Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Modest Proposal

I've never supported genocide. Like the bleary-eyed law student who on the first day discussing Brown V. Board raises his hand and prefaces his comment with "I'd just like everyone to know that I'm against slavery," I would like to put on record that I am, in a general sense, against the systematic murder of a group of people. Especially since they outlawed it in the Geneva Convention. Or some convention. I don't remember, but I'm sure someone made it illegal at sometime. Nevertheless, I've concocted a judicious proposal to address one of the most crippling plagues ever to afflict New York City.

Let's kill all the real estate brokers. Think about it. These people are completely useless. Why keep them alive? They're just dragging the rest of us hard-working Americans down. Rents would drop immediately-no one would ever have to pay that stupid 15% broker's fee anymore. Craigslist adds would be pruned of deceitful advertisements. There would be less foot-traffic in the cities most desirable locations, as there'd no longer be anyone to meet you at a random street corner and take you to the apartment that you could have just gone to yourself if the brokers did not deliberately keep the location of their apartments from you. Instead of meeting that goofy-looking twenty something who could have learned a valuable trade but for some reason went into being slimy for a living, you could just go straight to the apartment, talk to the owner, and strike an honest deal between respectable people. I see no reason not to run the streets red with the blood of real estate brokers.

And another thing: these people have apartments themselves. Did you think of that? If we killed all the brokers, there would be a massive jump in supply. Now, they probably don't live anyplace that you or I would want to rent. But any supply shift will effect the entire market. Brutally maiming all real estate brokers in New York and leaving their bloodied, mutilated corpses in the streets for ravens to scour would be the best thing to happen to rental prices since the stock market crash of 1929.

I know there will be some resistance to my proposal. You can't just kill tens of thousands of people because they are useless and annoying and it would be great for the rental market and the morale of the city and pretty much what everyone wants to do anyways. It would be expensive. To that I say "Come on- live a little. You've gotta spend money to make money. Lets forget about the budget just once and do what we know is in the best interest of the city. Lets just get out there and start killing brokers. Expenses, and obnoxious people, be hanged."

Plus, think about the job creation, people. Someone would have to actually butcher the brokers- hey, that's a catchy slogan: Butcher the Brokers, a 2007 initiative for the city. Anyway, genocide doesn't happen by itself. Someone would be collecting a pay check after this thing, and that's what we call economic stimulus.

But of course, its a slippery slope. Today we're killing real estate brokers, tomorrow we could be killing stock brokers. Before you know it, there's not a single over-paid middle-man left in New York and there's perfect information and transparency in every transaction. Wait, maybe I've been narrow-minded about this. I'd like to amend the proposal. Kill ALL brokers. Now we're talking.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mostly Lounging on Denali

Last month I took a long walk in the snow and reached the highest point in North America, but, lest I be accused of productivity, I’ll have you know that I abandoned neither my tranquil constitution nor my taste in leisure to do so. The story I would like to recount now is how I, in true Brooklyn fashion, passed an entire day lounging in a café at 14,000 feet.

On June 1st I traveled from New York to Alaska to take a guided trip up Mt McKinley, or Denali, as it is sometimes called. This story of “Café 14” took place three weeks into the trip. I had reached camp IV (elevation 14,600 ft) on the north side of Denali, late on June 21st, though you’d never know it from the Alaskan sun. I was tired and hungry and the weather was moving in. I rested the next day to acclimatize in preparation for the move to high camp. On June 23rd, I awoke early to check the weather and found the skies clear. After a quick consultation with the guides and my fellow climbers, we decided to ferry a load of food and fuel up to high camp and return to sleep at camp IV. As I readied myself for the move, a paralyzing bout of mountain sickness knocked me on my haunches. At extreme altitudes, lower atmospheric pressure inhibits air intake, depriving the brain of oxygen. The effect is similar to a hangover and can be quite debilitating. I had it bad that morning, and knowing the results of working through hangovers, I opted out of the move.

One other climber stayed down with mountain sickness that day and one guide. We all retired to our tents to “hunker,” the honored climbing pastime of killing time in tents, and none too pleased about it. We had been moving quite well up to 14,600 and were all excited to be moving higher. The idea of a second consecutive day hunkering in stale-smelling tents was as unappetizing as the left-over beans from dinner. Then a miracle happened: “I was getting signal on my radio last night,” the guide explained. “Why don’t you two come to my tent and we’ll see what we can get.”

Amazing. Deep in the Alaskan wilderness, on one of the most remote climbing routes in the world, we were able to get radio signal all the way from New York. At such high altitudes there were no intervening land masses to disrupt the signal. Our spirits were rescued from despair. We packed into the tent, lit some incense; brewed some coffee. The guide and I began a game of cribbage. I joked that life in the tent was not so different from my life at home in Brooklyn. To call it an oasis in a desert would not be far from the truth. We played cards and listened to music for several hours until we all fell into a luxurious sleep.

We joked and called it Café 14, after the elevation. It was a momentary reprieve from the ardors of climbing a treacherous and vindictive mountain. A small taste of home’s civility, carried three weeks over glacier and rock, to be unpacked there in the harsh environs at 14,600 feet, on the side of Mt. McKinley. I was very happy for it.

I awoke the next day and my mountain sickness was gone. So was the other climber’s. Three days later we both reached the summit at 20,320 feet and began the happy descent back towards thicker air and an easier way of life, having had our fun- lounging on Denali.