Monday, April 09, 2018


April, 2018, fire in the Trump Tower

This post is written a little too previously since the April inflammatory tale of death in the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue has only broken into public consciousness in the last hours.  But even the scant knowledge we have so far, plus our suspicions, is enough to guarantee this story will be around for a very long time and may have major consequences.

Every culture has a shadow culture based on what the culture defines as forbidden, secret, convenient and defiant.  Those who dip into that world or are creatures of that world will find another shadow culture inside it that can be understood and exploited.  The boundary of a culture — once made explicit by a fence of a type called “palings” — goes back and forth, moved by circumstances and maybe resistance from one edgy category to another.  The ones most potent, most persistent, and most tempting to evade are about sex, money and power — all risen to the neon screaming of the internet.

In a rural place or a small enough town, we see each other slip back and forth through the fence.  When a FBI honeypot sting took out a local scuzzball who tried to “date” a 12-year-old, most townspeople said,  “Oh, yeah.  We always knew.”  This protected the fence.  That’s what the reaction was for.  Everyone pretended they knew and said so, which was supposed to show they didn’t participate.  It’s assumed that the ones who are initiated say nothing.  (The main characteristic of mine that saves me from being wicked is that I’m a blabbermouth.)

Another is that I’m mostly naive and uninformed.  When I was little, just learning to sound out words, the boy across the street used a bit of brick to write on the sidewalk “SHIT.”  “Go ask your mother what that means,” he said.  She laughed.  It was her favorite swear word, used only in extremes.  I never heard her say “fuck.”  The boy had assumed she was an enforcer and that I would be punished.  I was baffled.  But I asked.  I always ask.

One of the attractions of occupations like theatre, art, or religion is that they are users of the forbidden in language and action.  Art can be part of this as well.  The Scriver bronzes of nudes are kept at the Montana Historical Society, hidden in a closed cabinet.  The Russell paintings of cavorting whores and cowboys are not taken seriously, though he and Nancy’s participation in such scenarios sterilized the pair with what was then called “venereal disease.”  Nancy was not a “mama” type anyway.  And Charlie loved his whores.

Serious power-mongers who use violence and secret bookkeeping  (bribes and gambles) to accrue what they interpret as wealth and power know that one must be monastic in terms of a strict social code, like Putin.  Trustworthy, clean, faithful, stylish but not flamboyant, good posture — how could such a person order people to be killed because their books don’t balance?

Theatre, art and religion will harbor individuals who disobey this code.  They may not be sexually binary or obey gender-determined social roles, which is a source of value.  This has been almost overwhelmingly exploited by the new social media on the Internet, revealing and concealing factoids of unproven validity but vividly illustrated.

We are about to learn far too much about Todd Brassner, the man who was killed by a fire in his apartment in Trump Tower.  The dynamics are no different from those of a local chancer who goes home from the bar a little too loaded and can’t stay safe.  Except that the background is far flashier: expensive cars, vestiges of the Seventies self-indulgent culture, sexual freedom newly defined, bottomless money now hitting bottom, medicine as an industry, and glamorous presentation bolstered by big names.

Brassner was a dealer in a particular style and location of art supported by trendy wealth and Manhattan sophistication.  All art is a function of desire: therefore dealing in art is dealing in desire.  He was unmarried — so far as we know had no descendants — but had a close female friend, on and off.  He was relatively good-looking, probably a player in the hook-up culture, one way or another.  If you want to say out loud the suspicions, I won’t stop you.  Attempts to intervene in his life were evidently turned away.  He evidently had many friends, none of which wanted to be named.

Fire knows no morality.  It only desires to burn.  The building had no sprinklers (we’re about to learn a great deal more abut sprinklers and building inspections) but it did have smoke detectors, esp. within the infrastructure machinery.  This is what hit the fire alarm, a little too late.

They say that the value of a Trump Tower apartment had already slid way downhill.   This fire is the rough equivalent of a flood disaster.  People who had gambled on the paper value of the building have just now lost a lot of money, more than before.  Prestige — even that — suffers in the face of death.  Those who bought apartments here to shelter themselves from investigations and suspicions have lost even more, since a lethal disaster means turning out pockets.  Our normal curiosity about dens of iniquity now has an excuse to use the can-opener called lawsuits.  Earlier the scrutiny was mild and clearly meant to hurt Trump, but now it’s enough to reach internationally and to descend into the underworld of mafias, rival organizations to government and law.  Oligarchs don’t want to hide their money in places swarming with curious people.  

Soon no Tower apartments will be saleable unless sprinkers have been installed.  The process of workmen going from one apartment to the next, seeing what is empty (it is rumored there are many uninhabited spaces), noting other “runs” of mysterious wiring and tubing, demanding access everywhere, will diminish the value of the spaces even more.

This quote is from Business Insider.  “Brassner lived alone with a collection that included 100 vintage guitars, 40 guitar amplifiers, and artwork by Robert Indiana, Mati Klarwein, Jack Kerouac. He even had a self-portrait by legendary artist Andy Warhol. In total, The Times reported his collection was worth more than $3 million.

“The art collector, however, had filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and was in failing health, according to friends.”  

This is exactly the kind of push/pull tale that will call out the theories and ambiguities.  He was 67, a little early for death that comes naturally.  The investigation into causes will provide a lot more fodder for imagination.  Some will want this story to be about punishment for a louche lifestyle — others will want it to be a dramatic and well-attended end to a daring career.  All over Manhattan the computers are humming, the agents are phoning, the bookkeepers are recording.

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