October 24, 2017

Last Tycoon in the Room- Turn Off the Green Light Bulb

F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at the age of 44. He was unemployed, an alcoholic, struggling to finish a novel about a tycoon in the movie business with the working title The Love of the Last Tycoon. The great writer of The Great Gatsby was denied an advance to help him along as he worked through several drafts by longhand. His country was fully employed in the war business, Word War Two, at the time of his death in 1943.

The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock shone bright with the full ascent of the American Century, the American empire, in the aftermath of World War Two. The green light now flickers. Kings and generals rise and fall, and old tycoons go with them. Thomas Edison got his start in business selling newspapers in Port Huron, Michigan. His light bulb has flickered and burned out in California, banned from the shelves of Home Depot for a more environmentally suited light bulb. Washington is still debating turning the lights out on Thomas Edison nationwide. Creditors might turn the lights out on America.

As I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields on the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning-

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Another great tycoon, Billy Durant, opened a bowling alley at the age of 80 after filing for bankruptcy. Durant’s legacy is General Motors, the company he built from a carriage company in Flint, Michigan. Now known more as Government Motors, the new owners in Washington could do well to open a bowling alley of their own if the voters decide a change of management is in order for the nation’s capital. A New York journalism professor’s tweet F…You  Washington went viral over the weekend, popular in all blue and red states. It was more devastating than a Gallup poll, certainly not what the political strategists in both parties had in mind as they utilize the new media tools.

GM sold out Billy Durant’s entrepreneurial soul long before Washington took over. The Ford family took the risk to avoid a government bailout. The Fords understood he who pays the piper plays the tune. They couldn’t accept losing the family business to government officials. Henry Ford would rise from the grave to disown the family. Billy Durant died the same year as Henry Ford. His incredible life story is forgotten. GM officials believed they could lobby their way out of financial trouble. Patronage is the new wisdom of the Washington Wise Men, and defenders of the working class seem quick to put themselves at the head of the class. Car analysts and reporters praised the automakers and their management teams all the way over the cliff. Jim Cramer said on his CNBC show that GM was a $50 stock, pumping up GM like he did the Wall Street firms before they all went bust.

Only an expletive from an anonymous GM executive, buried in the business section, gave warning to what was coming. It was the same emotional expletive of a New York fireman before the Twin Towers came crashing down. It’s the same emotional expletive that went viral on Twitter.

Now Washington risks a downgrade, with much bigger consequences.

Entrepreneurs, like writers, live on the perimeter of society, going ahead with the green light held up as a guide. They can live hard and die hard. I know of an entrepreneur who shocked everyone when he shot himself like Hemingway, and another who sadly shocked no one when he drank himself to death near the age of Fitzgerald. An entrepreneur in the restaurant business, a millionaire, washes dishes at the age Billy Durant opened his bowling alley. The retirement home beckons for many at age 80 but not for this immigrant. He didn’t come to America to count the days until he can collect social security. The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock still shines for him. America has always relied on her immigrants to lead her out of darkness.

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