The Chief Editor of The Weekly Globe confronts the world in the bars of New York.
Green entered Berry’s almost immediately after our drinks arrived – a double Stoli straight for myself and a regular Stoli with cranberry juice on the rocks for Cathy, the woman at the bar beside me. Green was wearing a dark, funereal looking suit and a yellow power tie with blue squares. Green was an impressive looking man – tall and fat. It was still cold in New York but he was sweating.
“Am I late?” he barked.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said.
He gave me a big hug, almost crushing my bones in his enormous bear-size paws.
“Who’s that whore?” he whispered in my ear.
“Cathy,” I whispered back. “Cathy,” I said loudly introducing her to Green. “And this is Green, Chief Editor of The Weekly Globe.”
“Nice meeting you, lady,” said Green, opting for politeness, after some hesitation.
“Well, do you have a first name?” smiled Cathy, obviously impressed and interested, checking him out from head to toe.
“He does,” I replied instead. “But it’s of no importance. He is simply Green, it’s what everybody calls him.”
Green thought this was funny. He started to laugh and it was too loud and slightly out of place. Cathy did not seem to mind. She was obviously used to corporate schmucks and Green was still more tolerable than most of them, no matter what.
We left Cathy at the bar and moved to a small round table, Green ordering a double single malt, while I stuck to the double Stoli with no ice, straight.
“The strategic editorial meeting was a failure,” started Green, taking off his cashmere coat, throwing it on the next chair, breathing heavily. “I know it, you know it, there is no secret that we were not able to understand each other. We were not even able to communicate intelligibly.”
I lit up my cigarette, waiting. Smoking was out of date, too, but I didn’t care. I was a New Yorker, but an exiled New Yorker. That came with some privileges.
“I invited the best of you. Moretti came, you came, Joanne, Keensley, Hide. You all came here and I am grateful. You even agreed to talk to me,” he said with a dose of sarcasm and then he paused, sipping his drink. “The only thing is that I understood almost nothing that you were saying. It is obvious that the foreign section of The Weekly Globe is falling apart. I’ve thought about replacing you; all of you. I’ve thought about relocating you. The only problem is that I know I can’t get anybody better. Maybe things are much more complicated and the problem is not you.”
“Where is the problem?”
“I don’t know,” Green sounded defeated.
“Are sales down?” I asked.
“No. It’s just…. I smell some disaster. I smell shit; some problem coming our way.”
This was prior to 9-11.
“Why do you think there is a problem? Why do you think that the foreign section is falling apart?”
“I’m not sure about anything,” sighed Green. “Something strange is going on. Something I don’t seem to understand. Before, things were working fairly well. The magazine had been receiving legible, intelligent reports from its field offices. All of you were clear and concrete. Things were under control. Under my control. Under the control of reason. Then something happened. Your reports have become…. What’s the word?”
“That’s exactly it. Thank you! They have become abstract.”
“Are you asking me?” He finished his drink. “I don’t remember exactly when, but it was a gradual process. Now things are definitely confused. Almost all of you are ignoring the basic facts that our magazine is not a literary or philosophical club. It’s supposed to inform. It’s supposed to inform people who haven’t got the slightest idea about what’s going on in this world and really don’t give a shit about it. They read articles about foreign countries because that’s what they saw their fathers do and also because they don’t want to look like total assholes. They definitely don’t read them in order to complicate their lives or, God forbid, in order to think. They don’t want to become intellectuals. They want to be left alone, gently reassured that their uncomplicated vision of the world is correct. Eventually they want to learn one or two smart phrases so they can impress their boss, their wife or secretary.”
“Go ahead,” I said. He was surprisingly making some sense.
Green wiped sweat off his forehead. He ordered more booze.
“Look, I myself don’t particularly like what I’m saying, but somebody has to be honest or we’ll all lose our jobs or run The Weekly Globe into the ground. It would be a pity, it’s becoming one of New York’s institutions. So let me put it this way: you all have lost contact with your readers. You have forgotten who your readers are. You are not writing for Le Monde Diplomatique, your readers have never heard of the New Left Review. You are writing for a large American magazine that provides middle class men and women with information. Many of them are simple folks, Forrest Gumps, and you may be tempted to call them uneducated pricks, but every week they pay $4.95 per issue and thanks to them we are all getting our fat salaries, plane tickets and per diems. But if you keep writing your abstract artworks, your useless masterpieces, they’ll finally turn to the Sports Section of some tabloid and we will all be fucked. They’ll read the Help Wanted, instead. They’ll study horoscopes. You’ll not educate them, it’s too late for them, you’ll just lose them altogether. They don’t understand what you are talking about. You know that most people in this country don’t like intellectuals. Intellectuals have beards and some of them burn flags. They don’t watch the same films as other people do. They have friends who are fags and women’s rights activists. Many intellectuals don’t even like sports and their women refuse to watch soaps in the afternoon. They don’t go to church. They are outsiders. They are snobs. They have different accents and some of them even speak French. Many of them weren’t born in this country. American people don’t like snobs and they don’t like intellectuals, damn it.”
Green was sweating, getting excited, all messed up. Cathy was still sitting at the bar, her legs crossed. She was looking in our direction. I smiled at her, just to relax the atmosphere and she let one of her shoes slide to her toes. Good move, I thought. A pity that Green had lost all his interest in the surrounding world. He ordered more drinks. He was getting into it. Into analyzing and into drinking.
“I respect your opinions. That’s why I invited you all here. And I’m going to meet you, one by one and I am not gonna let you go before you explain to me what is really happening.”
“I don’t know more than what you do,” I said.
“You do know more,” said Green. “Something is happening. Something scary. Something that justifies your total indifference to our readers. Something I still don’t understand.”
“Things have become more complex,” I tried.
“I am not an asshole,” Green informed me. “I know that the situation is confusing. We don’t have many enemies, anymore. We have mostly friends. Friends that don’t like us. Ones we can’t trust. We have Saudi friends, for instance – that’s extremely confusing. Simple Joe doesn’t like many of our friends, either. He despises the French and Japanese, partly because he knows that the French and Japanese despise him – simple Joe. He thinks it takes five Poles to screw in a light bulb, but Poland is now in NATO. Many Americans look down at Latinos, they are afraid of Asians, and absolutely refuse to note the existence of Africa. They think that Saudis ride camels and put bed sheets over the heads of their women. Moretti tried to explain everything in one of his editorials. From Moscow. Eventually he just hit the bottle. He is falling apart from all that friendship. Our Moscow office is turning into a bordello, Russian secretaries there into single mothers. He hired two new typists he doesn’t need; from his own salary. He has his ‘zapois,’ whatever it means. Still, he manages to write well. The only problem is that nobody wants to read his dispatches.”
“You didn’t tell him any of this today,” I said.
“And what the hell should I tell him? That he writes well, maybe too well for this magazine?”
Green was getting drunk. Not pissed drunk, but drunk all right.
“Look,” he said. “I hate this place. It feels like we’re in London or Toronto. I feel like they’ll kick us out before 11 p.m. I have a car parked outside. Let’s get out of here. Let’s go to some real place. Let’s go to some bar where we can find normal people. Somewhere in Queens or in Brooklyn.”
“Aren’t we going to take a plane there?” I asked.
“Again! Snobbism. Scorn for the simple reader. Don’t you want to see him – your flesh and blood reader? People who come here read The Economist and the New York Review of Books. Let’s see a real American man, a hard working prick who pays for the booze that we are now drinking.”
“All right,” I said. “Let’s see him.”
“Or her,” added Green, suddenly being politically correct.
There was no escape.
“And let’s take the whore.”
“What’s her face?” he pointed his fat and large, sausage-like finger toward the relatively well preserved woman in her forties.
“Her name is Cathy,” I reminded him.
“Let’s take Cathy,” he said. “I bet she is at least a Deputy District Attorney, anyway. Let’s go.”
“How did you know?” She had obviously overheard part of our conversation. “I work for the DA’s office.”
“Professionalism,” said Green. “Let’s go.”
“Where?” she asked with evident hope in her voice. Her feet in black stockings were well inside her shoes again. She quickly gathered her belongings, left the tip on the bar and approached Green.
“We are driving to some low class pub in Williamsburg,” explained Green.
“We are going to search for our readers so this young writer can rediscover America after a long leave of absence.”
“Why don’t we stay in Soho?” she wondered. “Or why don’t we go to the East Village? Williamsburg is getting posh, anyway.”
“No,” said Green. “We have to go to some place where a hard working American man sits down at some obscure drinking establishment in order to calm his sorrows, quench his thirst and share his simple vision of the world with his friends after a long day of intensive labor.”
“Sounds like a Soviet poster from the 1930’s,” I muttered.
“Maybe I shouldn’t,” sighed Cathy.
“You definitely shouldn’t,” I advised.
“But you will,” said Green, triumphantly.
We crossed Manhattan Bridge and drove through several blocks of a depressing area of warehouses until we hit one of the decently lit neighborhoods of newly-posh Williamsburg.
It was there, waiting for us on one of the side streets: a macho Polish blue collar bar lit-up by an old fashioned blue neon light. A large photograph of the son-of-a-Bush surrounded by bottles of hard liquor, his father hanging right next to him. There was Ronald Reagan, the Pope and Lech Walesa decorating other walls, together with faded tourist posters of Krakow and the Black Madonna from Czestochowa. Crossed Polish and American flags stuck out from an empty flower pot.
Draft beer of extremely dubious quality was served in enormous plastic cups called “canisters.” Old hits of Bruce Springsteen flew from the shiny jukebox while several members of the right wing proletariat consumed a toxic looking liquid from small glasses.
“I grew up in places like this,” said Green, tears in his eyes. “And these are our people. Our readers, simple folks…”
“Soil of the nation,” I added between my teeth.
“Baboons,” whispered Cathy, scared.
The owner of the place did not like us from the beginning. He did not like the silver Saab we parked right in front of the bar, he could not stand Cathy’s elegant outfit and he did not like the way Green and I were drunk simply because we were drunk in different way than the other patrons of the bar. He did not bother to hide his aversion, but to his credit, at first he tried to be professional and reasonably civil while dealing with us. He immediately filled two canisters with beer.
“Stoli with cranberry juice,” ordered Cathy.
“No Soviet shit here, lady. Wyborowa. Polish,” he barked.
“Wyborowa, Polish. With cranberry juice,” blushed Cathy. “On the rocks, please.”
“Jim Bean. Triple. Two,” ordered Green.
Damn, I thought. We drank.
“Well,” said Green. “Now you’ll tell me.”
“There is nothing to tell.”
“There is. What is possessing all of you? What is happening to the world?” He had started to resemble a maniac. “Is there going to be a war? Is there something I should know? Are we all gonna get fucked?!”
“No major war,” I tried to sound reassuring. “Local conflicts, yes. A few thousand deaths, maybe ten thousand. Their deaths, not ours. Mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Nothing major. Maybe. We can hope.”
“What about the Japanese?” hissed Green. “They think we are brain-dead. Today I read some statistics: over 60 percent of Japs don’t think we are good friends and surely believe we are assholes. What if they talk to the Chinese? And how do we know they are not talking to the Chinese right now? And what if the Chinese confirm that we are assholes? Then what? They make better cars and CD players, their children have better scores, their buildings are already higher than ours. What will happen if they realize that they don’t have to kiss our ass, anymore? What if they stop financing our debt?”
“They won’t realize it too soon,” I said. “They will realize it eventually but not so soon. And even after they realize it, they’ll need us to buy their goods.”
“And what about Mahathir’s trip to Osaka? Did you hear about it? He said to the Japanese: Be our leaders! Be the leaders of Asia! Help us get rid of those fucks who are pushing their low Western culture through our refined Asian throats.”
“He didn’t say it that way,” I smiled.
“He did. In his own way. Malaysian way. Asian way.”
I finished my whisky. The beer tasted awful.
“I think I know what you are all thinking. You think the allies will fail us. And soon after, people of the poor nations will take their knives, sticks and hammers and come to smash our heads.”
“Then I’ll move to Yucatan,” said Cathy. “Men in New York are sissies, anyway. A beauty over forty can’t find a husband. What husband, she can’t even get laid.”
“They will finally get us, won’t they? They’ll come here, they’ll migrate, infiltrate the entire country,” insisted Green. “They will maybe even fly some shit into the World Trade Center!”
Bruce Springsteen howled something about an unidentified woman who had been shot point-blank, right between her eyes, while members of the proletariat attentively listened, sucking on their deadly poisons.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“It’s all right with you, since you have friends among them. You have friends all over the world. But what will happen to people like me?”
“They won’t get to the city for a while,” commented Cathy. “They will first infiltrate the suburbs. In fact they may never get here. What would they do here? Hit Bloomingdales or go to the opera?”
“What are you talking about,” screamed Green in disbelief. “They are already here! Don’t you see them every morning as they crawl from the subway?”
“Who are they?” I asked.
“The ones we screwed,” explained Green, starting to bite the skin around his nails. “The ones they – the Europeans screwed and we just finished. Countries where we established dictatorships and trained death squads, from which we have stolen raw materials and destroyed labor unions, forced down labor costs and ruined traditional agriculture. Countries where we helped to murder secular and progressive leaders while supporting religious fundamentalists, just so we could count on an obedient, brainwashed and scared population willing to work for our companies for nothing. Not that I give a shit about all that crap, but I spoke to Moretti today…”
“That explains everything,” I said.
“Moretti is in ‘zapoi,’”
“Right,” confirmed Green. “He is in zapoi. What is zapoi, anyway?”
“Zapoi is a Russian word,” I said. “It is untranslatable.”
“Try,” demanded Green. “Everything can be translated.”
“Zapoi is when somewhere in Russia one man buys a bottle of vodka and goes to visit his friend. In his friend’s house, there is one more bottle, already in the freezer. Well chilled, preferably. Some bread and pickles are waiting neatly on the kitchen table. They drink both bottles and later finish all the wine and beer they can find in the apartment. When they are done later with all the perfumes of the host’s wife, they bribe the pharmacist and get some pure alcohol that can be easily mixed with water or juice. Eventually they get to the industrial alcohol or brake fluids that can be diluted…”
“Moretti just got out of zapoi,” said Green.
“That’s not surprising. Considering the circumstances and excessive friendliness of the environment,” I said.
“Right,” confirmed Green. “And Kinsley wrote his report. Did you read it?”
“The one about Saudi Arabia…. Kinsley managed to get drunk in some tea room in Riyadh. Later he took the taxi, demanding it take him to the whorehouse served exclusively by Saudi women,” screamed Green.
“No,” I said.
“Yes,” said Green.
“Did they kick him out of the country?”
“Oh yes. After he got kicked out, he wrote a long article, condemning Saudi society, condemning its royal family, its government and above all the way Saudis treat their women. He also predicted that there will be a massive attack against the United States, led by Saudi citizens. And since Saudis are our allies, he foresees a massive government cover-up. It looks like a Pulitzer Prize piece.”
“Well,” I hesitated.
“Anyway, I talked to your friend Gino Moretti. He was threatening me. He was scaring me. He told me that US involvement in Latin America will backfire. He gave me a lesson on greed and tequila. And PAN. He swore that the Argentinean economy will collapse and so will the Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Colombian, you name it. He threatened that the Bolivian poor will fight against the privatization of drinking water. He was trying to prove that Chile – undeniably a superstar on the bleak sky of South America – is still run like a feudal hamlet; by a handful of fascist families. He predicted that we’ll sponsor a coup in Venezuela against Hugo Chavez and that we’ll fail. He believes that we’ll not be able to maintain control over Latin America for much longer.”
“We always somehow managed,” said Cathy. “Why not now? There is no reason why not now.”
“There is,” said Green gloomily. “Moretti says there is. The reason is that we are not thinking, anymore…”
“But we never were,” Cathy smiled in amusement. “Nothing has changed.”
“But they did. They definitely changed,” whined Green. “They don’t even like us, anymore.”
“They never did. They never really liked us. Neither Latin Americans nor Asians.”
“But now they read and write books about it!” concluded Green.
“Shit,” said Cathy. “I didn’t think about that.”
Two more canisters of yellow foamless liquid landed on our table. Green was getting delirious and apocalyptic.
“You are supporting them, aren’t you? You and Moretti and Joanne and even Hide.”
“Who do you mean by them?”
“Never mind,” sighed Green. “Do you think Moretti is Zapatista? Do you think he is paid by the Chinese government?”
“Green, are you losing your mind? You should switch to diet coke.”
“Yes, I think I am. So what? And what if the Zapatistas have a point? What if FARC and MRTA have a point as well? What if your buddy Sub-Sub Felipe has a point? You see, I’m not excluding that possibility. I’m trying to be open minded. That’s impressive, isn’t it? Will it do me any good in the hour of final justice? Are they going to spare me when they arrive here? Tell me!”
I had to take a leak. I pissed, facing a Solidarity poster and an old photo of the central square of Gdansk. When I came back, Cathy was caressing Green’s face. Green looked disturbed; he looked like an enormous, fat, ugly baby. Green was definitely the one who was rapidly falling apart.
“Don’t worry so much,” I said to him. “Things may look confusing but there is an order in every confusion. Everything may still stabilize.”
“Nothing will get stabilized,” said Green in a defeated voice. “I don’t need novelists. I don’t need poets. I don’t even need scholars. I need dedicated reporters who can summarize, simplify, guide, explain and above all reassure our confused, lost, lonely, screwed and basically unhappy readers.”
“Good speech,” said Cathy.
“Thank you,” he bowed.
We ordered more booze. Green was not done yet.
“You didn’t read any poetry from me,” I said. “Not from any of the places where I’ve been working for The Weekly Globe.”
“I am not talking about you,” said Green. “All I am trying to say is that you or any of you shouldn’t try to explain to them, to our readers, how things really work. They don’t care. They don’t want to know anything. Don’t make their life too complicated. We are not a state college. They had a chance to learn things at school. Or on their own. They didn’t. Fuck them, now! Give them what they want and they’ll give us what we need: $4.95 a copy. Every week. And the more they read us, the more advertisers will pay for our lunches.”
“Makes some sense.” I tried not to be confrontational.
“Now back to the essence. I still think that you all know something that I don’t. I feel panic when I read your pieces. I feel urgency. There is something there that I don’t like at all. It’s like you see some enormous shit coming our way and you don’t want to share the knowledge with me…”
“We don’t see anything special.”
“Did we fuck up?”
“We. The West. Europe. This country. The planet.”
“Did we fuck up no end?”
“Yes,” I said. “But it’s no news.”
“Did we really entrust our fate to the lowest cast: to the merchants and sellers; to the upgraded market vendors? Did we send to internal exile people who still have some leftovers of brains? Did we convince the whole planet that greed is good and that in fact nothing other than greed matters?”
“All right,” I said. “Is this a question or declaration?”
“Forget it,” said Green.” Did we employ religions, propaganda and mass media to spread our dogma?”
He wiped sweat from his forehead. Then he took a long and lonely swing from his canister.
“I am afraid of you,” he admitted. “Of all of you. Of everything.”
“You have no reason to be scared of us,” I said, finishing my beer. “You can fire us. We can all be out of our jobs in no time.”
“It wouldn’t solve anything. It would make things even worse. I can’t tell you exactly why, but it’s how I feel.”
“Look, forget about it. I think there are more immediate problems that we have to face right now. I think the owner is pissing in our beer,” I said. I didn’t mean to change the subject but the stuff we were drinking was rapidly decreasing in quality. It had also changed color, becoming lighter.
“He probably is,” admitted Green. Then he screamed at the barkeep. “One Wyborowa with cranberry juice on the rocks and two beers. And please don’t piss in our canisters, asshole.”
The barkeep was not thrown off balance.
“Whom do you call an asshole, you fucked up Commie?” he thundered. It was obvious that he had been listening to our conversation for quite a while.
“Whom do you call Commie, you suburban prick?” yelled Green, smashing against the bar his Republican ID.
Suburban prick did not go down well with the right-wing proletariat. Until now, men were sitting silently, minding their booze and heavy thoughts. Now they stood up. These were not small men. No sissies here. The barkeep slowly approached Green, a bottle of Wild Turkey in his hand.
“Out of my place, you little guinea cocksuckers,” he whispered to a total silence. “No fucking Castroites in this place!”
Cathy looked scared. She had never heard such language even during the colorful EBTs. She whispered into my ear: “They’ll gang-rape me. They’ll kill both of you and then they’ll enjoy my soft perfumed yuppie flesh.”
Then Green stood up. Despite the size of the working class crew, he still looked enormous and imposing. “I said two beers and Wyborowa with cranberry juice on the rocks for the deputy DA person, whom you just called a little guinea cock sucker, dumb shit.” He pointed his finger at Cathy. “I truly hope your immigration papers are in very good shape, assholes.”
The effect of his short speech was great and immediate. Even the most militant workers sat down, not knowing what to do with their hands and eyes. Some slowly moved toward the door, accelerating as their foul breath met fresh air from the street.
“You bore,” I said admiringly. “That was just another typical filthy little Republican trick.”
“Give us a beer or we’ll send you back to the Gulag,” agreed Cathy, regaining her composure. “It’s what you indirectly said to them. A clear blackmail. How politically incorrect you are, my love.”
“Poland is not a gulag,” protested Green. “Not anymore. It’s our new ally, our great new friend, a member of NATO, an East European forerunner for membership in the EU, a country that is attracting foreign investment at an accelerated rate. The centerpiece of New Europe.”
“In addition to that, I’m not a deputy DA,” said Cathy, softening. “I only said I’m working for the DA’s office.”
“I know,” said Green, feeling proud and big again. “I just wanted to protect you from…”
“He just wanted to protect you from our readers,” I explained.
Beer arrived and so did the vodka. The color of the liquid had substantially improved. There was even foam on top of it. And no suspicious smell. It now even vaguely smelled like a beer. The look the barkeep gave us was full of subdued hate and servility and fear.
Green kissed Cathy’s hand. Touching. Very touching, indeed. I had to shut up, confronted with such enormous proof of his gallantry.
We all finally adopted an optimistic approach toward the world. Green grudgingly accepted that there would be no major conflict in the foreseeable future, Japan would stick to its cars, shrinking economy, electronics and political scandals, China to economic growth, cheap clothes and toys while the Prime Minister of Malaysia would limit his anti-Western outbursts to private conversations over a nice cup of tea with the former Senior Minister Lee of Singapore. Poor people would wait too, choosing to die from starvation instead of destroying the greatness of Western civilization and its dominant role in the world based on the wise and democratic principals of free trade, open markets and globalization.
We paid the bill and then the Chief Editor of The Weekly Globe puked all over the sidewalk, and I decided to drive both of them to Green’s condo. Cathy was fairly unconscious – I loaded both of them into the back seat and turned on the engine.
It was dark. A cold and light drizzle was falling on the windshield. I drove slowly through the empty streets. I took the 59th Street Bridge and crossed back to Manhattan. As I cruised over the bridge, I was aware of the fact that this was still one of the greatest views in the world and I felt shivers on my back and I had to swallow hard, because I still loved this city, enormous and proud and unplanned and fucked up but the greatest city on earth nevertheless, and I didn’t want to come back now, not yet, but the city would always stay with me, deep inside, and I felt honored that I used to live here – no matter where I traveled, no matter where I lived, it was my city; indifferent, free of sentimentality and tenderness, an enormous brain and enormous engine, the result of millions of human efforts and of human daring and dreams, each dream different, almost every effort uncoordinated. It was the only truly cosmopolitan city on earth, embracing all cultures of the planet, not inviting anybody in and not trying to hold anybody who didn’t want to stay, growing to the sky, leaving those who were weak behind, breaking them and crushing their bodies and their souls, but it had never claimed to be a kind and gentle city. It was brutal and honest and it knew how to appreciate greatness and how to scorn mediocrity and how to ignore weakness. My brain revolted against its almost non-existent social concepts and its lack of compassion. But as well as the city, I also scorned the emptiness of commonly accepted truths, admiring those who still knew how to dream, how to be insane and how to create, and to dare and to fly.
excerpted from Point of No Return