Joining Forces in a Busted Manhattan

Joining Forces in a Busted Manhattan – by Andrew Freiburghouse

The tavern hostess seemed desperate. She passed me on to the bartender, who was eating a salad, not working. I looked around. There were a lot of employees not working around here. That’s because there were no customers.  Just me and some other guy.

Outside, where I went to take a phone call, I saw a man eating a burger with a fork.

Back inside, I heard the bartender girl telling the other customer, “Enjoy me while you can.” The besuited customer replied, “Hey, I’m still here too.” They were on the edge of decisions. She was married. She wasn’t looking for anything. It was simple.  Knowing that you might never see someone, ever again.

The last time I’d heard that kind of talk was in the Bay Area — Silicon Valley / San Francisco — circa 2001. After the Bubble burst, after 9/11, when the party was over for sure. So, this was my second bust living at Ground Zero.

So here I am again, after yet another crash.  And once again, the question is:  what now?  New York could potentially turn into the shithole it used to be back in the Seventies.  Or, once again, it could find a new way out.  And the scary part is that choice is in the hands of the same clowns who got us into this current mess:  the finance M.B.A. jocks–the thick, well-fed guys who used to play obscure sports like lacrosse—who loved the way they were getting looked at.  Who especially loved the fact that they were hated.

These were the guys who thrive on the knowledge that every person looking at them was thinking:  Arrogant asshole.  Fuck you.  Die in a puddle.   Now, it seems, these same assholes may hold our fate.

Enjoy me while you can.  Was it only seven years ago?  And on the other side of the continent?

Maybe I won’t see you ever again, so goodbye. I wish you all the best, and if you get a job, hire me. Or if the world ends, then best of luck to you as well.

Who knows?  Maybe the bail-out will work.  Silicon Valley was roaring again after just three years, bigger than ever.  But the Valley’s underlying engine – Moore’s Law – was still intact.  Here, it’s the engine itself – the world’s financial market – that has sputtered and seized up.  I turn on the TV:  there’s Hank (“Henry”) Paulson, squirming like a worm on a hook.  He’s stuttering as he speaks in front of Congress, as he tries to justify his career.  As he tries to get re-elected.  As he struggles to explain $700 billion — more than our national deficit this year. And you know how we spend . . .

What if the bail-out doesn’t pass, or work properly? But it will. It has to.  Otherwise, what becomes of New York?

Enjoy me while you can.

They don’t have “Happy Hour” in the bars down on Wall Street. They don’t sell beer for less during afternoon hours.  But they do on the Lower East side, where I’ve just come from yet another Internet event.  

The trip isn’t far — maybe five minutes by train — but right now they are worlds apart. There, they are handing out business cards and networking.  Here, they are saying goodbye.  The two groups – the arrogant finance assholes and the hungry, self-absorbed nerds — rarely meet, much less talk. 

Well, the two groups better get to work meeting each other.   And fast.  Because right now the whole game is at stake.  Because right now, the future of New York is in the balance.  Because, in the end, all we both want is to get rich and leave our mark on this town.  Because, most of all, none of us want to go from being the hunter to the hunted. 

And unless we cross that gap that currently divides us; and together – through the application of smart capital to brilliant new ideas – grow our way out of this hole it will be, for all us:  Maybe I won’t see you ever again, so goodbye.