Grifter Nation

Griftopia by Matt Taibbi

In The Beginning

There are two scams in the 1990 movie The Grifters that reveal everything there is to know about how things work–and not just in America but in the whole western world. The first scam I want to worst-write about this day, dear worst-reader, is actually shown twice in this film. I reckon the producers wanted to make sure that this scam was very clear to the audience. The second scam, though, is a bit more complicated and you have to put some effort into the movie if you really want to get what it’s about. With that in mind, let’s start, dear worst-reader, with the first scam.

It all begins at a typical corporate restaurant in what looks to be 1980s LA. In this scene Roy, played by the brilliant John Cusak, shows the audience how to trick a bartender. Using honed eye contact and taking advantage of the busy environment, Roy presents to the bartender a twenty dollar bill and at the same time requests a beer. The twenty dollar bill is lodged but clearly visible between Roy’s fingers. The bartender turns to get Roy his drink. Roy quickly, almost like a magician, switches the twenty dollar bill for a ten dollar bill that was lodged/hidden in the palm of the same hand. When the bartender delivers the drink, Roy maintains eye contact and pushing the ten dollar bill to the bartender who then grabs it and immediately goes to the register to make change. The bartender returns to Roy with change for a twenty.

The second iteration of the same scam happens a few moments later when Roy has gone to another bar. This time it’s not a corporate restaurant but a real dive where the lights are dim and the clientele isn’t so yuppie. Immediately Roy tries to employ the same scam on the bartender. Clearly Roy has lost the edge on this one as he doesn’t maintain the same eye contact as with the previous bartender. Still, he orders the drink and does the switch with the bills. The bartender delivers the drink, pauses and the camera shows us that Roy has been caught in the act. The bartender proceeds to immobilize Roy’s hand, thereby turning it over and revealing the second bill lodged in his palm. Panicking, Roy cannot free himself from the burly bartender’s grasp even though he has let go of both the ten and twenty dollar bills, as if to indicate: here, take it, I’m finished. Then we see the baseball bat and hear a thud as it violently rams into Roy’s sternum.

Matt Taibbi

Before I get to the second scam, allow me to address the fellow that has helped motivate all this worst-writing today. Matt Taibbi got me thinking about my life, the things I’ve seen and experienced and about all the bullshit that I’ve had to consume-to-survive. That, in turn, reminded me of The Grifters. Hence, to me, Matt Taibbi picked the perfect title for his book “Griftopia”. For one thing, the title is like displaying a mirror in front of America. The only problem is, like most things political, social and demographic in my grand united mistakes, actually getting American’s to look in that mirror will require more than a book title. And while I’m picking at the title (which I also tended to do in another post here), I think most American’s have had enough with the “opia” stuff. In fact, I’ll bet a coin that since at least two if not three American generations, having been bombarded with the ignorance of talk radio, infotainment news, and pharmaceutical addiction, they cannot tell the difference between the words utopia and opiate, no matter how you prefix it.

So. I finished Griftopia last night and after a few hours of post-read contemplation, including glasses of red wine, studying all the notes and highlighted text (I read it on my Kindle), I realized that I had just read something unique.  And that says a lot since this is the fifth book on the financial crisis I’ve read in less than two years. Indeed. The difference this book has to all the others is the simple fact that it was written by a badass. In fact, it’s written by not just any badass, this is the work of a rock-n-roll badass journalist that America needs more of. Heck, the guy even writes for Rolling Stone magazine. With that in mind, baby, praise be to thumbs-up-yahweh, Marshall and Fender, and music lovin’ motherfuckers! Or. Thank goodness Rolling Stone was able to elevate this dude to where he belongs—especially when one considers where most news comes from these days. Put that together with the frank and no-holds barred way Taibbi writes, and you’re off to the informed races, baby. With that in mind, America, stop being afraid of all the mirrors it’s time to face. Taibbi can help you.

Definition

As I said, this book got me thinking—especially about the world I grew up in. For it was indeed a world full of … . So as I was reading this book I got to thinking about those that raised me—or perhaps those I wished raised me. Nomatter. Where are they now? What have they been doing? Are they all still the fun and happy-go-lucky guys that they were then? Are they all still obsessed with coke? Pussy? Making fun of those who are less fortunate? Oh, wait. A grifter is different than a con-man.

According to Taibbi, grifters are now a class of their own. Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Grifting is considered, by its perpetrators, a calling. And it is a calling that is above most thievery conventions. Luckily, my heart never beat at the sight of a dollar and so early on the grifters (and con-men) that I met, saw through me. I guess, in a way, I was lucky. Seeing through me meant that I was something like a court jester or a clown. That gave way to me being able, at times, to be tolerated and when I was on a lucky streak, some of the grifters even hired me. (Yes, the new class(es) of grifters also includes employer and employee relations.) Anywho. Out of my experience with grifters I offer the following explanation and/or definition. Please hold your salt shaker near.

A grifter is a person that takes advantage of another person by gaining trust. It’s that simple. In that definition also lies the difference to being just a con-man. Surprisingly (or maybe not) when I looked up grifter in the book of knowledge (wiki) I was re-routed to “confidence trick”, which might be a bit confusing because that can also include the term con-man. A grifter is not just a con-man. Let me try to clarify more.

For one thing, a con-man can either steal directly from you (your wallet) or sell you something you don’t need. (Say, I have a this great piece of land in southern Florida). A con-man can also indirectly steal from you. (Praise the lord! Would you like to join my church?) The thing to remember about a con-man is that he usually ends up poor, in jail, lynched or shot. A grifter, on the other hand, will always get away with what ever it is he steals. A grifter fears nothing because the thing he’s after is ultimately not just the act of stealing but also the process of getting in your soul. So keep in mind, modern humanity, the world you and I live in, is the result of the work of a few very special grifters. And this worst-definition… ain’t done just yet.

One of the ways grifters are able to survive as they do is because they have a unique gift. On the one hand, they are really smart. On the other, they do most of their work on the backs of others. Hence, con-men. Now get this. Grifters can see through the bipolar quilt that western society has comfortably wrapped itself in. (Remember, metaphors are smart.) This quilt is made up of two basic peoples. One is the con-man—who we covered already. The other is a bit more complicated to explain, and I’ll try to touch on the issue more in the next section titled “History”. The thing to remember is this: a grifter cannot make it if it can’t get to the soul of its victim. A con-man cannot lick a grifter but a grifter can own a con-man. A con-man is only in it for the doe! Grifters are after something completely different. That secret is basically this: human beings will fill their souls with anything when they are forced to do so. To that there are no exceptions. Grifters know this more than any other because grifters have no soul.

History

I’ll get back to Taibbi’s book in a sec. I’m kinda on a roll, so how ‘bout this for a bit of worst-history on grifters. Let’s check out exactly where this whole grifter thing started. Grifting was perfected in Eurowasteland during the age of enlightenment. In fact, grifting culminated in the over-throw of things like monarchies, aristocratic rule, incestuous hereditary privilege, etc. Because of this, the kings and queens and the ruling inbreds of Eurowasteland quickly caught wind of how power and wealth were shifting—without them. Subsequently the kings and queens faced for the first time existential questions they never faced before. For these questions they had no answers. They tried to fight back but there was something in the souls of the masses that they couldn’t defeat. Every time a king or queen thought they had captured one of the leaders of this new-soul movement, it turns out that all they got were one of the many con-men. Hence, we can thank grifters for the term: throw them to the wolves.

After a few monarchies fell and others were weakened in Europe, the remaining inbred filth turned to compromise to save their asses. Since grifters aren’t about governing, politics and status, when word got to them that they would be granted privileges and support for taking their business to new shores, they laughed. I guess the idear among those same kings and queens was that maybe, if they got grifters out of the way for a while, it would buy the monarchies some time to recuperate from all the revolutionary damage. Of course, the grifters, being somewhat bored with having brought down so much power, were already on their way to new horizons. And so. America was founded by turning the British monarchy into an invalid and ugly step sister. The French Revolution rid Eurowasteland of the rule of useless eating blue bloods. Others followed. The grifter classes came to be. Welcome to your future, souls. Democracy awaits you! Freedom wraps around you–like a comfy quilt!

The Book

Griftopia is another seething exposé that breaks down the impending doom of American’t and its willingness to rely on financial speculation—as opposed to actual productivity—to maintain its status in the world. Of all the books I’ve read while trying to figure out what a CDO is or what a subprime mortgage is or how it came to be that with all its power and wealth, America suddenly had to rely on the whims of idiot politicians and krapp-eating bureaucrats to literally save its ass from a financial meltdown that would have made the great depression look like a picnic, this one takes the cake. Taibbi has figured it out and he’s even provided a bit of insight into to what a grifter nation is. The real shocker of this book is its subtext—which deals with the souls the grifters prey on with so much success. These souls are just like the doomed and defeated monarchists who once could never see the future. Indeed, Taibbi manages to put what must have been a huge amount of research in a few hundred pages and for that alone this book should be read. Taibbi’s style is a winded and he could learn a from the likes of Michael Lewis when it comes to story telling, but perhaps that’s not what Taibbi should be doing at all. What he should be doing is writing more rock-n-roll, kick-ass books about impending doom. I especially enjoyed Taibbi’s explanation of AIG and how they insured mortgage securities and derivatives. The details revealed about AIG are even more intriguing as they involve so much of  Goldman Sachs’ everyday business, a company that is so intertwined with the US govt. And Taibbi, in this book, comes through loud and clear about how much contempt he has for the likes of Goldman Sachs, rich-shit bankers and useless, drone bureaucrats. The end of the book did kind of disappoint me though, almost as though Taibbi ran out of gas or something. He tries to end it all by talking about a congressional meeting that took place where grifter bankers were accusing the American poor of facilitating the mortgage crisis. In my opinion, the behavior of Americans and their belief that credit and borrowing is a right, is something that has not been addressed much in any book (I’ve read). Taibbi just wants to bat that issue away. Shame really. And with that, I digress.

The Second Scam

Oh, before I forget. I should probably get back to the second of the two scams from the movie The Grifters (1990) that I mentioned at the beginning. As I said, this second scam is a bit more complicated than hiding and switching dollar notes in the palm of your hand— which does not deserve to be belittled, btw, for it too is part of the making of American’t. No, this second scam has more in common with what the bankers of the too-big-to-fail banks have done to the oh-so willing souls that think they are, even today, still part of the American dream.

In the film, Roy’s mother, Lilly, played by the beautiful and lovely Angelica Huston, is not a grifter. Lilly is a con-man. Since I’m not really into gambling (and my eyes never lit up at the sight of a dollar), I’ll let wiki provide the explanation of what Lilly does as a con-man in the movie The Grifters. “Lilly works for a bookmaker handling playback at horse racing tracks — that is, she makes large cash bets to lower the odds of longshots.” When she’s supposed to be placing those cash bets to lower odds, she gets caught up with her son Roy. Remember the baseball bat incident? Well that incident has caused Roy to require medical attention for internal bleeding. Helping Roy causes her to miss a race. To cover up for not placing the bets at the race, Lilly goes to the track and collects the stubs of those who did place such bets. In short, she tries to cover her ass. The problem is, the odds of longshots were not lowered. Oh, the way she tries to worm her way out of it. Oh, the voices of whining individuals all raised to believe the lie that achievement can be yours, that you can be anything you want, that freedom reigns. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the cry of the wild in the form of demanding (and getting) a society of entitlements which amount to nothing more than the right to gamble on the backs of others and welfare for the rich only.

The thing to keep in mind here isn’t the mechanics of what Lilly does or the selfishness she considers her right, thereby using her child as her crutch. What one should consider is the truth and how never facing the truth gets people in this kind of a mess. Lilly and Roy represent a large part of the baby-boomers and their children. Neither parent or child can see the truth in anything they do. These are not complicated people, they do not live in complicated places, glamor is their enemy and not their friend and yet they live on the backs of others in a comfort unseen elsewhere on this earth. And I suppose there lies the truth that only a few worst-readers can face. The truth is Roy and Lilly are our own sad ending. We are a grifter nation.

Other links:

 

Rant on.

-Tommi-

Biggest Brother Ever

Let’s begin from the begin(ning), shall we? It started with Big Brother. Then there was Bigger Brother. And now… Excuse me, phone is ringing.

Did all of this spying on citizens (video below) start with a novel? You know the old saying: life emulates art. (Or is it the other way ’round? Nomatter.) There are times when I can feel the pinch of Winston Smith trying to wake me from this (american’t) dream. He’s usually somewhere above me and no longer played by John Hurt. In fact, in my dream, I don’t know who the person is that is pinching me. Strange, eh.

The Big Brother world probably started with The National Security Act of 1947. With that law, the united mistakes set the pathway that is a self perpetuating slippery slope. The idears behind that law were probably on the minds of the control freaks of government bureaucracy for a long time. (And we know where these freaks have taken us since the 1950s.) Thank goodness there were real creative sorts in this world, i.e. Aldus Huxley and George Orwell, who could see through the gibberish being spewed by the mongers, the paranoid and the schizos once they started licking bureaucratic power. Let’s not forget how easy it has been for those same men to take advantage of The Stupid (Das Volk), easily manipulating them to vote for what is ultimately legislation (and governance in general) that is against their best interests.

There is no denying – as much as I try – there needs to be intelligence services as part of government bureaucracy. But shouldn’t there be a way to show how these services only prove that there really is something to a name? Using the word “intelligent” to name any government bureaucracy is probably the best example of an oxymoron. So is government today actually making good use of intelligence gathering? Or could this self perpetuating slippery slope be used for something else? Can you scream: PROFIT! Indeed(1). When one takes into consideration the direction of the united mistakes government after 9/11, things ought to be heating up in the minds of The Stupid (Das Volk) who have given so much power to ideologues and pocket politicians. Indeed(2). That whole inalienable rights thing seems to have long since been booted out the door and replaced by the need for profit or hegemony. Nice try founding fathers.

Enter CISPA. The ultimate chip-away of your inalienable rights but great stuff for maintaining the status quo and protecting failed business models. This is iteration number… (you fill in number) of such an attempt to control The Stupid, baby.

The cyber-age, just like the industrial age, is probably a necessary evil. Something had to advance us out of the agra-age – or is it the bronze age? Nomatter. The idear of democracy and a very well thought-out Constitution is supposed to protect The Stupid (Das Volk) so that those evils don’t get the best of us. So far it’s kinda worked – even if you take into consideration all of the legislation post 1947. Which brings me to the question: why is it that the united mistakes keep bringing back these strange bills (see list of external links) that seem to chip away at inalienable rights? I mean, all of this goes above and beyond listening to your phone calls. And that’s the ticket, ain’t it. (Short pause; take a deep breath.)

The thing that so many forget is that the Internet – which is what all these silly bills want to control – really is no different than a telephone call. Obviously you can say and do a lot more with a computer attached to that telephone call but that is another issue. It is an issue for failed business models and failed corporate media managers to deal with – not government bureaucracy. But I have to return to the essence of how this sort of nonsense can keep perpetuating. But I can’t because I don’t feel like writing a book about The Stupid and how they are unable to wake up from their dream-state of consuming their way to heaven. Oh. Ignorance is bliss.

Obviously it would take some effort on the part of participatory democracy and government bureaucracy to figure out the complications of 100+ years of telephone calling and 20+ years of computer technology. It’s just a real shame that those elected to govern can’t figure this out in a way that does not subvert the Constitution.

Yeah, baby. Biggest brother has been listening to your phone calls anyway! Surprise.

Links:

 

Rant on.

-Tomas-

Blue Dog Go Home

Major primary losses for conservatives in PA. Oh thank goodness. But wait. These conservatives are Dems. Oh my. Nomatter. Down with conservatives.

Is there good news for anti-conservatives in the future? Not sure. It’s been a long time coming but perhaps, even in the state of PA, the wake up call post tea-partier fiasco of 2010 has arrived. But then again… I doubt it. The weirdest thing about the 2012 GOP presidential primary, other than the candidates themselves, has been their positions. These positions should be the great wake-up-call but they are not – and that’s why it’s called American’t. I can’t recall an election where political ideology has gone to such extremes. But I’m probably wrong. So I can only ponder in the limelight: What has driven this?

The single greatest political problem the world faces is conservatism. In all its varied, fluid, lying forms, conservatism will be the ruin of everything. If one had to reduce conservatism to its essence what would that be? I can only come up with greed. That’s it. So. No wonder voters don’t get it and still vote for the GOP. Getting over conservatism is a goliath task. It would require too much effort on figuring out TRUTH above and beyond your claim to pay fewer taxes or tip your hat to the flag. It will also require somehow repairing all the damage of conservatism from years past. What’s bigger than a goliath task? Herculean? But I digress.

I find it hard to believe that American’ts political problems are all due to the ignorance of repub opportunists alone- of which there are obviously too many. The joke is, a conservative can be from both parties. So. Need there be some kind of empirical study revealing conservatives and what party they belong to? Just have a look at the blue dogs – who were pummeled in recent PA congressional primary. When I first heard about this I thought: wow, is there hope? Is there, however slight, a chance that American’t politics can pull back from the edge? Then I stopped in my tracks. The real question that must be asked long before answering any other is this: where can Ameircan’t go after Dubya?

Links:

 

Rant on.

– tgs-

Afraid Of Snail Shells

Prelude: Living in fear is not a natural human condition. That is a comforting thought, eh. The reason it’s not natural is because its opposite is universal and interchangeable. But what is the opposite of fear? We have a great capacity to help one another. That too must be a comforting thought. Yet. We do not do it. Why? Well. This is one of the reasons that the only thing I’m afraid of now is the stuff humanity can’t wish away and bang out of its head. Stuff like religion. The fact is, too many people believe something fictional is actually truth. That is one scary thought. For years I’ve been trying to figure out why people do this to themselves. How is it that something obviously fictional can be taken for truth? Human nature aside, the reason has to be in story telling. People love story telling – even if the story is frightening beyond rational comprehension. I have long since concluded that writing something can be a very powerful thing. Who could of imagined that? -tgs-

So. Are you afraid of the dark? Does watching a scary movie make you have bad dreams? Do your knees start to buckle when you near the edge of the top floor of a skyscraper? How do you feel when a fifth person crams into an elevator made for three and you forgot the pill that morning that controls the platzangst? There are phobias in life and then there are things that make you want to scream as though suddenly all secrets and all questions about the meaning of life have been answered – and the answer is pure, unadulterated horror. We live in a world obsessed with mysticism because humanity is unable to free itself from the lies of religious indoctrination. We eat, drink and be merry in places that have no issues regarding whether or not humanity has ceased to evolve due to the convenience and profitability of pharmaceuticals and other byproducts of corporatism and new-found fascism albeit with bright smiley faces. And let’s not forget the wonders of thinking positive or self-help VHS cassettes that easily cross the lie-beauty image of Claudia Schiffer doing exercises in pastel green tights and a fat man in black suit wearing gold chains, carrying a silk white handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his preaching and protruding forehead, not to mention the cute limp of his hoof left foot. Oh. It’s hard to see through it all when there’s so much belief to be had in this world. So where are the truths?

I reckon I’m lucky. Very few things scare me. There was a movie that scared me once but it wasn’t because it was horrific. The movie was The Poseidon Adventure (1972). I was nine years old when I saw it. A luxury cruise ship capsizes and those who survive must also try and stay alive in a world turned upside-down. Their task is utterly futile and, for me, the depiction of death is the only thing that lit up that screen. After that movie it took me an extra long time to turn ten on account I couldn’t sleep for weeks. One day, tired of being tired, I hit myself in the head with some kind of sporting utensil (baseball bat, hockey puck, lacrosse stick, etc.) and with each smash repeated: “it’s only fiction, it’s only fiction.” I got over it because I convinced myself of what is true.

Years later, when I finally started reading books, something else scared me. It was something that I couldn’t just talk away or smash out of my head with a bat and a label. I had read Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. I became obsessed with the story. And I couldn’t get the image out of my head of a beautiful young living human being transubstantiating to a painting thereby getting old and dying. The brilliance of Oscar Wilde is that he can write one way, yet mean something completely different with what he writes and, if you care enough, leave your mind twisting and turning like an endless pretzel. When I tried to talk to someone about my fear of Dorian Gray they suggested I read something by Stephen King. And I did. The only problem was, King just didn’t move me, didn’t make me think, didn’t scare me. I had been through all that – in a much different way. That is, I knew that the opposite of fear is truth. So it is natural for me to not get near the ledge of a skyscraper and when staying in a hotel enquiring how many people fit in the elevator. Fiction can only scare you if you willfully hide from truth. Right?

Wrong. I’ve opened up a wild can of worms here and I’m losing myself in it. So let me try to come full circle. First. I’m afraid of a lot of things. Second. Marion Tauschwitz has written a novel titled “Der Gesang der Schneckenhäuser” (The Song in the Shells of Snails). This book has crossed the line I’ve been able to maintain in understanding and dealing with fear and truth. Or put another way: this book has scared the shit out of me (excuse my French). The reason? How should I put this? I do not understand the German language. Wait. I should retract that, but I won’t. Actually, what I mean to say is, I do understand German. I can even bark it almost as good as most Germans can. But there are times, especially when I read it, that I get all hot n’ bothered inside. The reason? The German language is just fucking scary. It’s guttural, it’s harsh, it’s loud, it’s unrhythmic and, let’s face it, it’s best for building things like cars, bier, bridges and nuclear capable submarines that are sent to the Middle East to keep the peace. (That’s my little ode to Gunter Grass and his 2012 political poetry, btw.) Anyway. German is a great language to scare even the most hardened of the fearless – and you don’t even have to be reading a horror story. Seriously. Trust me on that.

Tauschwitz did not write a horror book. From beginning to end Schneckenhäuser is a precarious journey through a reality that few people will ever face in life. Wait. What I mean to say is, few people will put any effort into facing something that for so many people is both a horror and a reality. With that in mind, Tauschwitz made me think of other scary writers – some obvious and some not so obvious. I read one of Stephen King’s books in German once. In English it was supposed to be scary. I guess something whacky happened in translation. I was laughing through the book as I guessed every supposedly scary turn of events. On the other hand, Stephen King’s horror – as brilliant as it is – is somehow obvious, it’s not very subtle, and if you put a little effort into it there are no surprises. There’s another horror writer that Tauschwitz made me think of, and this example is most certainly less obvious: Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s horror is subtlety in its purest form. Wilde’s horror is encapsulated in the beauty of poetically scary things, e.g. Dorian Gray. I’m not sure where to put Tauschwitz here, though. Her subject matter is one that plagues humanity, it’s real and it’s practically everywhere. It’s not like a painting on the wall or a movie screen stuck in the brain of a perpetual nine year old. She deals with the systematic abuse of the feminine and the exploitative and vulgar power-play nature of misconstrued patriarchy. She writes about it as though it were a painting on the wall. I wonder if there are any fledgling horror writers out there willing to look at Tauschwitz’s technique. If they dare. Wait. Maybe I should try comparing Tauschwitz with Hitchcock? Nomatter.

“Der Gesang der Schneckenhäuser” starts with the characters Luzifer, Serge and a woman named Mariefleure who is also called Laura. A juxtaposition of beauty and the beast names, let me tell you. But it’s the first name mentioned that should stop you in your tracks. Luzifer should just about cover everything, shouldn’t it? I mean, naming a character Luzifer is all one needs. Oh, these Germans who write horror books but don’t really want them to be horror books can be tricky. Luzifer is not who/what you think. In Tauschwitz’s case it is just a name – or is it? I’m not sure what Tauschwitz intentions were – and I might have to read this book a second time to figure it out – but naming a character this way and in no way referencing what the name actually is, is a pretty neat trick. Which brings me to Serge. Serge is actually the one in this story that ultimately requires a name of devilish connotations. Wait. Did I just give something away? No, I did not.

So let me return to where I began this mess. Let me try to address the nature of fear as it is embodied if not worshipped by humanity. But be warned: I will not be able to do it as well as Tauschwitz. She does something with her story telling that I think is unique. What she writes isn’t something that can be categorized in one genre – but it is systematic. And that’s the key. Her main diabolical character is very systematic in the horrors he inflicts on others. So. Read this book, if you dare. Expect no blood, no death and no darkness from which gargoyles can startle you. You will be afraid all the same – because you are set in the diabolical mind. You might replace your fear with anger – but that will be short lived because you will eventually turn around in circles realizing that what you are reading, even though it’s fiction, is somehow real. And if you’re real lucky, like me, you might start to recall authors like Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde, and even Stephen King, etc. who are pioneers of their genres. They transcribe what is ultimately fiction and you are entertained. Tauschwitz does something similar but she also does something those mentioned here do not do. There is something very real about what she writes. I wonder if I’ll ever get her images out of my head.

Rant on.

-tgs-

Flatroof Expatriates

Ich Will Kein Flachdach Sein by Yassin Nasri

As much as I’d like to, there is no way to dramatize my expatriation. Should I try anyway? Ok. The short theatrics to my experience has been simple. Move abroad. Experience lots of bullshit. The end. That’s it. For the past twenty years that’s how I’ve seen it.

Expat = The End.

Yet. I frivolously try to at least think about my expatriation as not being just the end. I guess I’m a dreamer. Also. During those rare and sober moments, usually between the time I wake up in the late morn to the time just after I brush my teeth, I think there is something else to what I’ve done. Then I drink one while saluting some unknown distant and long dead Prussian relative and the dream-state of drunken expatismresumes.

For moi, being an expat has been a long, exciting, drawn-out debacle that has basically served two mundane things. One. It’s expanded my mind. Having been reared a redneck, having waisted my youth as a jock, and having squeezed by American’t public edumacation, there just ain’t much to be said about wanting/needing to leave it all.

The second thing this journey has served is that it’s enabled me to see parts of this world that I never had the slightest clue to knowing actually existed. That’s part of the reason that I never yearn to return to the weening glory of the teat that has left me as much as I’ve left it – except to visit mother. Also, in the world I come from, there really was no other choice than to leave. My only regret? Not being able to expatriate again. How ‘bout Mars or Jupiter – or the dead of space?

Even though expatriating sucks, I have to admit that there are few things that make it all worth while. One of those things has to do with the silly notion of expanding horizons. In this particular case, expanding horizons means meeting up with a blood brother. And it doesn’t even matter if this blood brother is in reality the exact opposite, the perfect mirror image of who and what I am. Indeed, expatriates have something unique in common. And what a soothing, comforting feeling that is.

“Du musst die Deutsche Seele verinnerlichen.” (You have to internalize the German soul.)

Hold on a sec there my opposite blood-brother bub who is causing my horizons to explode! You don’t really mean “internalize” do you? A non-German “internalize” being a German? Oh my. Your way of putting it sounds different than mine. Could that be due to you coming from a place that is pretty much part of the cradle of modern civilization? And me coming from a place that is pretty much the destructive ending of that civilization? Yeah, baby. Let’s start a club. A Syrian and American expat club to save the friggin world – by internalizing the Germans.

If I could, if I had the choice, I would prefer to spend the rest of my remaining days in the company of two types of people. One of those types would be someone  who spend their days doing nothing except thinking. Obviously that’s impossible. The other would be hanging out with expatriates in shoddy, steamy bars somewhere in N. Africa. Again. Kind of impossible. And let me be clear here. I’m not talking about people journeying abroad with their jobs or those extending vacations. Nor am I talking about people deciding one day to head to far lands and see how the locals live. I’m talking about people that have had to up and move their souls – as a form of survival – and who like to wash down that trauma with a good drink, better discourse and the never-ending desire to question everything for the single purpose of acquiring variety and not just answers.

Obviously, in some respects, I’m an idealist. After getting to know me, others might think that I’m not just an idealist but also one of them dreamers who has found the perfect antidote to staying awake. Being a dreamer and an idealist isn’t a good combination. It’s leads to paranoia, delusions and sometimes to stomach ailments from drinking too much espresso out of a coffee machine made in Switzerland that costs more than a flight to Kenya – business class. Thank goodness there are humans around to force me to wake up. And when they do wake me, they force me to recognize one of the three things required to be human in this day and age: there is no turning back, death, taxes and reality. Wait. Did I say three things? Nomatter. Reality is the most important.

I may have found the person that I could spend some serious time with while drinking too much at a copy of Rick’s Café Americain in, gee, I don’t know, in Duisburg? Yassin Nasri wrote a book – a book that speaks to my soul. I first heard his name a few weeks before the Frankfurt Book Fair of 2011. My publisher had been working hard in 2011 because I kept getting email announcements of the new titles that he was publishing. Keep in mind, one of the more important tasks in my daily life (other than stopping all the dreaming) is managing my reading list. Currently I have a reading list that has an estimated completion date of 2041. I maintain this reading list on my computer using spreadsheet software integrated with to-do apps and, through a specialized script programmed in Hypertext, displayed in a calendar that is compatible with google, iCal, yahoo and Microsoft excel version 3.0 running on a Macintosh toaster computer with OS 7.2 that’s in my special man-cave in the attic of my apartment. Needless to say, I’m constantly trying to get new books on my reading list (and not just because maintaining the list is so fun but also because my estimated death date is 2040). So much to do. So much to read.

Yassin’s book is titled “Ich Will Kein Flachdach Sein.” Loosely, that means something like, I don’t want to be different. It also means, if you are a foreigner in Germany, it’s a good idea for you to consider carefully what it means to be German. Not German because you have to become German, but German because you should carefully know who the Germans are if you want to either live with them or become one. Literally the title of the book translates, “I Don’t Want To Be A Flat Roof.” The cover of the book has a cute little cartoon drawing of row houses with typical triangular tipped roofs, except for one that has a flat roof. Until about half-way through the book, I thought I too was a flat roof in Germany. But then I got to thinking. No. This book got me thinking. So I poured another one, turned on one of my Apple TVs (yes this is a ritual sometimes that helps me read), called up the movie Casablanca (in HD), pushed play, turned off the sound (that’s real important) and read on. Walla. Cheers. Here’s to you kid.

Oh, how I wanted to have everything in-common with this book, which is both a series of letters to his mother and a careful how-to regarding mostly, but not only, how muslims should co-habitat with Germans. And it’s exactly there where the commonality of blood-brothers took a turn. Reality set in. I woke up. I turned off my AppleTV (just as Rick was flirting around on that Paris hotel couch drinking too much champagne with that blonde chick) and put down my drink. I read on – with a vengeance. This guy – my new blood brother – was on to something.

I couldn’t help but start to think about a juxtaposition. This book was making a whole lot of sense to me but in a very strange way. It was becoming something of a rule book, as well. There were moments where I wondered if I should finally incorporate what Yassin was saying into my integration experience. And it didn’t even matter that I already had twenty years of mis-integration behind me. But I also thought, wait a sec. What is this making me think of above and beyond the wholesomeness of getting along with Germans? And then it hit me. Only a short time before there was a controversial book published in Germany by (I’ll call him) a conservative nutbag named Thilo Sarrazin. (Btw, Sarrazin’s book is on my reading list and should be complete by 2018; in the mean time I have only read about the book and its author.)

Sarrazin wrote about how Germany is losing it’s identity to, among other things, too much immigration and tolerance of things foreign. And he doesn’t stop there. Sarrazin also gets into that old European chestnut that so many avoid talking about (publicly) but think about daily (and in private), Eugenics. And there’s even more. Sarrazin claims that Germany is allowing too many stupid females (according to him they are foreign and Islamic, of course) to have too many stupid children. That also means (according to this guy who is part of the machine that controls the friggin’ Bundesbank) that not enough smart females (I’m sure he means the pure, white Aryan females) don’t have enough smart kids. Needless to say I was a bit shocked and wondered why Yassin’s book wasn’t being sold along side Sarrazin’s book (sarcasm on) in all the controlled, collective bookstores that are run by the oh-so tolerant German government (sarcasm off).

“Ich Will Kein Flachdach Sein” got me thinking. On the one hand I had been searching for years for a way to share the expatriation experience. So much better the surprise that my publisher had a writer that had written about it. On the other hand, I had long since given up on the idea that I would ever get a medal for the price I paid to integrate into the heartland of where so much of Europe’s history has yet to dig up its rotted roots (Thilo Sarrazin!) And so the duality of my happy and angry time as an expatriate has come full circle in the form a guy who lived under a flat roof and woke me (from my dreamy state) to the realities of being an expat. I no longer think expat = the end.

For Yassin Nasri, a Syrian born and now German citizen, expatriation was the beginning. It is also a wondrous and dramatic ride that should make many Germans sit back and take a look at how they think of others in their oh-so-precious historic place. In a way, I’m sure he doesn’t intend it to be that way, being a Flachdach is probably the only way to make it as a foreigner in Germany. Even though I jest about getting a medal for surviving this country, Germany should take a better look at another expat, one deserving of so much more praise for what he’s achieved. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this, Yassin doesn’t live in Germany – and Germany is a lesser place for it.

Rant on.

-tgs-