Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Americans | Lefsetz Letter

To lead a better life…

We went to Bob Windt’s rooming house on July 4th. It was on the parade route on Park Avenue in Bridgeport.

What was a rooming house? My parents tried to explain. They don’t have these anymore, at least I don’t think so, where you rent a room in a house by the week, with the bathroom down the hall. There were always some strange people on the porch, as opposed to the ones we saw all the time. They were the residents. Bob was the tax collector for the city of Stratford, he was the only Republican we knew. His two rooming houses were his supplemental income. Everybody’s got a dream, everybody wants something more. And I don’t remember much about the parade, other than the Shriner cars, of course, and Mister Softee. We didn’t have Mr. Softee in Fairfield, only Good Humour, remember Toasted Almond? But the Mister Softee truck was soft-serve, not that we used that term, I had to move to California to learn it, and you’d get a double cone, one filled with vanilla and one with chocolate. Of course you could get a cone with the same flavor in both holes, but then why get a double? And at this late date I believe we can all agree that vanilla has gotten a bad rap. Yes, the supermarket stuff, the drugstore vanilla, is awful, like licking wallpaper, but ever since Haagen-Dazs invaded America, ever since we’ve had super-premium ice cream, I’ve come to realize that when done right, vanilla is exceptional, although I still don’t cotton to strawberry, it was my father’s favorite, I’ll eat it, but it’s never my first choice. And one more thing, I remember buying an American flag, with forty nine stars in it, before the following year when Hawaii became a state. Or was it Alaska? Was it the next year? I’m not positive, but that flag is one of my few memories of the fifties.

But the sixties are seared into my brain. That was the decade of possibilities, when we strived to be all we could be. That’s right, the Army stole our slogan, just like right-wingers ultimately had long hair, every cultural advance is ultimately adopted by the masses, even Republicans rap. But back then, being against the war, listening to FM radio, that was being on the bleeding edge. We didn’t hate America, we just hated some of its policies. But we listened to the tribal drum, the transistor, the Beatles, and we realized, maybe there was another way. We were mortified when we heard the Fab Four smoked dope. But then we did too. And when the San Francisco sound arrived it was us versus them, only every young person was then us, unlike today. But that was the power of the war. You didn’t want to get your ass shot off involuntarily, for a cause you could not understand. As for the Domino Theory, it’s proven to be about as truthful as the Trickle-Down Theory, the experts always tell us they know best, and I’m not denigrating expertise, I’m just saying they’re not always right.

And I remember the Bicentennial. I’m shocked, positively shocked I tell you, that our country is 242 years old. Do we get a celebration at 250? The Bicentennial was kind of a dud. There were the Tall Ships in Long Island Sound, but other than that, we just got fireworks. After Watergate, after the resignation of Nixon, it seemed unseemly to have an over the top celebration, so we didn’t, and time marched on. I went to law school. I tried to go straight, it didn’t take, and then I no longer recognized the country I was living in.

The eighties were supposed to be the time of prosperity. The nineties even more so. But I’m out of synch with the times. I always do best when everybody else does poorly, and vice versa, and now time is running out of the hourglass. I saw all the kids watching today’s parade and I realized it was new to them, they were still optimistic, they didn’t know what the future might hold, whereas the sand is running out of my hourglass, and it’s so weird. The only bands in the parade were rock, other than the bagpipes, baby boomers playing instruments. I’m not sure young kids do that anymore. Remember when the dream was to be in a band? If you’re a boomer, you recall. Now the dream is to become famous. Not that we weren’t interested in that either, it’s just that you could not be famous for doing nothing, no way, you had to achieve something. Boomers were all about achievement. Before it became about money.

But that’s what the millennials do best, make money. They know life is hard, and if you don’t fight your way to the top you’re going to be left behind. Which is why people all over the world are pissed, they’ve been left behind. My grandparents came to America with no portfolio. They scraped so my parents could go to school and have a better life. And my dad worked hard so I could be who I wanted to be. Almost no one gets to be who they want to be anymore. Go to a college campus, these are the most practical people on the planet, they don’t want to end up with the short end of the stick. But the truth is there’s only so much stick to go around, and too many people are being left without. And you can’t go backward, as much as I’d like to live in the sixties, globalization is here to stay, but the world is in future shock, the rockers have never recovered from Napster, never mind Spotify, and those who can’t make ends meet want to make America Great Again, not knowing that it’s only bad for them, and back then wasn’t so wonderful, and their best bet is to jet into the future. Kinda like VW and MBZ and BMW. That’s right, the EPA may be rolling back emissions regulations, but the Europeans can see the writing on the wall, it’s a global business, and the rest of the world is sick of pollution, sick of global warming, but don’t tell the left behind Americans this is so. They want the right to drive their SUVs and fill them up with cheap gas when the truth is the jobs are in solar, not coal, and sure, electric cars run on electricity, but the truth is an electric engine is much more efficient, not that facts mean anything in today’s world.

So after the parade we went for brunch at the Sebastian. They were roasting a whole pig, I’m a meat eater and proud of it, although cow farts are a problem, but if we all give up meat I’m willing to do so. But you vegetarians and vegans without protein, the joke is on you. It’s your health that’s in jeopardy. And I’m not saying you can’t get enough protein without meat, it’s just that it’s hard, and most people don’t, and my point here is I’m into the greater good, I’m willing to sacrifice, that was the ethos of the sixties, that we’re all in it together, but now everyone feels entitled and the joke is on us.

So after a cornhole tournament, which Felice ultimately won, three games to two, we retired to the condo to finish “The Americans.” America’s greatest strengths, its greatest exports, are entertainment and tech. People are hooked on story, hooked on truth, they want to be taken down a path, the more realistic the better. And I’ve now streamed six seasons of the show, invested more time than I have on any album this year, because…I like the feeling of a darkened room, suspending disbelief, being carried away, that’s why I used to go to the movies, back before all there were were genre flicks. And I’m not giving anything away by saying that the Soviet Union signed weapons treaties, that there were Glasnost and Perestroika, that the Wall fell, and now Mother Russia is run by a dictator. What makes a person want to rule, gain all that power? But the truth is democracy lasted in Russia for a very brief period of time. But when it came…

Everything the spies believed in became untrue, their cause was eviscerated, and thinking about this…this is how life goes, you think you know everything and then you find out you don’t, or that someone moved your cheese, the goal is to roll with the changes, as REO so hookily told us to do decades ago.


I don’t know if we’re at the end, if we had a good run, if it’s only downhill from here. We used to be leaders, we used to be compassionate, we used to care, sometimes with an underbelly of an agenda, but if you wanted to know where the world was going, if you wanted hope, if you wanted optimism, you looked to the United States, no longer. Now let me tell you how weird this is. We grew up not only believing we could be all we could be, but that we would be better off than our parents. Meanwhile, almost no one I know has achieved this, their parents did better, in many cases they’re living off the financial legacy of their parents. And we believed America was about acceptance, about pushing the envelope, we stopped watching moonshots, we’d seen the trick. Now there are seemingly no tricks left. There just isn’t enough money. Taxes are bad, the government is wasteful, so we end up with crashing infrastructure and opportunity for the rich only, meanwhile, there’s a religious contingent telling us how to live. God was Dead in the sixties and the irony is he’s dead again today, millennials believe less, but a minority is influencing the majority, hell, more people voted for Hillary than Trump, but the Donald believes he’s got a mandate, as he lies so much no one can keep track. And I don’t care if you’re a believer, then again, is it really any different than being a Belieber, or a Durannie, or the fan of any teen phenom? But the truth is America has changed. And to those of us who’ve been around, it’s unrecognizable.

And I feel powerless. Hell, they’re gonna confirm a Supreme Court Justice in her forties, someone who can rule for forty years, much longer than I’ll be alive. But my sixties ethos survives. I believe we can be better. By coming together. By sacrificing for the greater good. Hell, Jimmy Carter had it right when he said to put on a sweater. He may be out of office, but who can afford to run their A/C full blast anymore? Heat their house to 68, never mind 70?

So I don’t know where we’re going. But I do know the cynical, those wanting us to jet back to the past, those narcissistic, thinking only about themselves, are not going to lead us to a better future. We know what the truth is, which is why inexperienced 28 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat 56 year old Joseph Crowley, along with doing the work. No one in America wants to do the work anymore, other than, ironically, the immigrants. The Mexicans are some of the hardest working people in America, legal and illegal. They want more, they don’t complain, they just put their heads down and do their job. But somehow they’re the problem. Once people start pointing fingers, beware, because eventually they’re going to point the finger at you. No one is inviolate, no one is immune, no one is protected, and the sooner you realize this, the better society gets.

But society is bad now.

The boomers who believed education was primary are pissed they’re only professionals, who make a tiny fraction of the income of financiers and techies. So it’s not only the underclass, the opioid-addicted, who feel left behind, it’s so many Americans, but we refuse to do the hard work to right the ship. So what I do is turn on the television, to be taken away, to learn about life, to experience truth. And what “The Americans” taught me is true believers ultimately lose, the joke is upon them, the key is to be like the denigrated Muhammad Ali, to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Yes, he was a public enemy before he ultimately became a hero, proving, once again, that life is long and change happens, and you’re best to do what’s in your heart or you’ll be left out in this game of musical chairs.

Somebody moved America’s cheese. The raw statement that we’re the Greatest Country In The World didn’t help us when the world caught up. So now we’re blaming not only the Mexicans, but the Chinese and even the Canadians, everybody but us.

But the problem is us.

And the sooner we realize this the faster we can turn this ship, that we’re on, around. Don’t tell me I can’t go from steerage to the upper deck. Don’t lie to me and tell me about upward mobility when the American Dream is more achievable in Europe. As a matter of fact, I’ve stopped listening to you. Your job isn’t to hate online, your job is to face facts, to jump into the future, to adjust.

And we’ve got a lot of adjusting to do. All of us need to be thinking how good America can be, as opposed to complaining we’re not getting enough. The future train is coming down the track. And it’ll have a dash of socialism, a safety net for all, and educational opportunities, and if you’re denigrating those on welfare, you’ve missed the point, they’re not the problem, you are. Ain’t that America, where we never focus on the facts, just the penumbra, let the culture wars decide our future, as if gay marriage would end civilization.

But now I’m getting into the nitty-gritty, and I’m just about worn out with that. Like I said, my optimism is shot. Then again, when I experience great art, when “The Americans” edifies me and entertains me…

I’ve got hope.


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