live up to every stereotype the average person would imagine. Many work in finance, but not in the elite firms. Quite a few were “between jobs”. But to them, it didn’t matter. They saw themselves as these aristocratic scions. I have never met such a bunch of sniveling tory asswipes in my life. To call them knee-jerk conservatives would only be 50% accurate. These were reactionaries, right wing, without so much as a hint of interest in anything which would help improve the society they live in. They spoke of public affairs with superficial airs, sweeping generalizations and a stubborn ignorance to anything requiring more than a few moments of thought.

For those of you who went to boarding school, or an elite college or, even who might attend gala benefits in major urban areas you may be saying to yourself, “Um…yeah…Chas. It’s called The Wealthy.”

I say BULLSHIT! This is America. Land of Opportunity. At some point, the ancestors of these young men made something of themselves. They created. They contributed. New York City’s most established institutions were gifted to the people of this city by the wealthy. What value do these coiffed jackasses create? How do they contribute? Whatever happened to Noblesse Oblige? With wealth, power and prestige come social responsibilities. If you already won the lottery by fortune of being born, shouldn’t you at a minimum cultivate how to better the lives of those other people in the system who didn’t receive your advantages?

I posed this question, phrased somewhat differently, to one character who introduced himself as “Bunny”. He responded with an incoherent rant regarding “survival of the fittest” and “to the victor go the spoils”. His great grandfather had been one of JP Morgan’s attorneys. That’s how he could afford to live a life of leisure. Bunny didn’t even finish college. He laughed at my insistence and called me a bleeding heart. He asked if I had heard of Darwin, the skinny little shit. Happy to demonstrate my take on his themes, I dragged him outside by the lapel of his Paul Stuart suit and proceeded to beat the shit out of his pseudo-aristocratic body. Bunny didn’t put up much of a fight. Swung a few wild punches which I deftly avoided. I left him an inert mass of bruised mush on the curbside of 61st street. I don’t think he’ll be playing polo for some time.

Needless to say, I have not been invited back to the club.

So why did I start this post with the mention of taxes? Because Bunny should be taxed. Heavily. I want a populist uprising. To benefit those people who keep the engine of capitalism moving. I want to force Bunny to get a job, to have a heart for others, to understand that the only reason he is able to live the life he leads is because American consumers go out every day and buy products, which generate revenue for the companies in which Bunny owns equity. He owes a great deal to these people. And he should want them to be able to continue to buy these products which they can’t do if their society doesn’t have a safety net for them. If its educational system does not equip them. If they get sick and die because they have horrible health care.

In any event, I remain the real clown. The joke's on me, isn’t it? The country is moving further away from taxing the Bunnys of the world than ever before. If only the voters knew. The middle class, suburban church-goers who think Bunny gives two shits about them. Who thinks they’re sympataco. Bunny wouldn’t piss on the middle class if their pantene clean hair was on fire. But they keep supporting legislation letting him keep more and more of his dough. “To spur investment,” they say. The only thing Bunny invests in is a couple of grams of coke for the weekend.

And where does this leave me? Other than persona non grata at the City Club in question. It leaves me rich in wallet, poor in disposition. It leaves me sad. I may have to take my windfall, not-going to be taxed, GOP driven cash down to the liquor store to self medicate. God Bless the USA.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


This is the word that fills my head for over an hour. I am back in New York, at a bar called Stanton Social on the lamest night of the week, Saturday. The place is packed with decent enough looking people, but they’re all idiots. You know what I mean. Sunglasses worn indoors, each pair emblazoned with some shiny consonant intended to reflect the excessive sum of money devoted to specific acquisition. (Never mind that it’s 1AM.) Red bull vodkas, ordered with no irony or self-reflection. Those fancy $80 T-Shirts with designer tooling. Bronzer. And these are the Yuppies!

Your hero often claims to be a misanthrope. But it’s not the case. I don’t hate humanity. I may be disappointed in how easily the dance of stupidity works its way into the line-up, but I don't condemn the dancers. I want to hate, but I can’t. Our failures and idiocy are shared ones. We’re all guilty of the sort of mistakes we see in others. Perhaps the scale varies. Or the application. But we’re all an irrational mess of chemical, gristle and bone capable of extreme selfishness. We’re obsessed with being right. It takes a lifetime to gain perspective, to realize how many hours were wasted over things that didn’t really matter.

There are real misanthropes out there. Like Michel Houellebecq for instance, the controversial French author. There is no joy to be found in his regard. He seeks to find the truth and the truth is horrible and ugly. We’re awful creatures. He expects nothing holding up a mirror to us. That’s part of his genius.

I’d long to expect nothing but I can’t. We’re all we have. Better then, to laugh. You don’t hate a clown for being stupid. (Although you might fear him, my coulrophobic friends. And rightly so.) To be amused by the pettiness is somehow greater than condemning it. I suspect self loathing is at the heart of most true misanthropes. They can only sustain self worth through holding the world at an arm’s length. Usually smoking a cigarette and simpering.

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It is a hard leap from critic to clown. People don’t want to make a fool of themselves. But in the end, so much of what we hold important can seem foolish only a few years later. The domino theory. Witchcraft. Esperanto.

Of course some things are not laughing matters. Witness the events in the Near East these past few weeks (I will be one source who won’t go into excessive detail on the subject. There are many who will and who do a better job than I.) Still, here in the complacent, (to date) missile-free US of A…most things ultimately are rather silly, if only we can improve our vantage point. Integrated Marketing. Brand Equities. Finding out what pair of trouser-cut defines us as a person (Boot Cut, Relaxed Fit, Retarded Pleat). What an amusing bunch of monkeys we really are.

This monkey, known to you as Chas Chesterfield, has elected to embrace that he’s a fool. And his aim will be to entertain. After all, it’s just a lot more fun.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On Top of the World (Company Aside).

There are too many Americans here. I am considering adopting a British accent. Or pretending to be a deaf mute. I remain aloof, trying not to become engaged. This has the downside of increasing my tendency to ease drop and the contents of what I hear can be just as infuriating as the inane small talk and false friendliness exhibited by my fellow countrymen abroad. Which is the lesser of two evils?

As an aside, your hero has gotten over himself. (He is after all, somewhat emotionally impaired.) Happy days are here again. Having spent a strong day at the Uffizzi I am literally on top of the world or, more specifically, on the upper-most table (reachable by a steel staircase) on the upper-most deck of the rooftop bar at the Grand Hotel Baglioni. It is the same view as that from the Duomo, except that it INCLUDES the Duomo. Goddammed incredible. I am quaffing a bottle of 2001 Sergio Barale. It is delicious.

I never fully appreciated how beautiful the women painted by Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi (Sandro Botticelli) truly are. Today, I did. There is strength there. There is something unique to each face. A poised elegance.

For "little barrell’s" sake, I sure hope he slept with his models. It would be a crime not to have done so.

Maybe I'm just hard up.

"So, how long y’all staying?" asks a questionable character in pressed khakis and a multicolored short sleeve shirt emblazoned in several places with East Lake Golf Club. He is 28-year-old Brant Buford, newly-wed. Spilling his Budweiser dangerously close to my suede Guccis he is determined to make friends.

It seems that Brant is in a bit of a pickle. He is on his Honeymoon and his wife is unhappy. See, she thought Florence was going to be this magical city, full of beauty and wonder. (“It is,” I offered to no avail or significant response.) There is apparently “too much hussle and bussle” for young Honey Buford. (No Joke. Candy would be delighted to make such an acquaintance. Candy. Sigh.) One eye closed, taking a swig of the Barali I ask what Brant means. It seems the couple is from Charlotte and finds the pace of whizzing scooters, pushy foot traffic and narrow streets too much to swallow. Or at least Honey does. Brant grew up in Atlanta, so he knows ALL about big cities. (Ahem.)

Being a dutiful groom, Signori Buford is going to rent a car and drive his bride over to some two-star he secured in Pesaro in Le Marche which is supposed to be more quiet and near beaches where Honey can work on her tan. She is getting terrible lines wearing the “church approved” clothing required for site-seers in Florence. And so, off to the Adriatic, Brant needs someone to take their room. They’re booked through the weekend. He’s hoping my reservation has expired and he can sell me the use of his space. “You know…on the cheap”.

"And…where is Mrs. Buford?" I ask looking around for a blonde with odd tan lines. (She HAS to be blonde, don’t you think?) Apparently, she’s in bed, moping. I wave down to the waiter to order un altro bottiglia. Brant sort of looks at me stupidly. Like am I going to offer him a glass or what. Christ on a cracker.

I amaze myself by saying "You should go fetch Honey. Then the three of us can have a drink. I can't help you with your room, but I guess I can toast your marriage". The goddamn thing sure as hell won't last. Futhermore, If I have to put up with nitwits, at least old Chas can try to find someone young and female to speak with. However stupid.

Honey, as it turns out is no Rhodes Scholar. But she's incredibly sweet and wearing very few clothes. She's also a horrible flirt. She's all of 21 years old and worked as Brant's secretary at the Law Firm at which he is an associate. Lawyers. There are more of them than there are tourists over here. Jesus.

I actually enjoyed my time speaking with these two fellow citizens. They were politely engrossed with my stories, or at least too polite to fully demonstrate their boredom. Of course, I sanitized the accounts a fair amount, removing anything exceptionally illicit that might upset company so straight and narrow, church going, whatever, that they practically squeaked when they nodded thier heads. (Don't ask me what that means, because I don't know.)

If I were a few years younger and a few drinks more intoxicated, I would have had a go at cuckholding young Mr. Buford. I would probably be able to rationalize it too. Helping speed along the inevitable. I suspect that church-going aside, Honey would be susceptible. At least with another joke or two and another bottle or three.

Of course, those years are long behind me. It is better to do nothing than evil. Whatever that means. I think it means I'm trying. I bid good night to my Red State amigos and wished them many blonde babies and a fat 401K and as many SUVs as they can drive.

So...my self restraint intact...I tumbled downstairs to the lower bar to hit on the two Australian girls I met waiting to use the bathroom. Surely, my faculties would be more kindly applied in their direction. Of one thing I am certain: I will be less embarrassed in the morning if they turn me down than if I were thrown off of the tallest hotel this side of the Arno at the hands of an irrate Brant Buford. Poor sot.

Buona notte.

Word Drunk.

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What would we be without literature? In a Lungarotti-induced fog, itself a hedge of defense from the splitting pain brought on by the aforementioned Scotch binge, I see the narratives we craft and cling to with surprising clarity given my state of mind. I’m using the word to refer to all narratives who seek to reach beyond the boundaries of entertainment, that pure distractive addiction which grips most everyone these days. Literature. Trying to convey something true about experience. About humanity. It is honest and ugly and through that, beautiful.

What a load of shit. Alcohol sure makes the brain swim in chemicals of sentimentality. With the last delightful girl well on her way to whatever glass office tower she works in back in Manhattan, I have only this sentimentality, this alcohol and a few good books to keep me company. (Currently, Norman Rush, who is a genius.) We do see ourselves sometimes as characters in literature, creating our own fictions to move the plot along. If only our lives were as true and as interesting. Well, at least mine is. Ha! (Jesus I’m wasted.)

I need to move on. I’ve decided to abandon the remaining days I have in the house and take the car up to Florence. I’ve called ahead and booked a suite at the Grand Hotel Baglioni. I’ve reserved tickets at the Uffizzi so I can see some old friends and not have to wait in line. This should provide me with the all important reason to get out of bed.

Rush is a superb writer. And an amazing guy. Born in 1933 he didn’t publish until 1986. He was 53. Christ. There is hope for us all. (By us, I mean the arrogant shits who think the tumbling voice in their heads is interesting to anyone else but themselves.) Guy won the National Book Award for his first novel, Mating, this amazing story set in Botswana that somehow sweeps successfully from deep excursions into issues of development and sustainability in Africa to the intimate dance of two people falling in love. I’m not capturing it properly. There is something brilliant about this work. It’s intensely cerebral at times, and steeped in upper quadrant vocabulary, but no less true, honest and significantly human. This is a book that makes me wish I was a better, more fully developed person. Too bad for me.

I’m out of wine, and my headache has returned. Can you drink yourself sober? My poor motor function responds no. I’ve typed this sentence four times. And spell checked it. Fragile dysfunctional vessel the nervous system. If God were here with me in the villa right now I would punch him right in the mouth.

I am looking forward to Florence. And to a fresh set of adventures.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Brutal Stupidity.

I learned something significant about myself watching Zinedine Zidane headbutt Marco Materazzi. Here is a captain of a football team, a seasoned vet, on the verge of winning the world championship, his final game ever, finding himself unable to resist the impulse to physically respond to a verbal barb thrown his way by one of the most consistent trash talkers in the game.

It’s trash talk. Zizou has been called everything in the book for decades. His action not only tarnished his reputation and caused global uproar, it may have cost France the championship. He should have thicker skin. A cooler head. However, he can’t fight his chromosomes. The old XY. The influx of testosterone. The amplification of stress, causing a thoughtless irrational flash of violence. This is who we are, gents. Deal with it.

What did I learn? That I'm a idiot. Okay, yes this is not exactly NEW news. However, the extra trouble I have at times is surely because I am a dude. And a troubled one at that. See, here's what happened. Candy and I were walking back to the car after the world cup victory and strolling past us where three beautiful, nubile girls smiling and animated. I belted out a "Forza Italia!" and one of them stopped, grabbed me by the ears and kissed me. I dipped her and kissed her back, almost out of instinct, discounting the act as part of an excited response to a feverish environment and ultimately sort of a funny joke-like jesture. Candy did not agree.

She didn't speak to me the whole car ride home. There was no physical contact that night.

In the morning, she turned on her blackberry for the first time since we landed. Most of the morning was spent reading emails. She did this inside. After failing to break through the wall of silence, I journeyed outside to read by the pool and there, to continue to work on frying myself beet red.

You see, it turns out this girl takes things seriously. At least some things. She has been called onto a case she's been waiting for, apparently. She has a car coming from Rome to pick her up this afternoon. She has to pack. She's had a blast but needs to go. I get a peck on the cheek. I am lost.

Like Zizou, I am a loser. I failed to reason. And I have no Golden Ball player trophy to show for it. I predict an evening filled with waterfalls of Scotch and self pity.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Candy and I are roaring up the A1 in a navy blue Mercedes CLS 320 CDI. We are flying and she is enjoying the view listening to the Velvet Underground and Nico at moderate volume. I am trying my best to get used to driving 160 kph and managing various turns in these European lanes. (They’re narrower goddamn it and I am looking quite the fool.) The countryside becomes rural so quickly here. Fucking beautiful. I rented a small house about 10km from a town called Todi. Place has a pool and a stunning view of the rolling hills of the Umbrian countryside. I am relentlessly hung over but looking forward to two things: a glass of the Pio Cesare 2000 Barolo Ornato in the back seat and getting a look at Candy in a bathing suit. Why this second desire you might ask since I’ve seen the package sans envelope? The only answer is that I am depraved and odd things excite me.

Back to the countryside. Did you know Italians embrace the tradition of local agriculture so significantly that there are firm laws in effect which prevent the kind of suburban sprawl that has transformed the American countryside into an identical conflagration of corporate outposts and planned residential communities? True story.

If you want to build an addition, or build a house at all in the country, there is some sort of golden proportion of meters of arable land you must own. Want to add a rumpus room or three car garage? Too bad. You’re going to need to buy up acres and acres of additional land. Making the matter worse is the historical fact that Italians don’t believe in primogeniture. They just divide all the property up equally among children. As such, most farmers have dozens of small tracts of land to work. So, say you only need one hectare. You’ll need to identify an army of farmers and land owners (some of which may be dead) contact them, get them to agree to your terms, secure a hearing, get them all in the same room (a sticky part of Italian law) and then pay the appropriate taxes. By which time you’ve given up on your silly improvement project and decide to move to Texas and buy a McRanch which is what you should have done in the first place. In the end, it sure makes for great scenery. If only I could look at it and not be afraid I will go careening off through the guardrail to my death.

Okay. Didn't I promise a little more on the World Cup? I mean...the fucking guys WON for chrissakes. Do you have any idea what it's like being in Italy during the world cup and having them walk away with the championship? People in Boston in 2004 do.

Anyway. We watched the finals in the Piazza de Populi in an Umbrian medieval hilltown. The rear lit projection screen hanging from the archway of a palace loomed as the announcer rumbled over loud speakers. The square was filled with everyone from the surrounding villages, ages 8-80. It wasn't Berlin, or Rome but give me a break. What an experience.

The Italian flag was everywhere. And made into capes, skirts, turbans. Girls strode through the square with the green white and red painted on shining tan faces. Men threw back Nastro Azzuro, wearing Italian Blue: Totti, Del Piero, Cannavaro. They roared and cheered and filled the streets. Every bar, restaurant, cafe, and gelateria had monitors and loudspeakers. You were immersed in the event. When the game ended, it was a riot of joy and madness. Fireworks, screaming, kissing. The winding roads leading up the hill to the square zoomed with speeding scooters and cars, waving flags, honking horns and screaming CAMPIONI DEL MONDO! I will never forget it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

SPQR with a Bullet.

Candy has turned out to be a delight, and moreover, she agreed to leave her pistol back in New York. She apparently speaks Italian for chrissakes, which helps me take a sort of CFO-like role, sitting back paying the bills and letting her do most of the dialogue with the locals. I can barely order, much less make reservations. I am horrible with languages. English included. I attribute this to the general egotistic viewpoint modus operandi I embrace so fervently. Not only is she useful, which sets her aside from most other women I date, she’s a riot. Plus, she seems to actually enjoy sleeping with me. Which is nice.

She is also a beautiful girl, in a youthful sort of way.
Kind of like that Amy Adams actress. Maybe with a little Sunrise Adams thrown in for good measure. Just looks mind you, I'm saying. I appreciate her mind most of all. I am not interested in her reading this and putting a .22 caliber hole between my eyes. I would need that like a hole in the head.

Rome is hotter than the hinges of a made up concept of eternal punishment. This was met with great poise by my traveling partner. She does amazing things to mini skirts and Prada heels. Didn’t seem to sweat a drop. As for me, while I packed my tropical wool and linen, I seemed to be a self contained sprinkler system. Thankfully the Hassler (my Rome hotel of choice) is more than equipped to handle ample dry cleaning...at about a hundred Euro per pound.

Candy and I settled into a nice little routine. Wake up a ten with a triple espresso each and a pitcher of bellini cocktails. Dress, shower and head out to say hello to some old friends. Bernini, Raphael, Borromini, Carvaggio. You know the deal. (In an effort to avoid melting into a pile of fat yankee mush as I humped it across the cobblestones in my Gucci loafers, I commissioned a driver, Giovanni to drive Candy and myself from site to site.) Head to Caffe Greco or George’s for lunch. Candy would be sensible with a little Caprese or other salad like thing. I would do what I do in Italy…stuff myself silly with pasta. Plenty of wine and then back to the Hassler for an afternoon roll in the hay. Wake up around seven and head out to dinner. (Plenty of meat, cheese, more pasta and steaks of many kinds.) Then fountains of cocktails until closing. There are worse ways to live.

The Hassler is a splendid place to stay so long as hemorrhaging money isn’t something that necessitates anti-anxiety medication. Beautiful location at the top of the Spanish Steps. Nice place for a drunken stroll. That said, recently there is a newly formed battalion of rose salesmen that just about drove me insane. They weren’t here in such numbers during my last trip. These guys are more aggressive than a drunken stripper an hour before closing. They literally don’t know the meaning of no. Or non. Or nein. They would place a rose in Candy’s hand and say “Uno Euro, my friend”. I think they belonged to some slavish guild who wouldn’t let the poor devils come home until they’d sold the bushel. While a part of me wanted to break their teeth in, I felt sorry for the odorous sons-of-bitches. Once, in a moment of frustration, I gave the guy a fifty and took the entire assortment. Candy said I was nuts. She’d told me she hates roses. (An absurd cliché, she thinks.) I left them in the open window of an old Cinquecento.

One thing I hadn’t counted on was the World Cup. I live in New York, so I appreciate fans. Ours are intense, regardless of the sport. But comparatively, in terms of sheer insanity and passion, nothing we have seems to reach the levels of importance of FIFA to these people. More on this in future posts. However, one incident in particular stands out.

We were at a bar in the Trastevere watching Italy versus Ukraine. Candy had made friends with an Italian couple from Milan, Paulo and Stefania. She was good at making friends. He was an attorney. She was a former model. Anyway. We were sitting on a square watching the game on a screen provided by the establishment. A crowd of rowdy Ukranian fans were there too. People were exceptionally intoxicated. Long story short, when Vyacheslav Sviderskyi got that yellow card, Paulo let out a resounding cheer (along with 95% of the rest of the place). I guess one of the young Ukranians got a little frustrated and hurled a bottle of Heineken in Paulo's direction. Smart bastard ducked. The thing hit me square in the forehead. Right at the hairline.

Candy, with great conviction, flew over to the table all one hundred-and-practically-nothing pounds, grabbed the offender by the scruff of his Ukranian Jersey and punched him six or seven times in the face. (!!!) In the end, I think he may have a worse deal than I. (Candy sports a pretty hefty canary diamond on her right hand.) The Carbinari had a lot of fun with that one.

I ended getting three stiches in my forehead, 100% free of charge thanks to the socialized medicine in this fine country. Candy pointed out that I would have a decent scar and that in the US, I probably would have received at least a dozen stiches. I asked her, "what about free don't you understand," and shook the hand of the seven year old doctor with one eye who helped me out. Fortunately for me, she likes scars. What a girl!

Flying is for the Birds.

Your loyal narrator is already sweating like a pig. Okay...like a steer because he's just been loaded onto a cattle car named Continental Flight 42. Holy shit on a stick air travel is horrible. No insights there, but when you're in the middle of it...what an undeniably miserable way to get around.

My cousin, Walker Roosevelt-Higgins once let me join him on a jaunt to London from JFK via his father's Gulfstream G450.

We drove right out to the tarmac. No security. No lines. (aside from those done in the car by Walker - the insidious degenerite. Wanted to make the flight a party. How exhausting.) Smitty, the porter, took our bags and in five minutes I had a full glass of scotch rocks in my hand.

Walker's an ass, of course. His father was the first Brit to build a pool of assets avaliable for bundled purchase for the middle class investor back in the 1960's. (In the states we call them mutual funds.) Made a killing. Guess what Walker does. He skis. And 'shags' titled 'birds' with herion problems. We had a bit of a falling out after he caught me doing an impression of him in front of several of his London society people. (Dead on, by the way.) Also, I was sort of accused of stealing the last remains of his coke stash. Anyway. That was it for private jets in Old Chas's life.

Now it's just me and the great obese, tasteless mob, dragging huge rolling bags filled with Old Navy sweats and horrible sneakers, pushing screaming babies and speaking at high volumes. I do love my fellow citizens. We're like a horde of retarded toddlers. Unsettling, but inspiring great pity. Gosh, I'm a shit.

I bought the first class or business first or elite business especiale or whatever absurd branding machination it is these days, and still feel fairly uncomfortable. My notebook, an awful glass of cheap champagne and this attractive girl in the window seat (Candy) are my only concillation.

A thing about kids. Not having any, and not really having parents I have some trouble seeing the point.

These little monsters may be cute, when they're not spilling on you and filling their little pants with various wastes, but how often is that? There is an issue of screaming. How can such small mouths make such an incredible racket? And then sustain it for so very long.

And today, there are children in first class. The little shits can't even vote. Plus, they're smaller. They should be in coach. At least for the sanity of customers like myself shelling out $4000 a pop for a ticket. How John Q. Fannypack up there is affording an entire row for all of his horrid offspring is beyond me. God bless the frequent flier upgrade I guess.

We are in the two right hand seats of a 2-1-2 row structure. In front of us are two adorable little demons who will not shut the fuck up. I assumed they would fall asleep. No such luck. The mother has her hands full with an infant in her lap in the middle row. The father is with a teenage son on the left two and these girls, plugged into the headphone movie remote control contraption matrix are looking for questions to ask. How do I change the channel mommy? Did you see Sharon Stone get naked in that scene mommy? Can you believe she went through with this movie in the first place mommy? Mommy, can I buy a Rolex on duty free? I may have made some of those up. I did my best to get exceptionally drunk.

The flight attendants looked a little appalled. Luckily for me, Candy was not. She took an Ambien and had been out since we took off. I wonder if she'll be upset if I root through her bag to find her stash. Not that I would do such a thing.

This trip is off to a troubling start.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Invading Italy.

Right. So a break from the history lesson and maudlin autobiographical nonsense. I have decided that Manhattan is getting too muggy this summer and I have no desire to rush out to whatever pseudo chic beach event people pretend to care about in the Hamptons.

Did I ever tell you about my acquaintances, the Sterns? They took a house out in East Hampton. Nice little cottage. I went to the beach with Jim. Good guy. Banker type. A little desperate. They both like to drink so we were sort of amigos for a while. I asked his wife Carol if she was coming as well.

Her response was “oh, not me. I hate the ocean.”

Later at the beach I said to Jim, “good sport then, your wife. Coming all the way out here, fighting against absurd traffic if she hates the beach and the ocean.”

Know what Jim said?

“What are you talking about? She’s the one who insisted we get this place.”


They spent thousands of dollars for this cottage (rental premium) because she…get this “liked the restaurants.” She lives in Manhattan for fucks sake. The capital of restaurants.

What Carol liked was the perception of going to the Hamptons. Piling in the fucking Audi. Bitching about the traffic. Seeing people on Monday…Oh…we were at our place (ahem…rental) in East Hampton.

What a total pile of steaming manure. It makes me sick.

So…back to what I was saying. I want nothing to do with the Carols or Jims of the world this Summer.

Instead, I have booked myself a ticket to Fiumicino. I will be in Rome through the end of the month, take a spin up to a villa in Umbria for a few weeks, and conclude with a few nights in Florence. I plan to stuff myself with pasta and drink as much wine as I can. Should make for a good adventure.

Going with me is a young woman I met a few days ago. Her name is Candy. (Seriously.)

She’s an attorney. I actually asked her to go as I’d heard attorneys in New York can’t really take vacation until they make partner or cede their soul to the dark lord or whatever.

Joke was on me when she accepted. Guess she is a criminal defense attorney who is self employed. Anyway.

She’s just like I like ‘em. Short, blonde, brilliant and just a little bit crazy. She's a Texan, but a socialist. She packs a .22 pistol in her Marc Jacobs handbag. What a socialist is doing with a Marc Jacobs handbag is another question altogether. Don't think I didn't ask. That's when she showed me the .22.

This has all the earmarks of a disaster. I can't wait.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

And just who might I be?

Charles Courtlandt Chesterfield IV. Yankedoodle Dandy. Trust Fund Baby, Trouble Instigator. All around fun-loving agitator.

There has been a Chesterfield in this country since it was properly stolen from the very first indigenous populace to stand in the way of progress well over 300 years ago. As such, my world view on American peculiarties is as well honed as my ability to determine whether my Grey Goose martini has in fact been made with Grey Goose or some imposter vodka. (Like Absolut. Fucking Swedes.)

I was born on April Fools Day 1974 in international waters off the coast of the US Virgin Islands. I did show up early. What my mother was doing sailing eight and a half months pregnant you would have to ask her. Which you can't, since she's dead.

Luckily for me, I was boarded at Eaglebrook in 1986 when my parent's yacht, the “Abigail Adams” capsized and sunk during a storm somewhere off the Cape Horn near the Tierra del Fuego. My older brother Geoff wasn’t so fortunate. However…the family fortune came my way exclusively so I had that going for me. Which is nice.

The great thing about boarding school is that you have the old “in loco parentis”thing. Who needs nurturers when you have books, lacrosse and booze. That’s how I saw it at least. I saw my fair share of schools. Eaglebrook into Deerfield. Kicked out for drinking. Deerfield to Andover. Kicked out for smoking. Andover to Choate, class of 1992. The only reason they took me was the trust officer donating a new wing for the library. A mind is a terrible thing.

College was a blur. There was lots of drinking. Only reason I went was I couldn’t access the trust until I graduated, which finally happened after 6 years. I took a year abroad without telling anyone, if you catch my drift. Somehow a BA in Philosphy was achieved but I don’t remember what my thesis was about. Something about Locke. Or Hegel. Well, whoever it was. I won’t cite the school out of fear that they’ll recind the degree but it was an Ivy. And it has a Chesterfield Chair of Philosophy now.

I’ve had my share of adventures in the last eight years. Adventures I will share with you dear readers in this very forum. There will be plenty of dipsomania fueled tales of misbehavior coming your way, just as soon as I can paste together the foggier details.

Remember my motto: