Advice For Young Men
Freedom’s just another word
for nothing left to lose.
But nothing, ain’t worth nothing, honey
if you ain’t free.Janis Joplin,
performing “Bobby McGee”
So many paradoxes; so little time.
I landed at Dulles Airport Friday afternoon and drove down to the little town of Lovingston, VA, south of Charlottesville. This is a beautiful area of the country, with many imposing and gracious farms on the rolling hills…and quite a few shacks and shanties in the gullies.
Rural poverty is picturesque in Europe, where you find ancient stone buildings in pretty much the same shape they’ve been for centuries. But it is depressing in America. People live in trailers, or dilapidated wooden houses, surrounded by the cheap junk of the machine age – old cars, broken down tractors and farm equipment, rusted out refrigerators and washing machines… everything that won’t burn.
The occasion of my visit was the wedding of my nephew, who was married on Saturday. He married his high school sweetheart in a touching ceremony presided over by my brother-in-law, a Baptist minister of great charm and wit.
Reverend Campbell has performed hundreds of weddings in the quarter of a century he’s been preaching. The makers of Kleenex have surely gotten a boost over the years – thanks to the paradoxical sentiments these marriages inspire. People are so happy, they cry. But it is rare for the eyes of Rev. Campbell himself to redden and moisten as they did on Saturday.
Marriage makes no sense, of course. It is contrary to the spirit of liberty we men profess to adore. A man, entering the holy state of matrimony, makes commitments that, statistically, only half will honor. Beneath the statistics, the pledge to ‘love and to cherish…forsaking all others…until death’ is a guarantee that is usually outlasted by a refrigerator or the drive train on a Oldsmobile.
And what sense does it make, anyway? These days, a man does not have to offer to marry a woman to have his way with her. It is cheaper to eat in restaurants and use cleaning services than to take on the expense of a traditional wife. And why not keep his options open?
He finds his bride irresistible at 21, but will she still be irresistible at 41 or 51? Or will another 21-year-old be the woman of his dreams? Mistresses may be tolerated in France, but not in Southern Virgina.
Besides, an ambitious young man can expect his purchasing power to rise over time. As he ages and makes more money – there should be more women available to him. Whether he chooses to rent by the hour, or to marry, his field of choice will probably increase.
Not only that, as he matures a young man’s ideas may change too. He may want a redhead in his 20s…but a brunette may be more to his liking in his 30s. And from a practical point of view, the type of woman he will want will change with the life he chooses for himself. One woman may be well suited to the life of a farm wife out on the great plains, for example, but completely out of place as the wife of the U.S. ambassador to the court of St. James.
And yet, Mark Campbell, with no gun to his head, gave up his freedom on Saturday. With a smile on his lips and a look of deep satisfaction on his face, he did an apparently irrational act. He forged his own chains…shackled his own leg… and if you believe his solemn pledge, threw away the key.
Was Mark, like the poor rabbit I ran over last week, betrayed by his own instincts?
I was puzzling over this Saturday morning at the Lovingston Caf?. In a moment of Deep Contemplation, I felt as though I had hit upon a New Dialectic that would explain everything… from the course of western civilization to… the kiss.
Alas, I was interrupted.
“Everything all right here?” asked the helpful waitress in the soft country drawl of Nelson County, VA.
“Yes. I’m fine.”
Then, back to my cogitations…and scribbling.
But Lovingston is not Paris, where the waiters serve you a cup of coffee and leave you alone for hours.
Perhaps that is why the French have produced such ponderous and impenetrable works of philosophy and literature – they have been able to work without interruption!
“Can I get you anything else?” she inquired after a moment had passed. She seemed genuinely concerned for my welfare, as if she thought there must be something wrong with someone who had no visible source of distraction.
So I tried to explain: “I’m just sitting here trying to unlock the deepest mysteries of life and explain the course of human history.”
“Well,” she said, handing me my bill, “I’ll take that whenever you’re ready.”
More on life’s deepest mysteries tomorrow,
Trenton, New Jersey July 10, 2000
P.S. This from my friend Jack Forde:
“[S]cientists at University College London now have more concrete proof of whether or not it’s the real thing – brain scans. They have shown that the first flushes of true love produce visible changes in the brains of people that can be seen with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
“We looked at the activity in their brain produced by a picture of the person they love,” Semir Zeki, a professor of neurobiology, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “There are four small areas of the brain in which activity goes up and that increase correlates with their viewing of the picture of the person they are in love with.”
*** I’m driving up from Virginia to New York, spending the night in an Econo-Lodge on the outskirts of Trenton – where I get a view of the back of a storage shed from my room. I’ve got to be in Rye, NY, before 11 am. So, this has to be very short.
*** Wall Street is getting its metaphors mixed up. The big news on Friday was that the employment numbers from the Bureau of ‘much’ Labored Statistics was just what the street wanted.
*** The number of new jobs – 11,000 – has gone down. It’s a dubious number…because the census workers were released in the same period. But it was the perfect number for those who believe in the “soft landing” idea.
*** Greenspan, you will recall, is trying to cool the economy with rate hikes. A soft landing is what you get when the cool air emanating from the Fed gently coddles the overheated bubble towards the ground.
*** Wall Street likes the ‘soft landing’ concept. It allows them to forget about any further rate increases…or the kind of ‘hard landing’ produced by a crash, or recession. But the shills and pollyannas just can’t leave well enough alone. As soon as it looks as though the bubble economy might be losing altitude, they turn up the fuel jets.
*** Thus, the Dow rose 154 points on Friday. The Nasdaq rose 62, bringing it to 4023. It’s still a long way from the peak of March 10th – 5048. But it doesn’t have that much farther to go in order to match the June 21st rally top of 4068.
*** Today’s Reuters article tells us that despite all the soft landing talk, the market “is finally cleared for a takeoff.” With all this confusion at the aerodrome, my advice to you is to keep your feet on the ground until it is over.
*** The week brought a 1.8% increase in the Dow and a 1.44% increase in the Nasdaq. The Dow is selling at a little over 20 times earnings. The Nasdaq…well…why mention it?
*** The week produced twice as many advancing stocks as declining ones and twice as many new highs as new lows.
*** It is certainly hazy, hot and humid here in NJ. And the market does appear to be in a summer rally. How far…how high…we’ll just wait to see.
*** Platinum rose another $5.80. And an article in Barron’s tells us that gold is as big a bargain today as it was in the early 70s when it was priced at $35.
*** “The collapse of the most expensive growth stocks in the NASDAQ may not be the start of a global bear market,” suggests Mard Faber “but it is a message from the gods to reduce risk, and to be stingier about the price one is willing to pay for growth.” Faber offers five Asian stocks worthy of such stingy affection.
*** A study done by MSNSBC of IPOs shows that it was very hard for an ordinary investor to make money last year. Goldman’s did 51 IPOs, for example, which – if purchased at the open – would leave you down 15% on the group. Goldman’s institutional clients, however, getting their shares at pre- IPO prices came out of the study with a 90% gain. But other institutional clients didn’t do as well. Overall, the study showed that all IPO buyers lost money.
*** A WSJ story notes that corporate debt as a percent of GDP is at its highest level ever. And defaults are rising. $9.4 billion of junk bonds defaulted in the 2nd quarter – more than the total ($8 billion) that were issued. 17% of the junks are in “distress,” with the default running at 5.58% annualized. Moody’s expects it to rise to a default rate of 7%.