Monday, April 12, 2010

New York City Living--Laughing at Fate

Foto by tgw, New York City, 2010
I have developed several theories of life over my term of existence. As an armchair Sociologist, I have plenty of "thinking" time to sit around and develop life theories. These are not scientifically thought out or even scientifically tested theories, they have been simply deduced from my own experiences--I'm my own lab rat.

One such theory is: the law of coincidental equalization. In more common terms, I call it, the Even-Steven Factor.

Here's how it works. You go play poker with the gals or guys. You unexpectedly win $100. The next day you check the mail, and damn, there's an unexpected bill for $100 you'd forgotten about.

I got hit by an occasion of this factor evening up on me this morning. I had made a wonderful business deal with a Russian banker (I know, my Georgian-Russian friend who lived in Moscow for years told me I was nuts for trusting a Russian banker, but, hey, I am nuts, so this was not going to affect my sanity no matter the result). The Russian banker paid me quickly and securely and I socked the money away in my bank and forgot the matter.

In the meantime, in another deal, this time with a Hong Kong dealer, I had sent him 3 invoices with no response. Finally I sent my collection hounds after him and, by golly, he immediately paid me what he owed me--a big sigh of relief and I thought: case closed.

This morning, I opened my email and right off up popped an email from the Russian banker. He has yet to receive his purchase. I said, SHIT!, and supposed the package was lost in the Russian mails--and since I have no way of tracking Russian mail, I agreed that if by the end of the month he hasn't received it, I'll refund his money.

The irony: The money I got from Hong Kong is, and this is what drives me crazy, for exactly the amount I'm going to have to refund the Russian banker. Exactly to the dollar and cents.

This sort of thing amazes me. It happens so often in my life that I must consider this factor in not only business deals but even in everyday life deals.

I have been an Even-Steven sort of guy all my life. Like in college, inevitably if I made an A in one of my courses, I'd make a C in another course. This became so ordinary that I gained assurance from the fact that every time I made an A I'd make a C or vice versa. It worked out fine: all through college I maintained a B average without ever making straight Bs--the Even-Steven average for a guy who had to keep a 3.0 grade average (a B) in order to stay in the graduate degree program I was in.
It's Time I Mentioned H.L. Mencken
I think I've mentioned H.L. Mencken before in terms of his The American Language, a book I delved into before I even knew who the man really was. But I don't think I've ever delved into the total overall appreciation I had for this man as a young open-minded thinker. I came to Mencken via an LP recording of him talking about his life and journalism as a profession.

In 1969, I bought a batch of Caedmon LPs in Bryant Park, which used to be a lovely little Midtown Manhattan park behind the big library that had used book stalls and used record kiosks--a charming place now taken over by the Corporate bozos and turned into a commercial venture. Caedmon was the recording company (I think two women started Caedmon--one of my up-in-the-air ways of remembering facts) in the late fifties and early sixties that put out a list of LPs featuring the voices of famous literary figures reading from their work (Jimmy Joyce, William Carlos Williams, Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, just to mention a few). Among this batch of LPs was one featuring the voice of H.L. Mencken. What he said on that recording wasn't particularly controversial, it was just good sense said in a very witty way, some cockiness in his voice but also a humorous tinge of out-of-the-side-of-his-mouth cynicism that dealt with his personal form of a jaunty live-and-let-live way of living, the way I myself had decided I wanted to live before I came across this wickedly critical but fair man.
H.L. Mencken--typing the old two-finger journalist way. My brother, a journalist, typed this way all his life.

Mencken was a controversial man. He was a proud American of German descent from Baltimore, Maryland. His father was owner of the Mencken Cigar Company of Baltimore and old man Mencken's son was from adolescence on until his death (from cancer) a side-of-the-mouth cigar smoker and unlit cigar chewer. Mencken always had a cigar in his mouth. He always smelled thickly of cigar smoke and cigar-smoke-laced sweating. His first employment in fact was working in his father's cigar factory, which he left on his father's death to become a cub reporter on the Baltimore Sun newspapers. Mencken stayed with the Sun throughout his life, though he did move to New York City in the early 1920s where with George Jean Nathan he started a magazine called The Smart Set, a publication that became very popular among the US literary, music, and show biz crowds for his and Nathan's cracking sharp wit and especially his rather rude portrayals, criticisms, and reviews of the goings on of so-called Liberal Americans--Liberal Arts Americans.

Over the years, Mencken developed what he called his Creed. Here it is courtesy the Mencken page at :

Mencken's Creed

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty...

I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech...

I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

I believe in the reality of progress.

I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave.
And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

Now that's a Creed with which I can find no wrong. It fit me to a tee and I subconsciously adopted it as my own. As a result of this kind of thinking, I became a gulper of Mencken's writings.

Soon though I learned from the politically correct folks I hung with that Mencken, though a sharp wit, was also a Friend of the Nazis (he was of German descent, yes), he was a racist bigot, and he was a rabid anti-Semite, which also made him a Friend of Hitler in the eyes of many Americans at the height of his editorial influence.

Here is an example of his ironic wit. This is his assessment of living in the USA:

We live in a land of abounding quackeries, and if we do not learn how to laugh we succumb to the melancholy disease which afflicts the race of viewers-with-alarm... In no other country known to me is life as safe and agreeable, taking one day with another, as it is in These States. Even in a great Depression few if any starve, and even in a great war the number who suffer by it is vastly surpassed by the number who fatten on it and enjoy it. Thus my view of my country is predominantly tolerant and amiable. I do not believe in democracy, but I am perfectly willing to admit that it provides the only really amusing form of government ever endured by mankind.

from "The Mencken Page" at

I love the fact that he backs up my own feelings by saying the only way to enjoy living in the US is by getting a good laugh out of it.

Gore Vidal addressed the many ironies involved in understanding what made Mencken Mencken in his introduction to Marion Elizabeth Rodgers' The Impossible H.L. Mencken:

... A babble of words that no one understands now fills the airwaves, and language loses all meaning as we sink slowly, mindlessly, into herstory rather than history because most rapists are men, aren't they?

Mencken is a nice antidote. Politically, he is often right but seldom correct by today's stern standards. In a cheery way, he dislikes most minorities and if he ever had a good word to say about the majority of his countrymen, I have yet to come across it. Recently, when his letters were published, it was discovered that He Did Not Like the Jews, and that he had said unpleasant things about them not only as individuals but In General, plainly the sign of a Hitler-Holocaust enthusiast. So shocked was everyone that even the New York Review of Books' unofficial de-anti-Semitiser, Garry Wills (he salvaged Dickens, barely), has yet to come to his aid with An Explanation. But in Mencken's private correspondence, he also snarls at black Americans, Orientals, Britons, women, and WASPs, particularly the clay-eating Appalachians, whom he regarded as subhuman. But private irritability is of no consequence when compared to what really matters, public action.

Far from being an anti-Semite, Mencken was one of the first journalists to denounce the persecution of the Jews in Germany at a time when the New York Times, say, was notoriously reticent. On November 27, 1938, Mencken writes (Baltimore Sun), "It is to be hoped that the poor Jews now being robbed and mauled in Germany will not take too seriously the plans of various politicians to rescue them." He then reviews the various schemes to "rescue" the Jews from the Nazis, who had not yet announced their own final solution.

I came to find Mencken on a parallel line with me in terms of thinking. He's as typically American to me as is Mark Twain, a fellow American also accused of being pro-Confederate and as such a racist and of also being an anti-Semite.

And as to the current goings-on and shenanigans in the District of Corruption, yes, they are ruining us, but oh how hilarious they are in their juvenile efforts to be BIG MEN! I'm laughing my ass off at this nation's falling...and it is falling--deeper into debt; deeper into WARS; deeper into depriving people of their rights; deeper into dumbness; deeper into devastating corners we may never find our way out of...aren't you laughing your ass off by now? You'd better be. Or you'll see it for real and then you'll say as Molly on the old "Fibber McGee and Molly" radio sit-com of the 30s, 40s, and 50s used to say to one of Fibber's bad jokes, "T'ain't funny, McGee."

for The Daily Growler
Molly and Fibber McGee (Jim and Marian Jordan)

1 comment:

Language said...

How have I missed that Creed all these years? I knew I liked the man, and now I know why.