Saturday, May 25, 2013

Stella in the demi-monde

I'm in Times Square for the first time in years at a  semi-swank hotel I booked off of priceline .It's on 40th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.Almost 25 years ago I worked in a church ministry in this neighborhood three nights a week .We helped drug addicts get clean.It was the beginning of the crack epidemic.
Working in teams of three or four,sometimes with the help of The Guardian Angels, we gathered whatever the streets offered up; prostitutes,hangers on,the deranged,the mentally ill,the hungry,the needy,the hopeless and the naked defiant.Sinners of every stripe came through our church doors to sing Psalms , Hymns and spiritual songs, side by side with Broadway's recovering best. Our music was electric, infused with that kind of hope which is born solely out of utter desperation.I saw lives change,and sorrow turned into joy.

In 1988 I got married and moved to Florida.

A few years later I heard that Times Square had been sprung from the bowels of the demi-monde into a glittering tourist hub for families with kids.There was a memorial service for a dear old friend in the city so with my sister-in-law Ellen and  my 6 yr old son Ryan we trekked south to Times Square.We were looking forward to seeing Cinderella,Wicked and The Lion King.

It's pouring rain. We just saw Star Trek 3D in Times Square- not bad but for the annoying distraction of Chris Pine's (Captain Kirk) restalyne lip job and frosted hair.Things were so much simpler in the 70's. In that future,everything happened in slow motion. Now's future lives at light speed- already over just a moment or two after it begins. Mid stream on board Starship Enterprise and I was jonesing for the sequel.

We stop at Duane Reade Drugs on the way back to the hotel to get some Cokes and reading material. There is a long line.Behind the counter stands Hari Das,"trainee" who is counting out in real time slow motion  every one of the thirty something one dollar bills from an elderly lady carting a beat up suitcase on wheels. He pays equal time to the items of the next five customers. My turn finally.Two cokes,one Vogue, The New York Times,and the latest edition of Wired magazine .Hari Das can't find the price for Wired with his scanner so he asks me repeatedly in a thick Indian (I think) accent how much, I know how much. I respond,"How about three bucks?" He's not convinced."Ok," I say,"charge me for two Vogues then I'll be overpaying ". "No,no,this no Vogue:",he insists pointing at the cover which reads: "AWAKE: when the objects around us can talk to one another,the elements of our physical universe will converge and spring to life.In time,this network will grow to fulfill our needs,understand our desires,and enable our dreams. Welcome to the programmable world.It's closer than you think"..
Ok.I sport my granny glasses and scan the front page of Wired for a price."4.99-right here",it's in tiny black print in the lower corner. Hari Das inputs the numbers at record slow motion. I can feel the  pounding wrath of some Germans behind me.Hari Das is immune.

Out Duane Reade and I make a sharp right turn on 8th Ave. "It must be garbage night",I whisper to myself as I navigate around the piled high plastic bags lining the sidewalk in clusters.Grasping Ryan's hand I hurry past the two seedy sex shops we must pass in order to reach our warm dry beds 12 stories up. From the corner of my eye I see a young black woman in red shorts and platform boots standing under an umbrella. I know what she is. My heart skips but I don't stop..I've got my son to think about.When we get to our room, I ask Ellen to watch Ryan so that I can go back to the drug store. The elevator is so damn slow but I want to catch the girl before she gets hired. Out the sliding glass door and I see her coming,umbrella in hand,hiding her face.She is following a John a few paces behind him."Hey"I said."Can I talk to you?" "No" she says as she lifts the umbrella and looks at me nervously.She is actually very pretty with big almond shaped eyes that betray intelligence.She moves steadily along in those platform boots with an athletic stride.

Then,suddenly she's gone and I'm dumbstruck on the street  in the rain  like an idiot next to a wet pile of recyclable  cardboard boxes. Should I go after them,tell her I'll give her double whatever she's getting from that sleazy John just so she won't have to....,to do that thing? I've got cash in my pocket that I could easily replace. I wait. I watch. I ask the guy hangin' around the sex shop door if he knows her. Has he seen her? He "know nothin'" and demands to know if I'm undercover Port Authority police. I look down at my polished white Nikes and I feel ashamed. In my heart I know she's not coming back,that I'll never see her again. In the quiet of my bowed head I  say a prayer for her and name her "Stella" because something deep within tells me she's a falling star.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Generation Gap

What’s the next big thing? Should I invest in facebook? These are the questions being asked by baby boomers today as they assess the landscape of our changing world.

  What they don’t see is the gargantuan waterfall that’s fast approaching as they float along on a barge of steady complacency. It doesn't take much thought to recognize that the newly matriculated generations of Y and Z  won’t be honoring there forbears with titles like “The Greatest Generation”.

   What is the legacy of the boomers, besides the drug culture and  the STD's, according to the Y's and Z's? Well, there's global warming, the decayed infrastructure, the trillion dollar debts and deficits, the collapsing dollar, the insupportable entitlement programs (there is no Social Security Trust Fund after all ), a third rate education system, no-fault divorce, situation ethics, the right to be detained by the government indefinitely without an attorney (the destruction of Habeas Corpus ) and an uber-expensive surveillance state , huge enough to put the KJB to shame. The best they can muster as they're voice of conscience is Tom Friedman whose book,The World is Flat  was already irrelevant before it hit the press in 2005. Speaking at an Aspen Institute Conference in 2011 at which his microphone/earpiece did not work and needed to be replaced by an old fashioned hand-held thing from the eighties he said, “When I wrote The World is Flat, Facebook didn't exist, Twitter was a sound, a cloud was in the sky, 4G was a parking place, Skype was a typo (the audience laughs and claps sympathetically )..... and I thought I was on the cutting edge,ok?...” 

  I wonder if anyone of Tom's colleagues friends or audience realize just how cutting edge he isn't. Facebook actually did exist when he wrote that book. It went live in 2004. At that time MySpace was in full swing and Friendster was up and running for a year before that. But most likely Tom's audience consists of observers of these things,not users.They watch it after the fact, in awe and wonder when the younger world has been consuming it under they're radar for some time. The thinking that comes from these different frames of reference is as divergent as black is from white. Tom Friedman's latest book That Used to be Us, is a sad testament to just how out of touch that generation is with the new world that's already become today.His boomer-buddies at the New York Times gave him great reviews.

 Tom Friedman’s generation set out to change the world  in the 1960's with proto maxims like “over thirty doesn’t know” and songs like ”The Times they are 'a Changin'” designed to discredit the values and thinking of there parents and grandparents.They self identified as 'Cool' and listening to them now , one gets the impression that they still view themselves this way,when in fact they're Grateful Dead song Old and In the Way seems a better fit.

 Aspen Institute 2011 Host  and Friedman contemporary Walter Isaacson, mostly bald with a few white hairs remaining, refers inquisitively to the changes which have come from what he refers to as the “new media”.He hangs on Friedman’s every word. What Isaacson and Friedman hold out as extraordinary and mysterious is not new at all  for the Y’s and the Z’s who would never discuss technology in those terms. For them, tech is not a separate thing. It just is. It’s organic to who they are and how they live. Herein lies the great divide between the relevant generation and the irrelevant one.Theirrelevants have conferences to discuss and dissect the technology which has left  them in the dust. The relevants don’t talk about tech as something to be discerned, they just use it. They also make it.

  As China improves the world's fastest supercomputer and builds it's high-speed rail, America is digging up land mines in the remote mountains of Afghanistan, making the region safe for "No Child Left Behind", a failing education system designed by policycrats from the Cold War era. Than there are the geriatric voices of Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles  talking about "a new plan" they've come up with, " for the sake of  they're grandchildren",  meant to fix the enormous mess they've already made. Neither Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook, nor Steve Jobs' ifone , nor Sergei Brin's Google came about from  policy wonks or central planners.These three visionaries with their teams of kids, facilitated  the Arab Spring, among other things. Stay tuned Brookings and AEI because there is so much more to come,not from you.

  As totalitarian governments like China move away from frozen ideologies and centralized power dynamics, Tom Friedman recommends that  the necessary  change to fix America needs to happen in ”a new collective“. A collective made up of whom,Tom? Charlie Rose and Anderson Cooper? Do they know the latest updated version of HTML5 ? Friedman predicts a third party with Michael Bloomberg at the masthead. Who’s going to break it to these guys that the times, they have been  'a changin’ for a good while already. Micheal Bloomberg was over thirty over thirty years ago.

  Instead of planning the world which they no longer own , the boomers need to prepare for imminent future scenarios such as when the Y’s and Z’s refuse to pay into there Medicare and Social Security , or  when the dollar collapses and their pensions disappear and they don't have the necessary skill set for gainful employment or online banking. They need to “plan” for the day when they don’t get to use 911 services  because they've passed the age limit for fair allocation of public resources. How will they reinvent themselves in a world  where the  new owners see them as losers and wreckers? They need to prepare for the policy paper/legislation which mandates euthanasia. What's the plan for that?