“He will describe in words on his return—
Pale words for objects seen—
The inhuman life that swirled before his sight,
Or fled, or fought. The treasure he seeks out
May yet be lifted up by creaking crane,”
-E.L. Mayo, “The Diver”
This is a tough business, peopled with charlatans and thieves. One must negotiate endlessly with liars and double-talking filth-merchants. Some of these monsters know how to write, and when they do it’s a real horror show. They all want something. They all demand a response. Frantic writs, subpoenas, summonses, and warrants arrive here daily. There are letters and emails. A witchy-looking symbol was gouged into the front door last week.
Such hassles come with the territory. The pressure is greater than the 8-to-6 crowd can bear. They have enough to contend with as it is. Stress is the music of the work, whatever the work might be. That goes for everybody. “Uh, cool story. Why don’t you save that one for your K-street houseboat parties and get to work reversing some of the damage done?” wrote Ms. E. Blanchette of San Rafael, CA. I don’t know what she means. All I had said was that I admired Robert Vesco’s stick-to-itevness and his commitment to his own twisted ethics. “Vesco seized the boat! 40 fucking kilos is a TINY bit different and yes it certainly implicates the entire crew,” wrote Jeff M. from Carbondale, IL.
Robert Vesco was a gregarious and crooked financier, a thief, a drug smuggler, and a fugitive. In 1971, rather than take heat from the SEC, Vesco split for the Caribbean and he never looked back. It didn’t stop him from embezzling almost a quarter of a million dollars and giving it, under the table, to Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. It was a drop in the bucket to Vesco and he thought it would buy him protection. It didn’t. So Vesco stayed adrift, living it up in Costa Rica and the Bahamas. At some point he tried to buy an island from Antigua so he could create his own country on it. He also managed to finagle his way into Italian citizenship. No small feat for a fugitive from American justice. Some people never find their true calling, but it’s hard to say that about Robert Vesco, even though he was a crook and a fool.
Despite his intellect and unique talent, he didn’t have the good sense to know when he had won. He couldn’t give up the job he loved and it cost him his freedom. In 1982, Vesco took refuge in Cuba, where he was eventually indicted for “fraud and illicit economic activity” among other suitably vague, but no less dire, charges in 1996. He was arrested and locked up in Cuba until 2005. He died there in 2007 and was buried in an anonymous grave. So the story goes.
This week, in an indignant fit Senator Marco Rubio referred to Cuba as a “repressive, anti-American regime.” Where are we, Mr. Peabody, 1962? Relax, it’s still 2015 and Rubio says things like that all the time.
Obama’s State of the Union address wasn’t quite the ’68 Comeback it was touted to be, but it was campy and his base surely liked it. He played to his strengths, blew the middle-class horn and laid out a platform you’ll hear more about in the next year from Hillary. He quipped and smirked in a way that was almost as obnoxious as when George W. Bush did it. Almost. It’s just an oily aspect of a shady business.
Afterward, the would-be 2016 Republican candidates looked stressed and irritable, like they’d been inside the little Volkswagen with each other for too long. Each one got a chance to blurt out an obtuse catchphrase, and Rubio said his line about Cuba. There were the predictable cries of “tax and spend!” and “lame-duck!” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch played to the back row and screamed about “class warfare.”
And there amidst the din was poor Ted Cruz, looking whipped, like he’d been up for days trying to make sense of the world and his place in it. His response, the one I saw, which I believe was the second take, was halting and nearly incoherent. A rumor circulated that his delivery was hampered by a technical difficulty that a quart of Gilbey’s and a fistful of Percodan couldn’t resolve. The pace is already too quick for him. Cracks are beginning to show.
Some people just want to do the work and go home. Politicians and artists are no different. They don’t want stress, and they can’t handle it. They eventually settle at the bottom of the pond while others grow legs and develop a capacity to reason. We can crawl out of the muck, but the work never ends.
A group of students from Stanford blocked traffic on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. It’s a little drama that plays out between demonstrators and commuters around here. Such inarticulate demonstrations satisfy the Bay Area’s two guiding principles: being in the way and coming to a stop. You don’t have to be driving home from work to see these principles in action. You just have to go anywhere, and try to do anything.
The west is the best. I really believe that. I chose to live on the west coast, and I think it’s great. Things are a bit different back east. If a bunch of kids, rich or otherwise, tried to block I-75 anywhere between Detroit and Tampa at 5:00, ambulances would be on the way by 5:03. People on that route drive fast and with naked combativeness. They pound the gas in the face of uncertainty, totally intolerant of the skittish and the lame.
Harmony Korine is mostly famous for making abstract teenager/exploitation movies like Gummo (1997) and Spring Breakers (2012). He also makes abstract paintings. Raiders, a solo exhibition of his work is currently on view at Gagosian in Beverly Hills. The paintings are made with house paint and spray paint, which after all this time, still have the punk rock cache of “low” materials. Korine also sticks stuff like bubble wrap and scraps of paper to the canvases for extra grubbiness. There’s a suspension of order and chance in the paintings, and an interest in pattern, repetition, and process. What’s not as evident is a sense that Korine ever expects to find anything new by smearing stuff around. I feel about the paintings like I feel about his films: they were probably fun to make, at least.
I read about Gagosian working with Korine a while ago and whatever I read mentioned his prices, but I couldn’t remember them. 10,000 dollars? That couldn’t be it. 100,000 dollars? That doesn’t seem right either, but it’s probably closer to the mark. I called the gallery to ask, but I never got an answer because while I was re-phrasing my question, a collector in a Ferrari 308 accidentally struck down a man passing out religious tracts out front. He wasn’t killed, but lawyers and insurance agents needed to be contacted just the same.
Robert Vesco’s plans to build a machine gun factory never materialized, but you can’t say the man lacked initiative. There may yet be time. Speculation persists that Vesco faked his own death. Understandably, nobody wants to speak on the record.