The Apprenticeship

3 dollar bill

I am almost feeling sorry for the man. Imagine that you have been trapped all of your life in a search for approval, yet never have been satisfied. First you tried to gain the approval of your father, and even though you were showered with wealth, you continually had to return to your real sugar daddy to bail you out of one bad investment, one bad deal after another. The father whose approval you never could truly take for granted cast a huge shadow on the psyche of the son.

Then you tried to gain the approval of the true elites, those exemplars of the highest of the high class in Manhattan. But even though you moved your real estate empire to that island, and built your gilded trophy, those who really counted in the world turned their back to you, and worse than that, actually laughed at you. Oh, the pain!

You couldn’t even join the club of sports franchise owners. Oh, you did own one for a brief time, couldn’t even claim a New York name but had to call it a New Jersey moniker. Yes, you did hire one of the greatest players coming out of college, and your upstart league had pretensions of horning in on the big boys of the NFL. But you yourself forced the league from its smaller but seemingly successful niche of spring football, into a head-to-head battle royale with the NFL. Challenging them in the fall with your schedule, and leading a challenge in court against the big boys on anti-trust grounds. If ever there was a case of winning the battle, and losing the war, it was your league’s victory against the NFL – and then the court laughed at you by giving you damages of $1. No wonder you have not been a fan of the justice system for a long time.

We could go on. The disastrous bet on Atlantic City, doubled down when you took on the failed construction project you named the Taj Mahal, though it lacked any traces of the grandeur of the original structure of that name. Having to be bailed out once more by your father, who spent millions for casino chips one day, a day before your next loan payment due date. But even your father could not save you from your own hubris and you lost your entire casino stake as the overall market in this small gambling mecca declined and faded.

Eventually you found your niche. Marketing yourself, the dream of the glitz and glamour of one of the world’s most egotistic billionaires. So much into yourself that you were prompted to make self-promoting calls to journalists, posing as someone other than yourself, in order to keep your name in the news and to extol your praises. You grabbed lightning in a bottle when the book that you “wrote” took off, and solidified your reputation as a canny and world-class dealmaker. You found that your name on a brand was a guaranteed money-maker, as those who are easily impressed by wealth and status try to grab a little of yours by buying a shirt, or a tie, or a steak, from one of your licensed vendors. You built your empire up despite the crashing down of portions of your portfolio through multiple bankruptcies. Ah, but you yourself never held the bag after these public humiliations. It was always someone else who took the loss, someone else who you could blame for the ultimate loss in the marketplace.

You never had to account for your actions to anyone else at all. Once your father died, there was no one mightier than you. You surrounded yourself with a crowd of sycophants, who were only too happy to let you know that they agreed with everything you said. You were told that your knowledge was vast, your command of the situation, whatever situation you wished to weigh in on, was superior to anyone else in the world. If only those who had power would listen to you, how much better this country and the world would be. These thoughts began to saturate your mind, began to whisper to you that you and you alone could fix these things that you see are wrong.

Then, in 2004, the opportunity of a lifetime came around for you. With your reputation as a world-class businessman secure, no matter how hollow that reputation was, you were tabbed to be the centerpiece of yet another reality TV series. The Apprentice became your trusted companion for 12 years, allowing you to express your wisdom and discernment to an audience that came to believe in you. They believed in your charisma, in your reputation as a canny businessman, they believed you were a strong leader who was more than capable of telling someone to his or her face that they were fired. You entered their homes year after year, and as your fame grew, so did your conviction that you really could grab the gilded brass ring.

You thought about 2012, but the conditions were not right, and you sensed you could not successfully challenge Obama. Ah, but you could cast aspersions against him. Imagine, someone who looked like him claiming to be a real American. It was easy to buy into the rumors on the internet that he had actually been born in Africa, and it was only through a plot extending back to 1961 that his birth was reported in a Hawaiian newspaper in real time. Why should we believe our eyes when it was so much more satisfying to stir up the pot, and the emotions of millions by claiming that the President was not eligible under the rules of the Constitution. This is where you learned how much your words resonated with a significant portion of the American public. So you kept your profile high, but your active political pursuit was placed on hold.

Now, in 2015, you pounced. You went all-in, and started to position yourself as the business outsider who would drain the swamp, who would bring back the greatness of America when the culture was white, and the recovery from the war unleashed the cornucopia of growth as far as the eye could see. You and you alone would redress the issues of the forgotten men and women of flyover country. You and you alone sensed the palpable disgust of this group as they saw their prosperity stolen from them, by hordes of illegals who stole their jobs, or subsisted on welfare taken from their paychecks. The disgust from the people who realized that it was the global economy and global elites that had taken their factory jobs, and moved them over to Mexico, or China, or somewhere else and stolen their chance to make a decent living. What was left were the dregs of the economy, and dregs are difficult to swallow if that’s all you have to eat.

Like so many before you, you realized you had a talent for whipping crowds up into a frenzy. All it took was a few easily repeated single syllable words, that you could start and then let the crowd chant it ad infinitum, building the momentum for these barely defined ideas. “Build the wall!” “Lock her up!” It did not matter that there was no definition behind these catch phrases, they had captured a life of their own. And then, it was time to take down the challengers. These sissies who had grown up in the rarified world of politics, where it was expected that people would behave rationally and with at least a semblance of politeness, they were naive waifs when confronted by a real man, one who had been tested in the world of New York real estate. All it took was pairing up a candidate’s name with a derogatory adjective, and the image formed then took hold in the public’s mind. One by one, you knocked them out of the ring, until only you remained.

You never believed you would get this far. You had gotten into this chase as a vanity project, and to help your own brand, but now that you had the nomination, you had to at least pretend that you were serious. But that did not mean that you really wanted to dwell in the mundane minutia of building a transition team. No, let Chris Christie do that. You can always pull the rug out from under him later. All you needed was your family, and those advisors you’ve had for a while. But it was always you who was the most important one. It was your knowledge, it was your wisdom, it was your negotiating skills that would save the day.

So, it came to election day, and all of the things you had given tacit approval to – the links with the Russians to mine for emails, the coordination of campaign data with the social media teams in St. Petersburg, all of these things had kicked in and to your surprise, pushed you over the top. You found yourself a winner of the greatest prize in electoral politics.

Well, maybe you were right. You don’t need all of those swamp creatures in all of these government offices. So you plan to leave many positions empty, just don’t even nominate someone for them. For the courts? Outsource your selection to the Federalist Society. That way your supporters who may not like you, but have hungered for reversing the liberal bench legislation, and will sell their souls for Supreme Court seats. They will stay happy and overlook your other faults.

Except you have no faults. You know that you have been the most successful President EVAH! Even though you’ve only been in office for two years, you are already determining how to fit your visage onto Rushmore.

Ah, but those critics. Why do they keep yammering at me? Why do they insist that I’ve done something wrong? I’ve never done anything wrong, ever. I’ve always been honest, and humble, and trustworthy. If you think I’ve been inconsistent, you just didn’t know what I meant. Mexico was never intended to write a check for that wall. That wall was never supposed to be 30 feet tall, and beautiful concrete. No one ever asked the Russians to do anything to help our campaign. We shouldn’t ever apply sanctions to the Russians, they have done so much for me and my businesses over the years. They buy my apartments. Of course I like them.

Now it’s that harridan, Nancy. She and that new uppity woman from Queens. Nobody good ever came from Queens. They are after me. I even gave them candy, which they took but wouldn’t give me my wall. Well anyone can see now, they’re taking Dodge Caravans, driving them right over the border and turning left. Only I can fix it.

We are nearing the point in the movie when Captain Queeg in the Caine Mutiny is on the stand in the court martial, where Captain Queeg breaks down discussing the theft of the strawberries, and pulls out his stainless steel ball bearings, running them back and forth in his hand for comfort. When will the breakdown come when Donald pulls out his stainless steel balls and mumbles about the theft of the country, and only he can fix it? Some of us are ready to see the end credits of this reality show. But by the end of the Caine Mutiny, you are left with some feelings of sorrow for Captain Queeg. Will we have similar feelings at the end of the current season of The Apprentice?

 

Christmas Memories

hard-candy-750840_960_720  Hard candy cooling

It was the day that Christmas arrived from Indiana. Each year, my uncle from Indiana would drive the 500 miles from Rensselaer to Lincoln, Nebraska, and deliver Christmas. No matter how much we had decorated, or baked cookies, or shopped and wrapped presents, it was not Christmas until my Uncle Bill pulled into our driveway and delivered Christmas.

This was before my sister was born, so I shared the front bedroom with my two brothers. Late in the afternoon on the appointed day, I would begin a vigil, watching and waiting for him to arrive in the late afternoon of early winter. The sky would be streaked with purple and orange across the high clouds that reflected the last glows of sunlight. I would breath on the window, and my breath would condense on the cold surface of the single pane glass. Overnight, the window would show the spidery trace of ice crystals on the bottom of each pane, but during the day the ice stayed away.

I never knew what type of car my uncle would be driving, other than it would be a Chevy. He was a bachelor, never married after his service in Europe and Africa during the war, and it was his one luxury to buy a new car each year as the models turned over. So I kept my vigil as the shadows grew, and finally saw a car turn down our street from 33rd street, then slow and pull into our driveway. I would yell and race down the stairway, saying “He’s here”, and soon he would come up the steps towards our door. He always had a couple of big bags that he brought in first before he’d ever bring in his old suitcase.

There were the presents from him, and my other aunt and uncle, and my grandmother who all lived in the town of Rensselaer. That was the place we went to in the summer, to renew relationships forged decades ago. He always brought a weekly calendar from the Farmers and Merchants bank from his town, and that calendar with its space for notes for each day became the family planner for the next year. But the most important thing was the big box of chocolates that would soon have a place of honor on the table in our living room. It was like a 3 pound box of chocolates, and that was one of the highlights of our season.

Memories can be triggered by many things, but memories from smells are often the strongest. Of all of the smells of Christmas, nothing compared to the pungent cloud of anise-scented steam exploding out of the kitchen and permeating the entire house. As soon as the anise oil was poured into the sugar and water mix nearing hard crack, the mix would erupt in a boiling mass, and the smell escaped into the air. Anise candy was always dyed red in our house. Many years later I took to making it myself to bring back the memories of the aroma. I’ve added cinnamon oil for a cinnamon variety as well – the odor of cinnamon is almost as strong as anise.

Christmas eve dinner was traditionally chicken and noodles. No store bought noodles, though. My mother would make the noodles by hand, rolling them out and laying them on towels before they would be cooked. This year is the first Christmas since my mother died, so this piece is in honor of both my parents who helped to form the Christmas memories that bring back a sense of joy and longing.

 

Not All Archeological Digs Are Below Ground

Attic before

We set up the plastic dust barriers from the attic, down the hallway and stairway, and out to the front door. Plastic sheeting covering handrails, much of the carpet on the steps, and all to prevent the potentially asbestos contaminated dust from escaping into the house. My brother and brother-in-law took the hard tasks of cleaning the initial dust off of the innumerable boxes stored in the attic, then hauling the boxes and bags down the stairs and out to the front yard, where we awaited with dust masks as I would blow the remaining dust off of the detritus from the attic.

My parents moved into the house in 1957. I did not realize it all through my childhood, but the attic was not just the place where Christmas decorations resided in sturdy apple boxes. No, the attic became a black hole that sucked all of the possessions and ephemera of a lifetime into its gaping maw. It was harder for it to serve this purpose for the first 20 years of their residency, since hoisting items to the attic required hauling the stepladder from the garage to the second floor, then up the steps into the attic, and finally finding a place for the new attic inhabitants. But in the late 1970’s, as part of home improvements, a collapsible ladder was installed leading to the attic. After that time, it became much easier to feed the inexhaustible appetite of the attic.

The removal of the attic contents became an archeological dig. As the available space for storage decreased, the recent articles tended to be near the opening to the attic. Thus it was items from the last decade that emerged first. As the excavation proceeded, it was fun to determine which decade we were into. The 1990’s emerged, then the 1980’s, and on back all the way to the early 1960’s and late 1950’s. What emerged? There was luggage. Every piece of luggage that they ever owned was still in the attic. From the metal suitcase that my father used to take his meager possessions to Purdue, to the latest Oleg Cassini suitcase that I claimed for my son’s use in the future. There were the two brown leather sided suitcases I remembered from my youth, along with the blue suitcases trimmed with white that were my mothers. There had to be at least 20 pieces of luggage that emerged.

Did you say clothes? Well, there were huge bags of blue jeans. My mother lived in blue jeans for much of her life, and when they wore out, they would find their way into a plastic bag and take the migratory route up to the attic. Did you need some ties? My father wore ties every day when he worked at the Nebraska Department of Roads, and even though we had already given countless ties away after his death, more bags full of ties came out into the sunlight once more. Mugs? Multiple boxes of mugs came down, along with pottery and figurines and glasses and plates.

Yes, there were the treasures we expected to find as well. The Tonka and Ny-Lint trucks we had used in our sandbox to dig and delve came out, though their bodies bore the dents we had imposed and the rust of ages. We’ll have to see if they are desired by collectors. The multiple boxes belonging to each of us siblings, holding our school memories. I could see my report cards all the way from kindergarten. The pictures of me in the plays in high school where I began my love of the theatre. All of the scholastic honors I got from high school and into college, with my notification of my Regents scholarship that paid all tuition for 16 hours per semester. In the 1972-1976 era, that was worth about $500 per year. Quite a change to now, with tuition continuing to skyrocket.

Other memories surfaced as the dig continued. Old pictures that had been replaced decades ago brought smiles. Chairs that had been superseded by newer seating made their way down the attic stair and out into the light again. The old pressure cooker once used for certain foods was intact, and the boxes of my uncle Bill’s remaining possessions surfaced. There were treats like the letter from Bill to his mother that had to be written so as to pass censor’s requirements.

But interspersed with all of the good stuff, was the chaff. So many bottles set aside as they were “collectors editions” of syrup. Ancient Windsong perfume dispensers. Old Spice bottles. If the bottles were clean, they were tossed into the recycling bin. Then, there were the magazines. Let’s start with the Reader’s Digests and the National Geographic’s. Decades worth of these magazines filled countless boxes. There were Popular Science magazines, and Boy’s Life from the early 1970’s. Even the most ephemeral of magazines, the ubiquitous TV Guide. I have no idea why these magazines were singled out for retention. At least they didn’t keep the weekly Engineering News Records that were delivered faithfully for years upon years, nor did they box up Newsweek or Smithsonian’s or any of the other historical magazines they loved in their later years. We would do a cursory search through the boxes of these magazines, to ensure that no other worthwhile item had been included in a box, but literally tons of these were either put out for recycling, or delivered directly to the dump in my brother-in-law’s pickup.

Not all of the paper was totally worthless though. My parents must have kept every card, Christmas, birthday, Easter, whatever type of card they received, they kept. Bags and boxes of these held notes and sometimes photos, and seeing the sentiments from many years ago brought back to light was fun. Unfortunately, those were outweighed by the years and years of bank records and tax returns that had to be sifted through to ensure that there was no information that would identify us as the remaining generation. I had forgotten that it was a relatively late development to add the social security numbers for dependents, so even tax returns held no new identity threat to us.

Then there were the work files from my father’s years at the highway department. Why he took so many boxes of records with him when he retired I’ll never know, but if you want the listing of the challenges facing the Nebraska Department of Roads in the 1980’s, we can point you to a section of the dump where it may be found.

The lesson I took away from this 4 day dig was this: If you love your heirs, clean up your stuff now so they don’t have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Leave only wheat that they will enjoy as they review your life well spent.