Jordan Belfort (2008) The Wolf of Wall Street.

Jordan Belfort (2008) The Wolf of Wall Street.

As a reader it sticks in my craw that sometimes the film is better than the book (e.g. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ben Hur and Spartacus are examples of the former) but here I think it’s a honourable draw. If you want to save several hours of your life, and don’t fancy reading over 500 pages, watch the film and save several hours of your life. Leonardo DiCaprio is great as the twenty-odd-year old Jordan Belfort beginning his meteoric rise by starting a brokerage firm in 1993, Stratton Oakmont. It ends as a morality play after eight years, as all good books do, with the narrator aged thirty-four, older and wiser. Belfort no longer having a starring part in a show he likes and frequently reference, Lifestyles of the Rich and Dysfunctional—he’s arrested by the FBI, having blown millions of dollars, lots of it up his nose.

The subtext on the front page is a lead line to his gargantuan drug addiction, throw in a bit of alcoholism and a penchant for sex with hookers at every opportunity, call it sex addiction and sometimes even having sex with his supermodel wife and their you’ve got it. Jordan Belfort’s story told in a convincing fuck-you voice.

This is what happened he’s saying. My rise and fall—and while it lasted it was a blast.

John Lanchester in How to Speak Money, A Lexicon of Money has an entry ‘bullshit versus nonsense’.   

Belfort puts words in his character’s mouth. They agree that he was the smartest man they’d ever met. Smartest-man-in-the-room syndrome. And Trump, the moron’s moron, does get a walk on part, but only as a figure of fun. A reality host with wigwam hair.   And the young broker, a child prodigy with numbers, wasn’t going to disagree. Belfort quickly figured Wall Street was 99% bullshit and 1% nonsense. A giant confidence trick.  His target wasn’t the common man, but those with money, the five-percent of Americans that were rich or superrich and liked to think they were smarter than everybody else. He realized if he could get past their secretaries and those guardians of conservatism they were reckless gamblers. The would-be broker could coach a monkey into selling them stock in new and upcoming companies. Belfort fixed the market so it was win-win for him and his cronies at Stratton Oakmont and you have the legend, he was like Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving the spoils to him and his merry men (and women) and fuck the poor. Poor being here, someone down to their last $250 000.

There was no Warren Buffet starting Berkshire Hathaway with a $10 000 investment and through prudent investment and year-on-year profits creating a $50 million portfolio and making tens of millions hand over fist from a John Major, Conservative, government then in power. Belfort was making the same kind of money by training his cohort to shout down the phone and not to take no for an answer. Die or sell. Michael Lewis describes it in the preface to Liar’s Poker as a historical trend ‘a modern gold rush, never has so many unskilled twenty-four-year olds made so much money in so little time as we made in New York and London’.  

Belfort establishes what he terms ‘The Life’ was like very early when he spends over $500 000 of credit card on hookers ($5000 a pop) drugs and booze and marks it down as entertainment, a write-down for tax. His second in command Danny Porush and his first trainee, who has almost the same level of drug intake, with drug of choice Quaaludes and throw in suitcases of cocaine and crystal. In the opening exchanges Porush, after swallowing a live goldfish, is trying to convince his boss it would be a blast to have a party and throw dwarves and watch the little people land on their head in a big dartboard thing, probably without the dartboard.  Belfort wasn’t sure that’d be a good idea, but he wasn’t totally against it. A sticking point was liability and insurance.

Here we are December 13, 1993:

‘The next morning—or if you want to get technical about it, a few hours later I was having an awesome dream. It was the sort of dream every young man hopes and prays for, so I decided to go with it. I’m alone in bed, when Venice the hooker comes to me. She kneels down at the edge of my sumptuous king-size bed, hovering just out of reach, a perfect little vision. I can see her clearly now…the lusty mane and chestnut brown hair…the fine features of her face…those young juicy jugs, those incredible loamy loins, glistening with greed and desire.’

‘Loamy loins’ pop up a lot, usually in relation to The Duchess, his second wife. Other characters in his story such as the Depraved Chinaman, Steve Madden the shoe millionaire and Elliot Lavigne, the World Class Degenerate tend to be affixed qualifying labels. While trying to do a bit of money laundering in Switzerland, ($20 million, starting with small tranches of a few million) for example, the banker and master forger both smoke and at some point inhale and don’t exhale. Mixed metaphors and mixed stereotypes make clunky prose. Similarly, his second wife’s Aunt Patricia in London sounds like something out of Mary Poppins. And Belfort makes the generalization the working classes in Britain worship the royal family and can see no wrong in those royal charlatans in horsey- mediocrity-land. Perhaps Belfort isn’t as smart as he figures. I’ve got one word for that, deluded. Or perhaps I’m just deluded?

But the autobiography isn’t about us, the working class; it’s about him and his cronies. What it shows quite convincingly is the rich can break the law and suffer no consequence. This was before the moron’s moron got elected President for doing many of the same things Belfort done. But hey, at least one of them got prison time and I’m sorry it was the latter and not the former. Belfort writes a rip-snorting book. It’s entertaining and I enjoyed reading it. You can’t say any fairer than that.  I’m glad Belfort is rehabilitated and doing the right thing. As for the other charlatan…

Quote

Kurt Vonnegut: President of the United States.

lkurt vonnegut “From the Collection of the Artist.”

Kurt Vonnegut turns up in the most unlikely of places. I’m not familiar with his writing, but I’m reading a book by Michael Lewis Liar’s Poker in which the author quotes Vonnegut below to describe how the bond market works to distort reality, and  to make it seem normal, a theme the everyman Billy Pilgrim’s character stumbles into in his Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5.

 There is a magic moment, during which a man has surrendered a treasure, and during which the man who has to receive it has not done so. An alert lawyer [read bond trader] will make that moment his own, possessing that treasure for a magic microsecond, taking a little of it and passing it on.

This bring to mind the way coinage used to be debased when it was precious metals made out of a substance equal to value of the currency, for example, either gold or silver, and it was an offence against the king or ruler to shave a coin. Now New York and London Stock exchanges are one of the greatest industries, in monetary terms, devised by man, and when it fails thousands of billions of pounds of public money needs to be spent to keep the foul-smelling water of commerce drinkable for the rest of us.

In Slaughterhouse 5, Billy Pilgrim finds himself in a shop that sells porn, but he’s more interested in a badly written sci-fi book used as a front to make it seem like a respectable book store. The book is written by an author he knows and admires Kilgore Trout. The narrative in Kilgore’s book matches Pilgrim’s own experience of being abducted by the Tranfalmadorians and is about a man and woman kidnapped by extra-terrestrials and taken to another planet, Zircon-212, and put on display in a zoo. He has another of his epiphanies that underpin the wisdom of the book.

These fictitious people in the zoo had a big board supposedly showing stock market quotations and commodity prices along the wall of their habitat, and a news ticker, and a telephone that was supposedly connected to a brokerage on Earth. The creatures on Zircon-212 told their captives that they had invested a million dollars for them back on Earth and it was up to them to manage it so that they would be fabulously wealthy when they were returned to Earth.

The telephone and the big board were all fakes of course. They were simply stimulants to make the Earthlings perform vividly for the crowds at the zoo…

The Earthlings did very well on paper. That was part of the rigging, of course…The news ticker reminded them that the President of the United States had declared National Prayer Week and that everybody should pray. The Earthlings had had a bad week on the market before that. They had lost a small fortune in olive oil futures. So they gave praying a whirl.

It worked. Olive oil went up.

Billy Pilgrim’s ability to transcend time and travel backwards and forwards showed him the fickle fiction of such fortunes. He followed the traditional path to wealth by marrying the obese boss’s daughter nobody else wants to marry, including Billy.

But there is a prophetic touch in the car stickers Billy Pilgrim passes sporting the message Reagan for President. Vonnegut’s novel was published in 1969. He had no way of knowing that the friend of Bonzo—and I don’t mean George W—would actually become President. Not even Vonnegut could have imagined that.

To take a further jump in time and imagine a woman President in Hillary Clinton –perhaps? Vonnegut imagined a world in which the fire-bombing of Dresden with conventional weapons with a power more lethal than the atomic age of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a war crime and unjustifiable. Hillary Clinton’s big message and big sell to the American people that the American future depend on equality of opportunity and is certainly far more left wing than the big two political parties in Britain offer:

To ensure a child born in the hills of Appalachia or the Rio Grande valley grows up with the same shot of success as Charlotte [Clinton] will.

Vonnegut’s character, Howard W Campbell, an American playwright that aligned himself with the Nazi Party strips the hubris of such messages to the bone.  Campbell writes a monograph that Billy Pilgrim gets to read. The reader looking over his character’s shoulder gets to read it too and assess its validity.

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor and urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humourist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor, but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone one with power or gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters…asking this cruel question, ‘if you’re so smart how come you’re not rich?’

Their most destructive untruth is it is very easy to make money. They will in fact not acknowledge how hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those without money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have to do less for the poor publicly and privately.

I’m beginning to believe that Vonnegut and Billy Pilgrim were time-travellers and they’ve jumped in their spaceship and landed here in April 2015. If Vonnegut can pluck Billy Pilgrim from the ether, the Tranfalmadorians and their zoo, then perhaps we can pluck Vonnegut from death and elect him President of the United States, or even Britain. I’d vote for him.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole