Author’s note: This is written from a 2003/4 point of view. UK drinking laws are less restrictive these days, but we’re no better at it.
Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was spring. Around 2001, perhaps, I don’t know, I was drunk. Sprawled on a bench across the road from Mile End tube, somewhere near the yellow Tellytubby bridge with the bulging lawn on top. It was night – give me some credit, I’m not a daytime bench-sitting Special Brew enthusiast – but it wasn’t dark there on the A11. Cars swooshed by and streetlights glowed. Below the UNDERGROUND sign the station’s yellow lights, white tiles and delay notices promised warmth and the vague possibility of getting home.
I’ve been watching a lot of Sopranos lately. Every morning I tune in to the 8:00 A&E showing. I’ve not been awake ten minutes and I’m watching Paulie smash a guy in the back of the head with a shovel, Chris put five across his bitch’s eye, Tony fuck some broad in a roadside motel. Before I’ve finished a cup of coffee I’ve seen sex, violence, chauvinism, prostitution, embezzlement, collusion, theft and murder. It’s great.
Part of what makes David Chase’s show brilliant television is that the characters are dead on. There are thousands of Jersey knuckleheads out there just like the guys in The Sopranos who are willing to kill, maim and take what they want. And that’s just in Jersey. There are goons the world over willing to step on you to get what they’re after. And I’m not just talking gangsters and tough guys. Look across the George Washington Bridge, to Manhattan, to find even bigger hoodlums. No, not Johnny Sack and the New York crew—I’m talking about the financial district crew—the guys who conned the nation out of tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money. These thugs in their high rise offices at JP Morgan, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, just to name a few, are hard fucking core gangsters. These guys shat all over us and took what they wanted.
The point is, the world belongs to people with balls. Whether it’s through twisting arms or twisting laws, it doesn’t really matter. Some people have balls and take whatever they want. Then there’s the rest of us who play by the rules.
But there are rules, and then there are “rules.” Tony Soprano is at heart a pragmatist. What allows him to be one, however, is that people know he’s a big, bad motherfucker who will, in the end, take care of business by any means necessary. The unspoken threat that Tony will carve you up and dump your body in the harbor gives his negotiations that extra “oomph.”
Now, to diverge for a moment, I’d like to talk politics—specifically, the tea party movement. Guys, I like your anger. The problem is that you’re mad at the wrong people. The real enemy is not Obama, liberals or socialists—it’s not universal health care, illegal immigrants, homos or dope smokers. It’s the Wall Street plutocrats who rig the system and take all of our money—who wreck the economy and get people kicked out of their homes—who nearly plunged our entire nation—the world, possibly—into economic ruin. These rich pricks are the enemy.
The tea partiers always like to talk about what patriots they are. I’m all for being patriotic. But, I’d like to remind those historically myopic rabble-rousers of exactly what a Patriot is. The tea partiers chose to name themselves after those people who, in 1773, boarded ships docked in Boston harbor and dumped their cargo of taxed tea into the water in protest. But the Boston Tea Party was just a small part of the Patriots hard-line stance against their oppressors. They regularly tarred and feathered Loyalists. Think about that: dumping hot tar all over somebody’s body and then, to add insult to injury, a few feathers. That’s some hardcore gangster shit. Not only that, Patriots burned down Loyalist homes to get their point across. Not surprisingly, it worked. They chased those British bums out of town.
Tea partiers: if you want to talk about patriotism, at least get your terminology right. Let’s step off of this flag-waving, dumb hillbilly, Fox News, anti-intellectual, Mexican/darkie-hating, drill baby drill, get-your-hands-off-my-guns, the founding fathers were infallible man gods, bullshit. Patriotism has somehow been subverted by a political vein that clings to a nostalgic, romantic fantasy of America as a good ol’ boy club for whom Ronald Regan is the eternal hero. It’s John Wayne in a western who dispatches of the bad guys, gives a laconic, feel-good, one-liner with a tip of his cap then saunters off into the sunset. Patriotism has been turned into a myth and hijacked by the far right.
How did our nation react after the bank bailouts? Aside from some cries of protest—some professorial finger wagging from the Administration—nothing. Despite pointed work by journalists such as Matt Taibbi, who laid out the entire hustle for us, who described, in detail, the horse-race financial schemes that led to this crisis, we as a nation have sat back on our heels and let it keep happening. Sure, some of the banks are beginning to pay back their debts, but no real work has been done to close the loopholes that led us into this malaise. The people who work for Goldman Sachs et. al are still getting millions of dollars in bonuses precisely for coming up with new financial schemes. This is what investment banking has become. These guys don’t fund emerging markets and industries. They create bubbles that burst in their favor, flood the system with toxic junk and then profit by betting against the fact that their own unsustainable policies are going to fail. Even if we change the laws, I’m confident they will come up with new ways to hoodwink the public at large. These guys are good.
But while they may be really smart, I’m willing to bet they’re not that tough. That is, if a shovel was to connect with the back of their head, or a 9mm to somehow find its way into their mouth…
Tea partiers, if you really want to be Patriots, here’s your chance. Stop burning Obama effigies, bemoaning how we’re becoming commies and praying to God for faggots to die. Pick up your pitchforks, your torches and those guns you oft demand to keep but rarely have cause to use and go after these investment bankers. Consider this the new Glorious Cause. Push these guys around, slap them, kidnap their wives…whatever it takes. These firms like to talk about how they’re too big to fail. Well, so was Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum.
Perhaps a strong populist movement will send a message to the top. Since many are already looking ahead to the mid-term elections, even the presidential election, it’s got me thinking who I’ll be casting my ballot for. I’d vote for Tony Soprano in a heartbeat before I put another politically correct liberal or politically retarded conservative in office. Give me some good ol’ guido pragmatism. Would Tony lecture the banks about how they should be ashamed of themselves, and that maybe they shouldn’t be paying out such big bonuses? Of course not. Would he let Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao snub him at the Copenhagen Climate Conference? Fahgettaboudit. I’m not sure exactly what he’d do, but the one thing Tony Soprano does not do is not get results. He doesn’t do “shame on you.” He does “If that’s how it’s gonna be I’ll cut your balls off, you fucking cockroach.”
That sounds like a real Patriot to me. The plutocrats of today are the new aristocracy. They are the same kind of people that we strong-armed back to Britain over 225 years ago and began a nation in defiance of. America, it’s time to run the bums out of town again. But to do so we need to have balls. We need to remember what the tough sons of bitches who helped win our freedom knew; what every Jersey wiseguy with a gun in his track pant’s elastic waistline and a bat in his hand knows: there are rules and then there are “rules”. Capiche?
I’m also thinking, if it can work for the good ol’ Stars & Stripes, then it’s good enough for me. Writers, after all, aren’t exactly known for being the ballsiest lot—not in real life, anyway. If pressed to a fight I’d probably run away and use the confrontation as the basis of a misanthropic vignette.
Part of what’s frustrating about being a writer is that you submit your work for review to total strangers far away. I’ve often thought, “If only I could meet these people…put a personal face to my work…not have it just be the manuscript of some abstract person…maybe it would make a difference…”
But now I’m thinking I show up at their office with a different strategy—like the hardbound edge of my rejected manuscript to the back of the head. Maybe then they’ll reconsider. If not, it will make for a really deep, dark story full of irony, pain and regret. Either way: bada bing.
In a fitting bastardisation of astrophysics, the sun rose on the British colonial interest in the West, and finally set on it in the East, more than 800 years later. The first instance of English Crown control in Ireland in the late 1100s was the first step on the grand march towards, ‘The British Empire’—an endeavour later re-branded, ‘Globalisation’.
I spent my first 10 days in the Americas, in New York City in November 2008, just after the election and right around the time the financial crisis was just starting to bear its rotten molars.
Walking around a deserted Lower Manhattan on a Saturday afternoon—along Gall Street, past the New York Doom Exchange and up around the Ground Zero mausoleum—as the sky promptly went black around 3.30pm, and the wind came howling in off the Hudson, it crossed my mind that perhaps ‘Ghostbusters’ had been intended as more of a tourist information film than I’d first thought.
It wouldn’t have surprised me if the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man had come bounding around the corner.
The whole of Manhattan smelled fusty and decaying—like wet dollars mouldering somewhere below ground. The imposing historicist architecture and the rickety, clockwork subway clogged with the dust of ages made the experience feel like a voyage back into the dark days of the last century, in the company of Thomas Pynchon. The skyscrapers stood like pristine simulare; shining statues of the gods lining the entrance to a dead Roman city.
Like many Europeans, I get most of my cultural information about the modern United States from hip hop, and hip hop of a specifically New York bent, due to the surfeit of esoteric folklore exported by the Wu Tang Clan.
I felt like I’d been to Staten Island even before I (almost) went there.
Before, during and after my visit to New York city, I kept on encountering these frothing panegyrics to the advent of a ‘post-racial United States’, as if somehow decades of segregation and mutual hate had suddenly been magically eradicated from the record. So these ideas were clanging around my brainpan throughout my time in the country and for a long time after I got back…
I must explain what a completely alien universe I come from: I grew up in a small village in the Lancashire countryside which shares a postcode with the town of Blackpool—a place so right wing that it hosted the annual Conservative Party conference all the way through the Thatcher era. It was the venue for her infamous 1999 speech on “the callous and unjust … judicial kidnap … of Senator Pinochet” (sic).
The smoke only cleared in the bar of the local I used to drink in during my time at university in Leeds when someone leaned over to me in the last week of my course to inform me, in suitably hushed tones, that the place was “a BNP pub” – as in the jack-boot, Union Jack, shaved-head-and-a-pitbull, send-the-buggers-back, Jack British Nationalist Party.
I had absolutely no idea.
For four years.
I have to make it clear that in the entirety of my closeted Northern-English upbringing and early adulthood, before travelling to New York, the only person of African descent I’d ever really got(ten) the chance to have a proper conversation with was a Jamaican feller my auntie was going out with.
In the mid-1980s.
Unfortunately, as a great-grandchild of another empire built on slavery, and one which is perhaps still more overtly class-ridden than any other, I feel that I live and work in a white, middle-class Never Never Land most of the time.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Within a couple of hours of arriving in New York, I’d already bumped fists with and been christened ‘Big Andy’ by a purportedly-rising hip hop star in Times Square, and I’d been given a free guide to the Top of the Rockefeller Centre by the most cheerful lady I’ve ever encountered in the service industry.
Still mulling over those reports of the triumph of American ethnic integration, I saw the joyous chap dancing freely and screaming out the lyrics of ‘I Wanna Go Bang’ by Arthur Russell to the broad, freezing daylight air of a Sunday afternoon flea market in Brooklyn, as the harbinger of some ethnological Arcadia.
I’d heard apocryphal tales of people dancing in the streets following the election, but I did not expect that this would actually be the case.
It was all I could do to stop myself joining in…
With all of those odes to the new, improved, supra-racist US of A ringing in my ears, I felt like the lead in a solarised version of ‘Coming to America’.
Standing on a train platform in Jamaica, Queens at the end of the trip and choosing to take the demographics in evidence as basis for a violent kneejerk reaction, however, I was struck by the fallacy of the notion of a ‘post-racial America’.
I do acknowledge that people dress this up as ‘more about poverty than race’, and I recognise how far towards this ‘new’ America things have progressed since the days of wholesale jiggerypokery by the Federal Housing Authority and full on white flight, but the smörgåsbord of cock cheese served up about the ethnic melting pot must be based on the diversity of Manhattan alone, am I right?
To the ignorant bystander: to someone like me, growing up in the politically correct climate of the United Kingdom of the 1970s and 80s, poorer areas where at-a-glance it appears there could be an African-American majority tend to engender the following kind of reaction:
“Post-racial America? Gimme a break, wieners! Where the Jim Crow did you get that idea!?”
Then the friend I’m visiting informs me they are off to something called a ‘Huxtable Party’ and all of this rarefied and constipated white guilt; all of that politically correct dogma and the full force of my inherent gormlessness about these things floods my psyche in such a torrent that I’m left spluttering and tongue-tied and utterly dumbfounded.
Despite what the media might say (even in the Guardian newspaper in March 2009), I can assure you, most of England is still pre-medieval in these matters.
In a not dissimilar fashion to Prince Henry of Wales, I just do not get it.
“A Huxtable Party?”
“What? as in loads of white people dressing up as people from ‘The Cosby Show’!?”
“Well… Yeah. You should come”
“Thanks but I don’t think I’d fit in…”