July 30, 2003
But I'm so glad to learn the recession is officially over,2 just like that constitutionally declared war in Iraq.3 I was actually under the impression that experts still hadn't decided if the recession existed or not.4 Simultaneously, Reason Publisher Mike Alissi wrote me that hiring an assistant publisher has been put on hold, “given the tough economic time.”5
That's gotta change, fast. The relatives are circling again with the "what are you doing with your life?" inquiry.
Something not volatile?6 What's that? Nothing's stable right now, not when the manufacturing is being moved to Indonesia,7 the tech jobs are being moved to India,8 the corporations are relocating to Bermuda,9 and anyone with brains and money is moving to Costa Rica.10 And to think my namesake great-grandfather fled the blood-soaked tyrannies of the Old World, with only the clothes on his back, to America in search of a better life for himself and his posterity.
To staunch the money hemorrhaging, I've begun investigating new career options.
For instance, I attended the monthly meeting of Wealth Builders of Austin. Naturally, the local politicians and the editorial staff of the Austin Chronicle didn't attend.11 Instead, the meeting featured Don Konipol, a Joe Pesci12 look-alike in a Kramer shirt13 who delivered a presentation on private real estate financing heavy on the streetwise stand-up shtick (…“unless you have someone good in forgery, we don't have a deal.”)14
Earlier, a local business acquaintance – who shall remain nameless – offered me a job as a loan officer for his new mortgage financing company. I declined.
We'd discussed this before. Rather, he'd discussed it and I’d replied noncommittally. The first time we met, he spent a lot of time telling me what an ethical guy he is. My suspicion surged. Then he told me I could earn $4,000 to $16,000 a month. It sounded too good to be true. I asked around. Some mutual acquaintances, whose acumen I respect, described him as all talk and no action. He's a schlemiel.15 A nice guy, but a schlemiel nonetheless.
The schlemiel persisted. We met at the Wild Ginger Restaurant on North Mesa Drive on July 21. I arrived before him. I waited. And waited. Then, the proprietress received a call from him. He said he was running late. She conveyed the news like this was typical of him.
“Do you want me to kick his butt for you?” she asked.
He finally arrived. I went in a cold mental mode, as if it were a chess match. During his pitch, I made noncommittal responses and elicited more information from him. Through a genial mask, I noted the syntax, voice timbre, and body language that accompanied his answers, waiting for him to slip. He didn't disappoint.
His mortgage lending company isn't even up and running. It'll be operating in five months. By then the real estate bubble may have popped.16 Nothing is really solid, including commitments from the 20 people he said repeatedly are interested in working for him.
The lending company is his get rich quick scheme. He hopes to retire to his ranch a year after the company's up and running. Seems he's always been a step behind the smart money. He's spent his working life in law, real estate, and business management getting scraps compared to the banquets enjoyed by his employers, and even more galling, his children. At the same time, he still lacks business cards and e-mail, lacks knowledge of how to use computer equipment, and stubbornly refuses to learn when anybody presses him on the matter. After his second glass of white wine, he mentioned some tax and marital woes that could impede his focus on his new business.
The schlemiel told me most of this before the others arrived. Meanwhile, I struggled through a Chinese meal showcasing a particularly gristly cut of cat. The good news is the proprietress – the new proprietress – is changing the Wild Ginger to a supper club (dining and dancing). Let's hope the steaks at her new swanky joint don't show the marks where the jockey's been hittin’ it.17
I finally turned him down. Several Asian entrepreneurs, all acquaintances of the schlemiel and the proprietress, joined us. They turned down his offer to become loan officers, too.
Behind backs, they made catty remarks about the food, and the schlemiel’s drinking and tardiness. They seemed impressed with me, however. I charmed and flattered the Asians, particularly the good-looking businesswoman sitting next to me. In turn, she tried to fix me up with several women she knows between Austin and Dallas.
But it's the schlemiel who produced results in that category. On the side, he played matchmaker for me. He connected me to Sandra, a sassy, 26-year-old petite brunette. We met, clicked and began dating. That put me a sitcom premise, where I have a love life but not an income.18 Not how I anticipated my personal circumstances would develop.
Word of our affair spread fast in Lago Vista. I'm glad that in some small way I could alleviate the residents’ humdrum existence. Regrettably, word probably reached my previous woman and closest friend.19
I even met the parents on the second date. Or rather, it was before the official start of the second date. I got dragged into attending a new amateur actors’ group in Lago Vista run by her uncle. I made my usual wisecracks and attempted to charm the folks, but conversation with them was strained.
And then the affair ended shortly, like most sitcoms. She called up to break up. “You're everything I've ever wanted in a guy.” And she still broke up with me. She trotted out the cliché, “It's not you, it's me,” which she insisted was sincere.20
“Are you OK with that?”
“It's not like I have any recourse.”
She laughed. “You're a great guy. Someday you'll make a woman very happy.”
Someday, yeah yeah. Always mañana with people.
“Best of luck to you,” I said. What I really meant was, “Drop dead.”
Diamond in the Rough
So I resumed my usual social schedule. Caught David Lee Roth at Stubb's.21 Actually, I didn't see him at all. I just heard him. I was walking around outside while listening to the show. It was like having an outdoor Walkman.22 Knowing what I do about sound setups for rock shows, I probably heard the band better for free than the people who paid to get inside Stubb's. The set list was heavy on the Van Halen songbook, with a few detours into his early solo work,23 and one tune off his latest album,24 all interspersed with his signature verbal tics.
Roth's fate is to be an entertainer out of time, a vaudevillian song-and-dance man in the Age of Spandex. He astutely saw rock as just another species of show biz, although the only benefit has been to cushion the disappointment that accompanies the downward arc of his career, characteristic of most rock acts.25 It's a shame. He could wring, or string, new life out of clichés (e.g., "Beautiful Girls,"26 "It's Showtime")27 better than anyone in the genre. There's no one coming up who could succeed him, except maybe Rob Eisler.
He could've given some lessons on doing a variety show to the dorks responsible for the Maple Surple Variety Hour Puerto Rican Summer Social at Club de Ville on the 26th. With the revue's title, I figured I could take a chance for $5.99.28 Puerto Rico has given much that's worthy to the world.29 Ricky Martin’s career and nationalists’ botched assassination attempt against President Truman, the Mussolini from Missouri, barely tilt the scales.30 I thought there might be a lot of talent and style. Instead, the show – what I could stand of it – didn't rise even to the level of Sonny and Cher.31 In fact, everything I saw was worse than anything on television, from the shitty backing musicians (the bar sound system had better music), to the white trash altercations passing for comedy sketches,32 to fat broads hoofing on stage (Hey, you're not sexy, just fat.). The dorks putting on the show, apparently for their clique, tried to hedge everything with a lot of “post-modern irony.” Those talentless jerkoffs couldn't even do that right. The evening's ethos had some novelty when Calvin Johnson established himself as the impresario of the Olympia, Wash., scene, but that was 20 years ago.33 Somehow I can't see all this surviving when the Muslims take over.34
I've Got Mail!
The latest catalog from Daedalus Books is trying to sell the book “Songbird: Fabulous Female Vocalists From Billie Holiday to Britney Spears.” No, I can't figure out why this book has been discounted.35
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich writes on behalf of the Friedman Foundation. “Dear Friend”? Funny, I don't recall getting a Christmas card from this guy. Maybe he was too busy cheating on his wife – his second wife – to pay me proper respects.36
Katherine Hepburn Remembered
“The actress had a pronounced superiority complex, loved to bait others, but did not take well to jokes at her expense. She seemed to turn a cold eye on the sleepy-lidded Mitchum from the start, and the chill only increased when began entertaining the crew with an imitation of the actress at her most lockjaw affected. Such impudence. She told his stand-in he really must do something better with his life than work ‘for some cheap flash actor like Mr. Mitchum.’ When a take went poorly, she read her costar the riot act. ‘You know you cahn’t act. If you hadn't been good-looking, you would never have gotten a picture. I'm tired of playing with people who have nothing to offer … rahlly I am.”37
Saw “Le Cercle Rouge” at the Dobie Theater on the 27th. It's a French caper.
If you never heard of it before, there's a good reason. I suppose I could
summarize it. Instead, to save yourselves time and money, put on a trench
coat. Stand in front of a mirror. Look impassive as you put a cigarette in
your mouth and let it dangle from your lips. Then just stand there for a
minute. There, you've seen “Le Cercle Rouge.”38