"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Girls, Movies, And Pizza–The Bright Beginnings Of An American Capitalist

Roman Davies was twelve years old when his mother asked him what things were most important to him.  “Girls, movies, and pizza” he said.  His mother sighed, and wondered where he had come from.  Certainly not from her, head of the New Brighton Women’s Auxiliary and the Blue Ribbon Women Of New England, whose ambitions were elective office.  Not in New Brighton which had been poorly run, mismanaged, and left to vacancies, truancy, and high taxes by a succession of mayors with their hands in the till; but perhaps in the State House, a step up from New Brighton but only a short one.  Even the legislators from Fairfield and Greenwich who were supposed to know better thanks to the wealth, sophistication, and education of their constituents, were as clueless about governance as any ward politician from Rhode Island.  Washington was in her sights, and although she would run in an era long before women were everywhere, she knew that she stood a better than average chance against Hughie Bando, the Azorean immigrant who had run for Congress as an ‘ethnic’ candidate, a man of the diverse community – black, Puerto Rican, and Dominican – whose voters cared little about the native place of their representatives, only if they would treat them right.  And treat them right Hughie Bando did, playing on the liberal sentiments of the Assembly, challenging the powerful defense lobbies in Washington, and diverting at least some of the supposedly secure ‘military’ funds to the less fortunate of his district.

But Hughie did not come to politics on a morality ticket.  He was as corrupt as the rest of them, learning how to prosper from a father who had bilked thousands out of Portuguese administrators who, given their unclear administrative role and indifferent to local affairs because of it,  lent Bando Construção Ltd. millions from the Portuguese State Bank Overseas Development Fund treasury, more than the entire five-year budget of the capital,  Ponta Delgada, to build a modern shopping plaza.  A plaza which never got built.  Thanks to Bando’s dual citizenship, his canniness, and  the generous funds from Portugal,  Bando Pere built two luxury homes, one in Providence and the other in Miami.

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Hughie like his father had a nose for politics; but whereas his father simply used politics where it suited him, Hughie felt there was a lucrative career in being a politician.  A Congressman could stay in power forever and benefit for just as long thanks to the support of wealthy constituents; and the Congressional District which he came to represent was among the wealthiest in the state despite its pocket of minority disadvantage.  Mrs. Davies mounted an unsuccessful but noteworthy campaign against Bando, made a name for herself in Republican circles, and went on to influence State and Washington politics although, given the pre-feminist era in which she lived, did so behind the scenes.

Roman’s father had no interest in his wife’s doings, and was happy enough as a dentist serving the well-heeled residents of New Brighton’s West End, no end of fees from the privileged who never took good care of their teeth.   He played golf on Wednesdays with his medical colleagues, belonged to Rotary and the Lions, caused no one any concern, went to church regularly, and was recognized for his citizenship by the New Brighton Chamber of Commerce.

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Roman was at an age when both his father and mother were well on their way to forming his character, purpose, and definition when he uttered the nonsense about pizza, girls, and movies. Odile Davies insisted that her son focus on ‘making something of himself’, make personal choices that lead somewhere, and use whatever abilities God had given him to ‘become someone’.  Success in America began in the cradle, and no one who was a success had ever gotten there without stern and purposeful parents, a strong will, and clear-minded determination.

Yet his mother badly misjudged the good sense, genes, and instincts of her son.  His infatuation with Nancy Boothby who sat by the window in French class, open to the Spring breezes blowing across the fields of his country day school, dressed in sleeveless blouses exposing just enough to distract him from declensions and to sexual adventures he could only imagine, was not in vain, nor some hopeless common interest, but the first of many encounters with women.  If it hadn’t been for the coquettish, sensuous Nancy Boothby, he would never been alerted to female desire, response, and his very male ability to use it to his benefit.  The movies showing every week at the Palace showed exactly what adult sexuality would be – strong, determined male heroes, alluring women after men’s attention, and happy endings.  The women were adult versions of Nancy Boothby and he was Errol Flynn.  

Which left only the pizza parlor, a nursery for male camaraderie – guys hanging out, later to form business partnerships and political alliances based on little more than a feeling of kinship and implicit trust.

Wall Street was the perfect place for Roman to end up.  It was indeed a male redoubt and women could not keep away. Few had any interest in gladiatorial bloodletting on the trading floor; even less in the high-risk, make-or-break, billions-at-a-throw decisions of the big investment banks; but what they loved was the maleness of it all, not to mention the fabulous wealth of these thirty-somethings who knew it could be gone in a minute so spent it on Porsches, coke, and Biarritz with gorgeous women like them.  The older he got, the more powerful and wealthy he became, the more women were attracted to him; and like Donald Trump, Nicholas Sarkozy, and Vladimir Putin, he understood the value of younger, alluring, women.  Many men were jealous of him, but thanks to ‘Lessons from Luigi’s’ he defused by engaging.  His enemies thought they were his friends.

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By the age of forty, Roman had indeed made something of himself but not enough for his mother who hoped that soon all the glitz and glamour would be replaced by something more temperate, that his financial competitiveness would be quieted and turned to less personal and more communal investments, and that he could settle down with a nice girl and have a family - a more subtle, final, and even more lasting tribute to personal success.  It was not to be, his cards had been dealt from his mother’s deck; and although she might have preferred some other measure of success than this very obvious American one, she knew that she was at least partly responsible for the road he followed.

All mothers have an influence on the babies they suckle.  Volumnia, the mother of Coriolanus in Shakespeare’s play creates a Roman hero she sees as Emperor but who, unconfident, flawed, and politically innocent could never be one; and when he falters, she destroys him.  Dionyza, Tamora, Margaret, and Eleanor of Aquitaine are other powerful Shakespearean mothers who make their sons.  Margaret, the mother of Paul Morel, the main character in D.H.Lawrence’s Son’s and Lovers, is morally incestuous and jealous of her love for her son, destroying his confidence and character and making love with other women impossible.  Mary Tyrone, the drug-addicted, manipulative, but ruling mother of the family is equally demanding of her sons but destructive. 

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Odile Davis was not a harridan like these women, only interested in her son’s welfare and success for her own sake; but she propelled him just like they did.  The consequences of her influence were unexpected – she had hoped for more rectitude, more civil authority, and more compassioned leadership; and got something far more crass and undisciplined – but unintended consequences are part and parcel of influence.

To be fair, Roman Davies ended up the way he did more because of his mother’s genes than her influence.  His intelligence, arrogance, moral diffidence, and confidence came more from genetic bits and pieces passed on by men of her tribe.  A mother’s influence can only go so far when compared with the genes of famous Great Uncle Warford, railroad genius and stock manipulator in and out of federal court but never convicted; or Harold Binghamton, livery servant who rose to power in the Court of Queen Mary not unlike Elizabeth I and her Robert Dudley.

Jack London's Call of the Wild is closer to a more traditional view of maleness. There is something even more compelling about the story of Buck – his aggressiveness, and male dominance.  There is a completeness and perfection in the male character of Buck – he has no feminine side – and his will is male, one unmistakably virile, potent, and forceful.  This cannot be taught.  Roman Davis was a success in his own right.

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