MY REVOLUTIONARY YOUTH AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTERPosted: September 15, 2012
MY REVOLUTIONARY YOUTH AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
I worked on the Ninety-Sixth floor of Tower Two of the World Trade Center and cursed the security of the machine.
Of course, it seems rather cliche-ridden to refer to the establishment as the machine, but I was finding it more and more difficult to articulate a revolutionary rationale, especially while working as an attorney in a law firm which represented insurance companies, and in my exasperation I regurgitated whatever dogma and rhetoric which might, if it could not adequately explain rebellion, at least give it a patina of glamour.
I worked there in the 1980’s, when Reagan was riding hide, Bush the Senior was the puppy dog heir apparent, and Dukakis stalked America looking like a hypogonadal depressive, afraid to tell anyone that he was a liberal even though everyone knew he was a liberal, making liberalism look that much more ridiculous. And so, if Dukakis would, in the manner of Oliver Twist pleading for a little more porridge, exclaim, in his inimitably wimpy voice, “Please, a little more welfare, pay equity and prison furloughs for Willie Horton,” I would express my dissatisfaction with the ruling class by being loud, brassy and obnoxious.
I routinely came to work very, very late, and then stormed through the crowds of out of town tourists, at the base of the towers, decrying their worship of Capitalist New York. Oh, why would they continue to gaze so lovingly at the skyscrapers, those phallic symbols of domination and exploitation. After all, our world Trade Center was merely two rectangular prisms which were our unthinking tourists adored in much the same way that a flock of apes adored a massive wall in “2001 Space Oddity.” And so, after grabbing my extra large very dark coffee, and a colorful splashy fruit Danish, I rammed through the women in Gingham dresses and men in Burmuda shorts as if they were pigeons scattering before the onslaught of my very expensive car. And, if in the course of my tumultuous charge a few drops of my angry, sizzling coffee spilled and burned their limbs, tough luck.
I of course had no time to lose. I wanted to get past the human detritus of the lower floors and reach my heavenly summit as fast as possible. And so I stormed into the express elevator to the seventy eighth floor, changed to the elevator which ferried passengers to the ninety-fourth to one-hundredth floors, leaped out at the ninety-sixth floor and barreled into my firm’s office for another day of battle with, among and against the titans of international law and finance.
Of course, it really was not anything like that. Although the dramatic size of the World Trade Center may have connoted business ventures in which billions of dollars were routinely negotiated and exchanged, most of the firms in the World Trade Center were comparative small fry. From afar we looked as august as a Tower of Babel, a giant boom box screaming at the Heavens with a capitalist rap dance of all American glory, but on the inside we were as mushy as a jelly doughnut. Most of the firms in the World Trade Center were engaged in less than fabulously lucrative ventures, many of the enterprises were in the non-profit sector, and a substantial number of occupants consisted of employees of local and state governments.
My law firm fit the mold of the World Trade Center firm to a tee. It was not grand, but it was not poor. It was outstandingly mediocre. It was the sort of firm that always assiduously endeavored to litigate with all the proper and purportedly professional trappings of a law firm — that always annexed its legal papers to legal “backs” (They are legally inconsequential but stylistically indispensable pieces of grammar school construction paper with fancy legalese written all over the place) cast in the most somber shade of blue, that always used a messenger when overnight mail would suffice, and that always prefaced all petitions for legal relief with a run on sentence, about two pages long, which consisted of about fourteen dependent clauses — but never managed to say or do anything terribly wise or brilliant.
While I worked there, I put our intellectual torpor down to the fact that the firm lacked a single bright attorney with the exception of your humble narrator — who of course managed to synthesize a form of jurisprudential reasoning that fused the incisive dialectics of Frankfurter and Pound with the rarefied critiques of Marx and Foucault — but in retrospect it wasn’t the attorneys that made the work product dull; it was the work itself.
Quite frankly, it would have taken about a dozen hits of some excellent acid in order to find anything the least bit interesting or philosophically profound in our work. We litigated in a field of insurance, a field of insurance known as fidelity insurance, and try as one might, fidelity insurance does not stand for anything other than fidelity insurance. Two millennia of western culture was patently irrelevant in this arid discipline in which sentences, though large and complex, had all the grace of Archie Bunker’s monologues; ideas, though dressed-up in fancy latin phrases, had all the incisiveness of a child’s butter knife; and issues, though stated in terms meant to connote all the seriousness of the testaments, came down to whether a big business would obtain X amount of dollars or Y amount of dollars.
The dollars at issue arose by reason of contracts of fidelity insurance, a form of insurance in which an employer is ensured against the dishonesty or lack of fidelity of its employees. In a nutshell, if the employee steals from his boss, his boss collects on the policy of fidelity insurance.
As I said, this was fairly mundane stuff. The pot didn’t exactly percolate with political and philosophical issues. The issues just sort of sloughed around and went nowhere, like the winds that ever so gently rocked the World Trade Center from side to side.
Now although I was not using any LSD to insert intellectual profundity into our hopelessly bourgeois and banal discipline, I managed to elevate our pedestrian trade into something with an aura of the dramatic and politically meaningful. Really, it was very simple: I decided that the crooks were the heroes and my firm’s clients — the insurance companies — were the enemies. I began to admire the myriad ways in which bookkeepers, shipping clerks, and cashiers large and small siphoned off thousands and sometimes millions of dollars from their boss’s accounts. Didn’t the Black woman who conscientiously stole five grand out of payroll every Friday remind me, in her stolid determination, of Rosa Parks? Wasn’t the Alergian chemist, who zealously snatched a few grand from accounts receivable whenever his boss wasn’t looking, a dead giveaway for Frantz Fanon and all of his anti-imperialist thunder? Weren’t all of these crooks wondrous moles eating away at the machine, biding their time, casing the joint, getting ready to strike like Lenin at the Finland Station in 1917.
I first thought that 1917 had come again in 1987, when the market crashed, a new depression seemed imminent, and my socialist friends heralded the coming of the redeeming pauperization of America by strolling down the canyons of lower Manhattan, looking up at the tall buildings, and shouting, “jump.” Of course the economy did not capsize, it hardly missed a beat, and the nation ready to implode was not the USA but the Soviet Union. Since Marxism and its mighty patron state was in its dotage, I decided that I would have to look for revolutionary troublemakers in new places.
I found the ideal revolutionist in a gay con artist, who was the subject of a lot of litigation at my law firm, who stole about ten million dollars from his company. He was, as gay publicists might put it, simply fabulous. He did not steal to make ends meet. He did not steal to support a drug trade. He did not steal to support a throng of half naked children in a village in Central America. He stole to live like Calvin Klein.
With his stolen millions, he rented the finest home in Fire Island, and then sent squadrons of helicopters to ferry the chi chi people from Manhattan to his Fire Island Taj Mahal for an evening filled with cornucopias of cocaine, as sybaritic as a sultan’s Levantine bacchanal. He bought scores of cars for his cutest gay friends, and their most expressive and hysterical fag-hag women friends, and the ensuing company of cars cruised down the streets with all the high fashion of bluster of a gay military parade. He bought enough jazzy and ingenious photographic equipment to make the Pentagon envious, and he bought enough flowers, for weddings, confirmations, births, deaths and just hanging-out, to lavishly appoint the funerals of the most portentous political assassinations.
He wasn’t exactly living life in the trenches. It was more like sipping cherry with princesses and queens. But, in my boredom and frustration, this great gay thief — let us call him Mr. Manicotti — became my ersatz hero, a Marx in an age of AIDS, a man who knew, in a simple, direct way what my leftist politics never understood, that the best way to destroy the rich was not to have a revolution but to rob them blind and party hearty.
Because I admired Mr. Manicotti, I could not bring myself to sue his accomplices — for reasons too numerous to go into my firm wasn’t suing him. And so I just went through the motions of instituting suit, all the time wishing that I were Mr. Manicotti, wanting to live the life of Manicotti, reveling in his glorious Machievellian deceptions. And so, instead of really getting the work done, and sending the summons and complaints to the process servers, I opted to drink coffee and talk.
I drank endless cups of coffee, stunk-up the office with cigarettes, and told everybody what I thought:
“Manicotti was not such a bad guy. It’s not so terrible to rob a big company to give your friends presents. I’m not going to be gung ho about this work. Certainly not for the money they pay me.”
Claire, the secretary and single mother who was going to vote for Bush over Dukakis because “Democratic men are all wimps,” scoffed, “David, instead of being a Juris Doctor I think the kind of JD card you deserve is Juvenile Delinquent. You moron.”
But I persisted in my protests and presided, in the smokers’ lounge, over a seminar of subversion. This country, I explained, was just too rich to justify lawful behavior.
“Man, look around you. Don’t you see how many stretch limousines, half a block long, roar down the street, are happy to run you over. Don’t you feel that Nancy Reagan’s jewels are glaring at you whenever they twinkle on her ugly wrinkled neck.”
“You sound like you’re doing drugs,” Nancy Marie, the fat Italian secretary from Bensonhurst, retorted.
Of course, when the secretaries make cracks about your alleged drug use, it’s not such a big deal. But this started to become a big deal when my boss, Mr. Monday, started to think I was doing drugs.
He simply could not understand why I wasn’t taking more vigorous action against Mr. Manicotti and his cohorts of thieves and swindlers. He glared at me, and his wife who wore a fur coat that consisted of forests full of animals glared at me, and then they all proceeded to scream at me. When Mr. Monday was tired of yelling at me, he had his loyal bull dog of a secretary, Margaret Mc Coughlin, scream at me. Of course, she did not know anything about the law, but she knew all about fights and scraps like any good Irish tom boy from Queens and she hectored me all day: “David, go after them. Why the hell don’t you go after them. Get them. Fight them. Do something to them.”
Sometimes the whole office went into a tizzy and Mr. Monday would throw fits about once an hour. One day was exceptionally weird. One attorney flew to St. Louis for depositions that were scheduled in Sarasota because like any good New York elitist fool he got his provincial cities mixed up. The messenger delivered briefs to the wrong judge. A clerk ran-up a five hundred dollar phone bill by calling sex lines.
But then I remember one night, in the winter, when the snow fell hard and fast and seemed to sever the World Trade Center from the rest of the City. The air was so thick with snow that we could not see the lights of the City below. Somehow, if we looked up in the sky, and what would have been the 150th floor of an adjoining buiding had an adjoining building been there, it felt closer to us, and more a part of our world that the common, darkened streets beyond our senses. We felt ourselves becoming celestial. Swayed by the powerful rocking winds of the lower Jet Stream, we became ethereal, heavenly, dead.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2003