I was watching this show last night called “American Greed.” It profiles different individuals who “fake it” to try to make it, only to suffer devastating falls when it becomes clear that they are not who they claim to be. These “Greed” stars often shmooze with high level politicians, using their ill gotten gain to promote themselves, and often like to flaunt their fake riches ostentatiously in order to curry favor and impress people. I couldn’t help think of the rampant abuse that huge amounts of money, whether it be legitimately earned or otherwise, can lead to corruption of character, and the way that it can feed the impetus to control other people, and how it can feed pre-existing negative personality traits, including narcissism, egomania, and addictions. It made me reflect upon the culture of excess and the cults of personality that I encountered upon moving to New York City.
I grew up in an affluent neighborhood. My father was a high level engineering professional with a niche specialty, and my mother was pursuing a Ph.d right before my brother was born. However, the cultural differences between the rich of the West Coast and those on the East Coast could not have been more pronounced, in my experience. And of course, there is still an even greater difference between the top 1 – 2% and the top 1% of the 1%. This is a tiny, tiny fraction of the population, and I was directly privy to the hautiness, arrogance, and wastefulness of this group through Alex. He himself is one of these people.
In college, he inherited 100k from his mother’s life insurance policy, which he used to pay his living expenses through college and then finance some of his student film projects. When I met him, he was a playboy who worked 3-4 hours a day, only a few days a week, and spent the remainder of his time playing golf, squash, poker, surfing, and going out to breakfast. He was arrogant, impetuous, and utterly unaware of his privilege. On one occasion, as we were packing for our move to NYC, I found a jar full of change in the kitchen, and asked him what we should do with it. He responded quickly with, “just throw it out.” Being a first generation American and children of immigrants who had to scrimp every penny and watch their expenses to survive, this offended all of my sensibilities and a felt a deep seated disgust for his lack of prudence. Here was the epitome of the spoiled rotten only child, with a callous affect, entirely self absorbed and utterly unable to empathize with anyone else’s troubles. It was too much trouble for him to drive to the local Goodwill to donate almost brand new shirts that did not fit him anymore, so I took it upon myself to load up boxes, drive them down, and even brought him back a tax refund slip which he promptly threw in the trash. It wasn’t enough to be worth the time and effort, he told me.
His private face was much different from his public persona. In public, he was the DJ for psychedelic trance and drug parties in Mexico, even releasing an album, called Frequency Deluxe, with his partner. He was a regular at raves and, according to his braggardly tales, one of the biggest ketamine dealers in Hollywood was counted among his friends. Ketamine, known on the street as “Special K” or simply “K,” is a heavy tranquilizer used by veterinarians to sedate large animals, including horses. It is generally injected but can also be smoked or taken orally, and it sends the user into a “k-hole,” a state of heavy sedation in which visions or contacts with other realms are often reported. Alex was a frequent user of K during the time of his friendship with this nameless dealer, who disappeared without a trace one day, never to be seen again. He continued to be a heavy pot smoker and cocaine user during the time when I first met him, and he consumed several double shots of single malt whiskey nightly. He made it a point to to me that he ONLY consumed single malt, and how finely distilled and expensive his choice of drink was. After we moved to NYC, I began saving the bottles every month in order to make herbal vinegar, and one month I was shocked to discover that in the course of three weeks that there were six bottles of expensive liquor, totaling over 250 dollars! I wonder now if I even spend that much in ONE YEAR buying alcohol of any kind, even beer, which I buy rarely, and keep mostly in case I have guests over.
Alex, because he never truly had to make it on his own, but instead was given money for college, money to finance his failed film career, to buy his first home, and even to make his first real estate investment, never really had the appreciation for it the way that someone who had to sweat for every penny would. He often liked to brag about how many millions he was worth, but I saw through him from the first. I knew that it was his father, Arthur, who held the purse strings for everything, and that Alex was merely a loud mouthed, arrogant playboy who was more content to golf his days away than he was truly serious about doing anything with his life. In contrast, although my father was making 400k annually at the time when I went to college, I had to get a job in order to pay for my clothing, personal expenses, car payments, and gas, and later, I had to get prove financial independence at 23 so that I could get a student loan in order to get my graduate education. I had the experience of trying to find an apartment and being rejected again and again due to lack of credit history, and then, finally, finding a management company which rented to students. I rented two apartments through that company between the ages of 21 and 24. I had long had a sense that Alex might have perhaps a mild form of autism, but since I had never known anyone with autism, and having a background in psychology, I began wondering if it was more of a personality disorder. If you go into the Brooklyn Bowl today, you will see a giant poster of “Alexander the man who knows.” The poster was given to Alex by Jeff Stein, film producer and former lover of his late mother, Betty Sue Cornfeld, for whom my daughter is a namesake. The poster must be at least 15 by 30 feet, and it was so large that Alex was never able to put it up in any of his places of residence, but it resides now on the upper level of the Brooklyn Bowl, right near the restrooms. I always joke with friends that this huge effigy was an expression of the size of Alex’s ego.
In public, Alex was the loudmouthed room worker who had lots of “friends.” However, in private, he became the hermit who secluded himself on the couch with the TV going while simultaneously engrossing himself in the latest gadget, smart phone, or tablet, oftentimes playing games. When the kids were babies, he would let them crawl around on the floor and play with toys while he played games or surfed the web online, getting up to change the occasional diaper. While this was fine when the kids were really little, I worried about how this kind of loose lease, laissez-faire parenting would play out without my more attentive presence In fact, the only thing that made it a difficult decision for me to dump Alex’s Bachanalian, playboy ass was my dedication to my kids. My fears, unfortunately, did not prove unfounded.
During the summer of 2014, on weekend I had a very powerful urge to talk to my kids. It was more than just the run of the mill impulse to call them spontaneously, but it was almost like I could hear my kids calling to me psychically, that they needed me for some reason. As it turned out, when I called, my son was about to see an emergency room doctor to get FIVE stitches in his face. I was in shock. How long had it been since my son was injured, and why hadn’t I been notified? (My guess is that Alex was trying to keep this secret from me because he was afraid of my response.) It generally takes a long time to get a doctor in the emergency room, often 1 hour or more. Five hours had passed since the accident, and not one person had thought to notify me. My kids later admitted on my days with them, that they had been left alone downstairs early in the morning, and that my son had been climbing on the counter top in order to make himself a bowl of cereal. He had fallen off and banged his head on the hard corner of the stone counter top. The following is a photo of my son’s face while he was sleeping after the accident.
As if this wasn’t enough, only one week after this horrible, preventable accident which was due to negligence, one morning, after serving him some cereal, my son began vomiting. I felt his forehead and took his digital temperature, but he did not have a fever. I asked him what he had eaten recently, thinking that it might be food poisoning, but it was then that my daughter mentioned, “oh, he’s vomiting because of the chemicals.” As it turned out, once again my son had been left unsupervised with another boy at Alex’s home on a playdate, and that the two boys had been rolling in the green sod that is put down on bare dirt to grow grass. Being from California, and from the strawberry capitol of the nation, but also a region that produces large amounts of pre-grown grass that is “rolled out” into lawns, I know that pesticides can be very dangerous, and in fact, have heard of cases of farm workers who have gone into empty storage silos for pesticides that died immediately of cardiac arrest due to the effects of trace amounts of powerful nerve agents in the air. I was mortified, wondering how it might be possible that something like this could have happened twice in the spanse of one week, and also how callous it was that I had not been notified of the exposure, especially given the fact that I have a medical background. My son was alert and did not exhibit any of the worst signs of poisoning, but just to be safe, I took him to the City MD walk in clinic in Park Slope. They told me what I already knew, which was simply to wait, make sure he didn’t show any signs of neurological damage, and to have him drink lots of fluids. I took him by the nearest bodega and bought him an extra large size of his favorite green tea, and then dropped him off at school late, explaining to the teachers that he had been exposed to chemicals and that he should drink as much as possible. The same friend who was with me, and made an eyewitness statement for the Kate Ambrose case saying that she had witnessed multiple counts of harassment and strange hissing behavior, was with me on that morning.
It was to my utter disgust that two weeks later a got a letter from my son’s pre-school complaining of different occasions in which my son was sent to school without enough lunch, and that he was sent to school with pants that were almost completely ripped on one side and sandals on a very crisp day in October. While they didn’t directly blame me, it was quite obvious that since the letter was sent to me only, that they seemed to be implicating me for the deeds. By this time I was completely irate and I sent a very cold letter back to the school, attaching the schedule that had been made up by the parenting coordinator, which established that my son had been with Alex on each of the days of the alleged events. I did not receive an apology or even a response of any kind from the school.
I’m concerned for my children, and moreover, I’m concerned with the ease with which they abuse their money and their power to lie, cheat, manipulate, and find ways to eliminate people who pose threats to the autonomy of power of the men in the household, against the best interests of two helpless innocent children who were never in any danger at their mother’s house, but who are now subject to the callous neglect of people who can buy power and admiration. It must have been doubly tough for Arthur that not only did his son choose to be with a woman who wouldn’t put up with his bullshit, but who ALSO happened to be a former sex worker. It is true, even among people who consider themselves liberal advocates of the people, that a woman who defies gender norms and who does not play by the acceptable sexual codes of conduct should be punished, humiliated, and beaten down until there’s no more fight left in her. They chose the wrong woman to play this hand with.