please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Monday, September 15, 2008

Customer Appreciation

Some bars are good about hooking you up with a free drink here and there, but it's rare that you'll actually get a party thrown in your honor. Or at least, if not in "your" honor, then to acknowledge the customer base.
The owner of our favorite bar happens to own two bars. He seems to throw a shindig every year for his custies, and this year, we were invited. Invite only, bring no cash, no food, and Do Not Drive, as transportation would be provided.

Large joint, too: space for barbecue, a hoop for the shooting of baskets, grassy space for bocce, three pool tables, two bars, enormous kitchen and the inevitable video poker. In this spirit of overwhelming good will, I began to consider the economic state of America.
Bread n' circuses, like the occasional party to appreciate you, mixed with servicing your habits for which you must pay, and keep you coming back for more.

Let's flash back to the night before. That particular Friday was spent (thirteen hours of it, anyway) at a casino where Dennis Miller was going to be performing. We managed to bang out what little needed to be done in perhaps five hours, and the rest was just sitting around waiting for him to get done, as we wouldn't be loading out until the following night.
Dennis Miller, it should be noted, really doesn't deserve the label "comic" anymore, as his schtick these days consists of extremely medicated-sounding observational humor that isn't especially funny mixed with lots of right-wing propaganda. Mix in some needlessly obscure historical references, and you pretty much have it.

He rushed off stage at exactly sixty minutes, where he encountered my boss. He said, shortly, "Where's the hotel?" My boss indicated the door, but tried to remind Dennis that he had a meet n' greet with his fans scheduled at exactly right now, and maybe he should...
"Which way is it?", Dennis asked again, clearly meaning the hotel. He was noted afterward to have appeared to be having a panic attack. My boss again indicated the door, and Mr. Miller quietly said thank you, and rushed off into the night.
He utterly failed to engage in the Customer Appreciation. And his fans were rabid: any time any sort of vindictive, belligerent or just pro-McCain thing was said, they howled like people just waiting to be shown where the torches, pitchforks and axe handles were. Raw Meat, in short, but maybe he was just a little disgusted with it all, and needed to go hide.

A couple hours before, at my second trip to the buffet, I was approached by a rigger/conspiracy theorist who is ominously named Goldman Sachs. He was standing over by the slots, absurdly mouthing the words 'I am going to the bar' while pointing in the direction of Legends, which is what the bar is named. I waved him on, indicating 'dinner' in mime.
But I found him after, and again, since we weren't going to be working so much as sitting around waiting for Miller to get offstage so we could go home, I said sure; let's get a drink.

This was much less of a rosy prospect than it seemed. Unlike Vegas, this casino has only one bar that I'm aware of, and they have a two-drink maximum. This perhaps has to do with Native American propensity for poor alcohol absorption, but the customers are largely fat, white old people. Even more so, it's the only place you can smoke -as a customer- in the entire enormous complex.
So it's packed to the fucking gills, and there's nowhere to sit. If we had a table, we'd get table service, but no. And even standing room is packed; we're jammed into the well, getting in the way of the servers. The bartender finally gets to us fifteen minutes before the show.

I don't know how we got on this, except that Goldman Sachs is always wanting to talk conspiracy with not-just-me but anyone-who's-near, but we started prattling on about the economy, and how openly in the shitter it is.
Of course, it's no conspiracy, actually, unless you count the disproportionate amount of damage done by relatively few people to entire economies. But again, there's no secret here: this is done in the full light of day.

As people pressed in on all sides, either desperately shouting or shrilly trying to have fun, I was saying, "The way it was, at least the money used to get spread around some, you know? There was the G.I. Bill, and people got educations, and went to work, bought things, could afford houses and cars, while the military and industrial sectors had a fantastic research wing built handily into this system; the colleges themselves. And health care was affordable, so the job force was healthy, and everybody got at least some wealth. The heads of corporations were no less able to become rich and enrich their boards as well, despite the highest rate of taxation for the highest five per cent in American history.
"But now, they don't give a shit about America, and they've made this marvelously clear. They've given up, with the exception of constantly doubling the bottom line for their shareholders, forgetting that with no community left of people with money, nobody's gonna buy their products, and then where will they be?"

He agreed wholeheartedly, although his fears concerned less obvious things, like the occult origins of the American Sign Language for 'I love you' (turns out that Annie Sullivan's best friend was a contemporary of Crowley -which I'm pretty sure is impossible- and wanted to introduce that il cornuto Evil Eye devil-sign hand gesture into general use), and for exactly what Masonic reason Winston Churchill favored the 'v' sign (to combat the fascist use of the outstretched arm, which is also an occult power thing, see, and later when the hippies co-opted it, they...).
Furthermore, it didn't occur to me at the time that it's pretty funny that I was talking about this mass fleecing in a Soylent Green-esque crush of people who were entirely convinced that they could Beat the House, and become Rich.

Anyway, today Lehman Bros. went tits up, and various economists are advising cautious optimism, trust the smart men who are running the show, and try not to be bitter about the deregulation of the banking and mortgage system that brought all this about. That particular 1999 travesty overturned the strongest piece of Depression-era protection (the Glass-Steagel act) we had left, and no matter how many people at the time cried foul, it was a fait accompli.
Ever since the wall between banking and mortgage came down, the industry felt they could take increasingly crazy risks, and promise even more stupid things to their customers, who had been told that basically, you can use your house as an ATM.
And Wall Street piled on the dirt. We were so busy artificially driving up the stock prices of often non-existent and certainly non-proven web-based businesses that it was bound to fall apart, as boom markets always do. Speculation Destroys Markets, as I always have said, although like guns n' cancer, it's not like it's a new thing, and will probably be with us always.

Say it again: Speculation Destroys Markets. I witnessed this on a smaller scale with the antique market in the late 80's, then again with the comic book market in the mid-90's. You start artificially inflating prices, there will be a fall. Especially since those doing the inflating were not actually concerned with the long-term well being of the market and its clientele; they were only concerned with profit, and that poisons things.
I don't mean that in any holistic sense, either. I literally mean that you grow economies to grow and sustain communities; not profit is bad.

So we're at a place again where people's 401k's are disappearing, pension funds dismantled, people defaulting on house and car loans, and the market keeps talking cheery bullshit. The big lending houses (and pretty soon, insurance companies) are getting bailed out, the Chinese own all of our debt that isn't owned by India or Saudi Arabia...And why the fuck is the Stock Market even legal? To put it shortly, there's a boom and bust cycle at work in every market, and their whole job seems to be to make people forget that little fact. If you or me had so routinely driven the U.S. economy in the ditch, we'd be in prison right now, and rightfully so.



Blogger George Popham said...

you hit all the important parts of this issue. This stuff operates at the level of bird-gut-o-mancy. I love the way you brought out the the manner in which they make these controversial claims and then proceed to qualify them to pieces. And yet we have a brand new prejudice all the same.

We are in a cultural trance right now and the mania for generalization is one huge aspect of it. It gives one a psychological sense of control to speak of completely chaotic systems - like, the human mind, say - as if they were just as straight forward to understand as gross macro-physics. Sure generalizations work well enough for inanimate objects and lunar landings. But that kind of thinking is just a bullshit machine when applied to the human psyche. Future historians will regard it as a type of witchcraft.

6:05 PM  

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