ethic. I belonged to one of several Jewish families but growing up in that wealthy community, with the property tax rate and unwritten laws that discriminated against Jews made me a social outcast. There were no other cultures, classes or influences. I was the Jew and they weren‟t. Every time I heard the word Jew, there was always the sharp tingling up and down my spine and overwhelming feelings of self-consciousness. Years before in Little League baseball, I was persecuted so much I couldn‟t bear any kind of attention that would single me out.
Ten minutes to go as my eyes remain fixed on the clock. How do you say goodbye to your school and your teachers? I spent a lot of time in that school. Too much time in the principal‟s office and detention. In eight more minutes it will all be over, I‟m moving to Florida. My old man was already there, getting a place for us to live. He had just retired by selling his restaurant business in New York City and we were bound for the Jewish Alps, St. Petersburg.
It was like my life flashing by in front of me. I remembered the pre-game huddles on the football team. Everyone would gather around, hold hands, and from heart would murmur The Lord‟s Prayer. Since I wasn‟t a member of their church, I didn‟t know the Lord‟s Prayer, so all I could do was mumble while everyone else was murmuring? It tends to make you feel isolated and very much alone. I was the class clown that everyone laughed at but I figured I really had to outdo myself. Back in those days we used to walk into the woods before school and smoke a cigarette. In the era of James Dean, smoking a butt was a heavy thing that had to be hidden from parents and teachers. In school we used to go to the boy‟s room, stand on top of the john and smoke your butt in front of the air vents.
One afternoon while I was up there. I got busted by one of the football coaches. Words weren‟t needed, the whole story was written on my face and I was so embarrassed to be up there, he just turned around and walked out.
Five minutes to go and it‟s time for me to say goodbye in my own little way. As I lit the match before lighting my cigarette, the smell of sulphur and sound of the match going off had to parallel any shot heard „round the world. I didn‟t have time to see the class‟
reaction, all I could focus on was the finger pointing to the door. Rothbard! Out!! Yea, sure, teach, this sixteen year old was headed out the door and I didn‟t look back.
It was the middle of the night and I was sleeping on the couch in the living room and I woke up to the sound of my mother crying. Nobody said anything, they didn‟t have to. I knew my dad had died. After a week of driving from New York to Florida, he died the first night we were there. It had only been two days and I was headed back to New York and the same high school I never looked back at. The year after my father died we moved to Long Island and a new school system. It seemed like this school taught everything in reverse chronologically from my other school so I was learning the same thing over again or else I had no idea what they were talking about because I had missed the basics. I remember my last high school attendance record—out of the first quarter session I missed 48 out of 60 days with 12 afternoons, which means I never made it through a whole day.
One day the principle had me down there in his office with this whole pile of excuse notes I had plainly written (must have been about 48 of them) and an English composition paper and he was comparing the handwriting. The last thing I remember was going out the door, scared as hell, not knowing where I was going to wind up next.
After several months of pushing a broom around the local grocery store, I found myself joining the Army with a base salary of $70 a month. Several months had passed when I was sitting on a garbage can peeling potatoes and the news rang out that President Kennedy was dead. Up until that point in time, the one security I felt was that my country had it together, but when that happened, you know something‟s wrong. My sense of patriotism went down the tubes as I watched a millionaire Texan President send more and more men to a distant land none of us ever heard of. Up until that time, word in the Army was we were in bad shape because the only “wartime experienced” soldiers were Korean vets and they were retiring. It‟s almost as if a war was needed to prepare the Army.
Eight years later I was sitting in my own little office on Madison Avenue wearing a $200
Oleg Cassini suit, a Pierre Cardin shirt and tie and boots to match. I had over ten suits and may combinations of expensive shirts and ties so that I never had to wear the same combinations if I didn't‟ want. It was 1971 and I had been out of the army for five years.
Two years before I had graduated from a junior college in Orange County, California with a business degree. In that summer I remember reading in the newspaper about Woodstock, which was really a couple hundred miles to the north of New York City where I was but probably one million miles from where my head was. Prior to Woodstock, there were posters and a lot of conversation about a gathering to be held there and it seemed that at the time anyone who was Woodstock-bound had no place else to go or nothing else to do. The mood of the country was split based on what your position with the Vietnam War was.
I remember talking to some parents whose sons were off fighting. Right or wrong, all they could cling to was patriotism and the belief or hope that someone knew what they were doing. If you couldn‟t subscribe to that point of view, the line was drawn and there you were. If you weren‟t into apple pie, baseball and what your country was doing, you were an outcast. Generally speaking, if you were an outcast you had nothing else to do and could spend a week upstate at Woodstock. The world looked on astonished as several hundred thousand people battled the elements together in a kind of harmony that civilization had ever known—unpoliced.
Back in my office on Madison Ave, I was one of the only young guys in the company and there were a lot of young secretaries, most of them looking for Mr Right. Now in the summertime back East, most people flock to beaches like fish out of water. There happened to be a little community out there called Fire Island, accessible only by ferry—
no cars. In the beginning of the summer, people lease the beach homes and sell shares through newspaper ads. Usually the houses have four bedrooms and you‟d have from 12
to 24 co-ed inhabitants per weekend. With no supervision or visible police enforcement, a certain freedom could be felt. By Sunday afternoon, you were looking forward to going home from sheer exhaustion. I remember taking out my motorcycle during the week on those hot summer nights. Smoke a few joints, a lap or two around Central Park, and it‟s back to your apartment—a cheap date and good company for the subway ride to work the next morning. If you wanted, you could perform this scene three or four times a week with different ladies.
Back in the office, things were going very well, I was promoted from the job of Junior Budget Analyst to Assistant to the Administrative Manager of the Mail Marketing Division. We were a mail order company that contracted with oil companies for their mailing lists. It was my job to handle all the accounts payable and perform administrative duties. The only thing that was more insurmountable than all the bullshit around there was the money that went to pay for it. When you see, hear and read about all of these mail order goodies to buy, chances are there‟s a bunch of inexperienced and incompetent people experimenting with their and your livelihoods. A lot of the products they are selling are untried and untested, as their only concern is middle-manning a buck. Many, many times, shipping and handling charges are determined arbitrarily—picking figures that sound good for a sales presentation or format.
As I looked around the company for its leaders who I could learn from and aspire to, I found myself in a continual state of search. I was a junior executive, one step from being able to dine in the executive dining room for free, what status! All men are basically the same, but if you give some of them a free lunch and a nice office in a posh environment, he might feel that this little edge over his co-workers can be called success and his innate desires turn into anxieties that well eke away at him for the rest of his life. It‟s like we‟re all riding on this big ship: those who have been on board the longest have hopefully found their security within the ship‟s confines; they can only have faith or trust the ship is heading in the right direction and everyone‟s attention is on the Captain. In a corporation, the Chairman of the Board or President is totally inaccessible to all but a few of his employees. Do we know his needs and most important, does he know ours?
When you get your job, you‟re so impressed with the fringe benefits and the wonderful retirement programs, the warrior within you becomes passive as you let your guard down.
With your new company looking out for you, you begin to look elsewhere and that‟s where the trouble begins. This is where your life takes on an unnatural presence. In such a typical office scenario, you are usually at the mercy of your supervisor‟s mood. If everything is OK at home, chances are you‟ll make it through the day, but if he‟s got problems, he‟ll vent them your way. If that doesn‟t seem bad enough, you start thinking about your retirement and what kind of a stoolie you‟re going to turn into. I remember one of my female co-workers with a BA degree called the Vice President of our section by his first name and then had to endure a humiliating lecture in front of all of us.
The corporation turns into a massive entity that can only see and move in one direction, towards the black ink. By its own nature, it must pursue this direction to maintain and ensure its own existence. A corporation with a conscience is in actuality, playing chess against itself. If only the bottom line was the total amount of goods supplied and services performed for the benefit of the people, rather than the amount of dollars that are being drained from the local economy! The old adage, it takes money to make money will ensure that the continual malignant growth of giant corporations—like big fish eating small fish. If they didn‟t swallow up the smaller ones, they would terminate themselves.
When people must shop from stores where they can save the most, it creates a situation where larger companies can absorb a loss by temporarily lowering their prices until they drive out their competition. Let‟s face it, the business community is turning into a giant rat going in circles trying to catch and consume its own tail.
As the days wore on, I started to become more and more disillusioned with my job and I began to look elsewhere. It‟s as if you fill some particular slot and then your energies are directed in another area and you are content with trying to maintain your slot as your desires are projected elsewhere. Is this where youth leaves us? When we take those deep-down desires that propelled us in our youth and gave us ambition and drive through school, only to crash-land on some corporation‟s rank-and-file list? Incidentally—with all of their overseas operations—what happens when an oil company or telecom gets bigger than the United States government and when the government tries to legislate against their interests? Will they declare a strike or work stoppage and hold the country for ransom? Pretty frightening.
It‟s hard to be objective when you are on one side of a situation. As I looked over the returns from one of our older mail order projects, I was surprised to see all of the replies that referred to mail pollution. Out of a mailing of two million people, a one percent response was usually adequate in a mail-order program to produce a profit. Just think of the tides and tides of mail sent out at reduced rates! The amount of junk mail flooding the post offices can only be supplemented by charging more and more for postage rates for personal mail. As for business mail, all of the paperwork is created for one essential reason: written proof in black and white. As a substitute for trust, paperwork furnishes evidence. My boss would have his secretary put everything in writing. Meetings, telephone discussions, observations, anything! His secretary was always busy typing. He was feared by all because he was the only one with all of the paperwork. The funny thing was, he was always skipping out and working on his church‟s accounting and the most feared was always afraid of me because I knew what he was up to. As a matter of fact, when I was first interviewed for the job working under him, I was told afterwards that he insisted his employee should score 100% on the company achievement test. Later that day I remember basking in pride upon learning that I had missed the first answer, but had proceeded to score 99% and was told I had the job.
After much disillusionment, I started sending out resumes in search of another job. I learned that once I started to progress within the company, my job description and area of responsibility could not be directly assimilated into other companies‟ job descriptions, which meant quite simply that I wouldn‟t be hired. It felt like high school revisited. The business community—like the student body—represented one big clique. If you allow yourself to become part of this scene, you‟re sort of an automated robot who goes to work each day with the same intensity as a yoyo on its upward movement—straight on track. When reviewing your resume, generally they are looking more for time lapses than they are at your experience because if you do have any time lapses, you certainly aren‟t one of them.
The climate of the country at the time was sort of an economic depression and I had no luck finding another job, but I had decided this was it, I wanted out. Since I had these contacts from where I was presently working, I decided to start my own business, a stereo equipment store out in good old Long Island. I chose to rent out an old jewellery store that had just gone out of business. It was approximately one half mile down the road from a high school in a very wealthy neighborhood. Much to the surprise of the fellas I was working with, I handed in my two weeks‟ notice and quit. The weekend I had quit my job in the city, a bunch of us went upstate Vermont for a weekend of skiing and on the way home I saw a big store with the words PUPPIES and strictly on impulse we stopped and went inside. I had always had a dog while growing up and since my life was going to take a big change, I whipped out a credit card and $320 later I had an Old English Sheepdog which I named Daphne.
I was able to borrow six grand to start my new enterprise and I quickly came to realize that the more I was able to do myself, the less I would have to pay for. As simple as this realization sounds, most people are not aware of this and spend much of their time watching other people working for them doing those things they could have done themselves. Such was not the case when it came to carpentry work and the owner of the place where I was buying all of my materials suggested that his son stop by and give me a hand. It was also at this time I opened my first business checking account. I was surprised to discover that the bank manager took me aside and explained that I had to write OK to cash on the back or they would not honor my checks. To this day I still can‟t figure that out!
My carpenter assistant turned out to be one of those long-haired, baby boom draft evading, rarely working and always complaining about injustice and how crummy the government is types. After quitting high school, I had joined the Army and spent three unquestioning years of blind faith service and managed to serve out all my time without ever getting into trouble. For the second half of my service, I was the Battalion Commander‟s driver and the Sergeant Major used to say I was supposed to be above reproach. I was a good soldier, made Spec 5, and was very much in awe of the black Colonel for whom I was driver. I remember the first morning I had to pick him up. A Colonel‟s driver is known for his patience and ability to sit behind the wheel, waiting sometimes all day for the old man to reappear and you were always ashamed when you would rudely wake up as he was opening the door for himself. This one particular morning I accidentally leaned on the horn!
Maybe I mention both of these people at the same time because I shared an equal amount of respect for them both. The Colonel was a pioneer in a very biased Army. As a black man, it was almost expected of him to carry on the usual day-to-day injustices perpetuated in the white man‟s society, but he didn‟t bend to the pressure. He was a gracious man who knew he had to treat each bigot as any other man and lay aside his own reactive impulses. In other words, he had to have the ability to see beyond another man‟s prejudices or else he would slip to the same level and not be capable of performing his job. My carpenter friend, on the other hand was more preoccupied with the political ramifications of his society because it was forcing him to do its dirty work by lending his body as a pawn in the war.
Since my separation from the Army, I was concerned with success, money and making up for lost time. I never knew anyone like my carpenter friend, and even though I had done my time, I didn‟t feel that he should have to. This attitude allowed me to hear him because I understood his cause. If I didn‟t see his side of things I would have never listened to him. But if you don‟t question whatever side or position you adhere to, one can only acknowledge that you are in agreement. Unfortunately this statement also describes the political nature of this country. There‟s good and bad, two sides to everything, but it‟s just blind faith and plain ignorance when someone, without question or reserve, sees anything one-sided. Up to that point I had been so concerned with being successful and good that I ignored all the protestors and anyone else who wasn‟t into what I was.
The date was March 27, 1971 and it was opening day for Sounds N Stuff. I was so used to all the discouraging comments, advice and general state of mind from peers and family that I felt a tremendous amount of inner satisfaction that I had just gotten the store open on time. I remember the night before, sitting on the floor and just looking around with pride. In their efforts to discourage me and prove me wrong, one by one they deserted me. However it was as if some type of balance was being maintained. I was beginning to lose a lot of unchallenged family-oriented beliefs in favor of believing in whatever works and more of a “let‟s take each day as it comes” kind of attitude.
In the course of each person‟s lifetime, there comes a time when that person is faced with a situation which requires a choice of value; should he react and do everything as expected of him—what his relatives, friends and peers want him to do—or should he react according to his feelings. It‟s really a case of cerebral thoughts versus emotional feelings. Cerebral thoughts come and go (origin unknown) and where would we be if those around us change their opinions daily? However, if we develop an instinct to react from the heart, we are really seeing ourselves in others and reacting to that person in a manner of how we expect anyone else to treat ourselves. Military personnel and police are trained to act cerebrally, and so was my family.
As I opened my doors to the public, I had great expectations and with tremendous anticipation, I waited…and waited for my first customer. I had considered selling records and tapes, however, when I went to several distributors I quickly learned that unless I was placing a $5000 order, it wasn‟t worth the salesman‟s time. I decided to sell small compact stereo systems and I eventually wound up buying my records and tapes out of the trunk of a guy‟s car who came around weekly. Since that time, there have been many instances of collusion resulting in prosecution by the larger distributors in the area.
After my first week in business, I had sold one small stereo and needless to say, I was discouraged. If only I had taken a job in another store, I would have known what to expect. I simply hated the long hours and the sense of always having to be there working on something. A very expensive lesson.
What is true for the national economy is also true for the local. The rate of inflation is directly proportional to the amount of overseas investment. When the profits of local businesses are withdrawn from that system and reinvested in an outside system, the outer system is benefited while the local is robbed. The only way to reduce inflation is to paralyze growth. It‟s like saying there will be less traffic accidents if nobody drives.
The present situation is this: most food, gasoline, appliances, automobiles, electronics, clothing and banking facilities are provided by huge corporations with little or no interest in that community. Since profit is the only goal sought, these corporations seek out the cheapest labor, most often in other countries, and charge a price as high as the market can bear. The problem begins when all of this money leaves the community as sales are made, while most income generated in that community is heavily taxed first, while loan programs come affixed with high interest to each borrower. The resulting effect is a drain in each community disguised by something called credit. Everything looks OK on the surface but in reality the banks and corporations own mostly everything.
I have several ideas concerning the economy, both on a local and national scale. Instead of everyone within a particular community working for one of the several dominating corporations, why not introduce a third sustainable sector into the economy? We have public and private corporations, yet what is needed is a third type of ownership, a corporation that is owned by all the people who use it equally. Then all of the goods and services will always benefit the local populace and the local economy will not be drained.
The new corporation would encourage new jobs and fields of endeavor on a local level by meeting the continuously increasing needs of the community. A corporation that would service the community can only grow in accord with that particular rate of growth.
The solution to such a financial crisis is really quite simple. Each community should start a cooperative that would be identical to any large retail store except all of the shoppers would be the owners, and each member would hold one share of stock. The corporation should sell everything the local consumers need, and at the end of the fiscal year each member receives a dividend that will be spent back into the local system. As the local corporation grows, it can buy out the smaller local businesses at a fair market price and their employees can participate in the program. At the end of the year, the company would designate how much of the profits would be distributed among the shareholders. It is conceivable that there could be enough profit generated to provide each member with sufficient funds to buy all of his holiday presents at the co-op each year. What is needed to start this process is an initial source of funding and a company constitution designed to keep a revolving Board of Directors as the leadership with an apolitical foundation. Every two years the Board can elect two new directors as two former directors retire. The corporation can provide low cost loans to entrepreneurs who can create new jobs with the corporation. Each community will be served by itself rather than the present state of politics which involves bowing to the demands of others for political favors.
Unemployment would be non-existent as each community takes on the task of serving itself. The results could be mind-boggling.
Back in the store Daf and me were getting real bored. As I got to know the local high school kids, business started to pick up. The kids began hanging out at the store and we started to get to know each other. Since I had a young looking face, it seemed like there weren‟t many differences. I had developed such a rapport with them that I started going to their houses and meeting their parents. I can remember one instance when I was sitting around with a bunch of kids secretly getting high in the bedroom and in the room next door her 13 year-old sister was playing with her girlfriend. As I watched, they were unaware (uncaring) and it was as if I was 13 also but somehow my age gave me just the awareness to watch them and appreciate the preciousness of seeing them be themselves.
If they knew an older person was around, it would have never been the same. The only thing wrong with being young is just lack of experience. If something good comes your way, you don‟t know if it will continue, if so for how long or how many other opportunities or breaks will come along. Youth is so deceiving in itself and it would seem that an older friend who has seen his share of highs and lows can be a very helpful friend.
That is essentially how I saw myself with that group of friends.
About the same time all this was going on, I decided to try and increase business with some local FM radio advertising. When I called the station, they sent their salesman around and we made an agreement for 25 or so spots for $100, a good deal for my store.
For once, I was dealing with an organization that truly wanted to help me. If they could increase my business, it would add to theirs. I received a phone call a few days later from one of the DJs who was writing the ad. He kept asking questions trying to get an idea of what the place was like and I said “Look, you just have to come down and see the place”.
He said OK and later that day he came and saw. The storefront was all brick with a huge 10 x 10 picture window. The bricks were alternatively painted blue and red and in the center of the window on the inside was a big revolving mirrored glass ball with a strobe light.
It was an instant friendship and we know where each other‟s head was at. I the showed him how I take my breaks by placing a sign Be back in 10 minutes on the outside of the door and locking it from the inside. Then we went downstairs where I had this nice panelled room and a big bed and stereo. I happened to have this really good Panama Red and we proceeded to get very stoned. Being on a tight schedule, he didn‟t have time to write the ad but would think of something driving back to the station. An hour later, his show came on and he was talking to me over the radio with no mention of my name. It‟s just that we were both so stoned. When it came time for my first commercial which was supposed to be 30 seconds long, he just started talking about meeting a lovely „honey‟
named Daphne who hung our at Sounds N Stuff and he went on and on. Maybe 3 to 5
minutes with a lot of stuttering and I knew I had a friend.
As time went on, the radio station was having a benefit drive and I said I would donate a small stereo. In exchange I got a plug every time they aired the commercial. Business was good but I was getting very tired of having to be in the store. Finally I hired someone so that I could leave, or spend more time downstairs. Eventually it got to the point where I would entertain my friends downstairs in my room. When we came upstairs we were all so loaded it was hard to maintain, but I would just crank up the stereo to full volume.
During the day when nobody was around, I would stand outside the front of the store smoking a joint in plain sight as if it were a cigar. Needless to say, I was now at the stage where I was getting high all day long. The business wasn‟t, but life was beginning to be pleasurable and having fun was becoming part of my livelihood. The night of the benefit, I felt kind of proud for a little while until I was told someone had ripped off the stereo. It took the glow out of things. Several weeks later I was awakened at 4:00 a.m. by a phone call from the police, informing me that the store had been burglarized. I rushed down there and was shocked to see that someone had thrown a spare tire from their car through the picture window and they just stepped in, grabbed three stereos and split. Much to my confusion, I was walking around the store when a lady who lived nearby told me that she heard a lot of change falling on the ground, looked out the window and saw one of the policemen putting my borrowed $1200 cash register (with $100 cash in it) into his car and drive away. I went back inside and sat on the floor for about three hours in the morning chill reflecting on what had just happened. I waited until a decent hour to call a relative who was supposed to handle all my insurance. To make things worse, not only did he tell me that I wasn‟t insured but later accused me behind my back of staging the whole thing!
All of this with the store had transpired over a period of only four months and I was burned out with the long hours. On top of that, the corruption and unpredictable behavior of the police left me feeling paranoid. I was learning a funny thing as a result of the business. Popularity seems directly proportional to the amount of money you want to spend to make yourself known. Think about how this also applies to politics. In our democratic way of life, a lot of money invested in media advertising will eventually be absorbe