Two For The Road

Michael Bettencourt-Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

Who Needs Another Hamlet?

On one mid-week evening, I was covering an event, an alumni networking affair on “investment banking in 2020” – a usual alumni event to keep them involved and connected, since alumni are the lowest hanging fruit on the donor tree, ready for the solicitor’s donation touch.

The two panelists and their moderator/wrangler told a two-tier story. The upper tier, jargony and bullish, talked about shifts in the financial landscape and where investment banks, though outgunned in assets by private equity companies, hedge funds and VCs, can still play a role in a more targeted boutique fashion, offering investment advice to various shires in the economic landscape farming this or that or some other niche crop.

The lower tier – the honest tier – held their dire assessments about the carious debt held by corporations, the laggard economy (despite presidential boosterism), the continued financialization of the economy leading to profits made without the companies making them doing any productive work. Echoes of 2007, said one of the panelists, and it wouldn’t be out of line to sell all your assets now in anticipation of the returning juggernaut of a 2008.

I sat there thinking two things. First, assets? LOL. Second, we are screwed once again.

A polite Q&A, nibbles and drinks afterwards, and then 200 alums and professionals deliquesce into the night.

The event met at mid-town on the east side, which meant that my two legs offered the best means of westering to Port Authority (I don’t taxi, Lyft or Uber). As I poled my way past the halal and dirty water dog street carts and through the diamond district to the LED squeal of Times Square, my head reviewed, and reviewed once again, what had just been said and how everyone had just blown past it because there is virtue in shared amnesia and in believing that the tsunami will hit everyone else, but it won’t hit me.

Just before Eighth Avenue, the bark from below struck my ear: “Give me some money because I’m hungry!” I looked down on the grizzled white man squatted on his cardboard, anger in his voice, anger in the cracked outheld palm, a grimy Peruvian-style wool hat jammed down over his grey-raging hair: “Give me some money!”

But I was still steeping my thoughts, and by the time his second demand reached me, I had already passed him. There is a floating beggar boundary in situations like this that dictates whether you’ll turn back to give money or move on, and I had passed it: easier to move forward and forget.

Except that at the intersection of the street and avenue, I almost tripped over a man with his legs extended into the sidewalk – and they were just legs because the man had no feet. The shafts of his brown legs ended in clubheads, and for a moment I couldn’t tell if they were legs or shillelaghs. He spoke in a gentled voice, palm raised like a beggar in a biblical painting, but I was past him as well before all of him registered.

Ten yards, 20 yards – and I stopped, well beyond beggar boundary. And, of course, the tumult on the sidewalk, like the magnets and lasers in a cyclotron, fused the street bits and my thoughts into meaning and action. The catastrophe so casually decanted into the ears of the alumni, which would evaporate within hours because, after all, they believed they would not be the ones paying the price, was already in motion: I had just passed two signposts.

I chided myself as I turned to return to them with dollars in my hand, knowing it wouldn’t do much but would do more than the nothing I had already given to them.

It was as I turned again to head south to Port Authority that the title of this piece came to the surface: “Who the hell needs another Hamlet?”

Just that morning I’d read that another production of Hamlet was in the city (even our local theater company is producing a version). On my trek west I noticed that yet another revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was being mounted. Is this really the way to address our condition, another application of art-balm to soothe our selves? I just paid two dollars into the apocalypse fund only a decade out from our last one, confirmed by a hundred comfortable people at the well-appointed law firm hosting the event. Art, like autocracy, is the refuge when democracy doesn’t work.

For the rest of my walk, I noodled these thoughts, wending and weaving through the tide of bodies, cars and noise. New York City never leaves you alone. It will gun for you by vehicle, gawking tourist or subway showtime, no matter how big your Buddha bubble, how noise-cancelling your headphones, how tunnel-visioned you’ve trained your eyes. We curse the assault and really can’t do without it because without it, how would we know the world, know ourselves, know our futures, see what is broken and learn how to howl for relief?


* * * * *


If the virus has done anything, it’s only made even more manifest the fractures that rattled me on that mild and troubled evening.

Nothing in the American system is prepared to handle something which requires collective and competent action by dedicated public servants acting on the behalf of a society that has invested in public goods and downplays the sanctity of entrepreneurial individualism.

The virus has called our bluff, and there is going to be a price to pay.


Mark Crispin Miller

I subscribe to News from Underground, a news aggregation service run by Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media, culture and communication at New York University. I subscribe because Miller pulls together his items based on the (to me) correct assumption that America’s corporate media are not giving and cannot give us the full picture of the world around us and that we can only piece it together if we get our information from eclectic sites run by people who, for whatever reason, have dedicated themselves to ferreting out what they believe is, to use Paul Harvey’s phrase, “the rest of the story.”

To Miller, what is that story? It contains what we’ve not been told about the dangers of vaccines or 5G networks, the poison of wealth inequalities, the still-unanswered questions about national traumas like JFK’s assassination or 9/11, the heavy hand of transgender ideology, the on-going theft of American elections, the militarization of American society, the capitalist manipulation of climate change—the list is long and the frauds and grifts are many.

I don’t partake of everything that Miller puts on my table, but every voice he offers me improves my thinking because these voices push me to consider other angles (even if I think they’re off the beam) and keep my intellect fresh and unfinished.

He runs the operation with his own resources and small contributions, like mine, and as is usually the case in enterprises like these, there is never enough money. The corona-apocalypse now upon us has put a strain upon the service: his assistant’s workplace has closed down, and now she has to devote what time she was giving to NFU to finding a new job. Miller has also picked up unexpected legal expenses in having to defend himself against a charge by people at NYU for having posted content critical of transgender ideology. He also battling the long-term effects of Lyme disease against a medical establishment that does not believe he has them as well as having had his identity stolen online. (His account of all this can be found on the home page of NFU.)

So, if you have some change to spare and would like to support an endeavor that not only supports intellectual freedom but will also bring you rare and intriguing treats from online world of alternate news sources, please send it to Mark Crispin Miller at News from Underground (http://markcrispinmiller.com/).  

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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his “prime mate"
and wife, Maria-Beatriz.
For more of his columns and articles,
check the Archives.

©2020 Michael Bettencourt
©2020 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Scene4 Magazine: Perspectives - Audio | Theatre Thoughts  | Michael Bettencourt April 2016 | www.scene4.com





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