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The Last Statesman
by
Christopher Hunter
Copyright © 2013 Christopher Hunter
Father
August 11, 2068
4:26pm

Back to work. The day is almost over, and I am just getting back in front of the pad after sleeping for ten straight hours. It’s been a very long time since I slept that long, probably twenty-four years. Well before my career in politics. Even before meeting my wife, Adeline. She was always an early riser. I don't recall her ever waking up a minute after 8am, except for when she was overseas. That was one of the many ways we were compatible. Once we met, our lives were linked in more ways than I ever could've imagined. It develops a full appreciation for the phrase, ‘better half’.

Better half.

This is my first day in all that time without her. The first day knowing that I'll never have her presence to look forward to again. No more kissing her gently on the top of her head as she lies in the bed next to me, or watching her through the mirror as she puts on her makeup, or sitting together at the breakfast table, making eye contact over our cups of coffee. Never again will we discuss our plans, or argue over our son, or relish in the fact that we made good in this crazy world, and that we did it together.

It's the little details, the chemistry, the addition and repetition of precious moments, precious moments of accomplishment as man and wife—those are the things I’ll miss the most. All the fine parts that made Adeline who she was to me, that made me who I was to her, that made me want to be a better man, that gave me my drive and my strength. With all of this calamity, it is merciful in one underlying detail. This period without her will last for only a brief moment in time. Otherwise, how would I be able to face this? I don't believe that I could've made it through a long life without my love. It's a brave new world, a brave new ugly world. And I probably would have gone insane if I had to face it all without my love. That is, if I am not insane already.

Okay. Back on subject. Now to talk about my father, Andrew McArthur. Another victim in this endless sea of lives cut short. Another light that was snuffed out as our world grew dark. And the thing that hurts the most: I had to leave his body behind. That image of him just lying there, with his neck broke and his eyes staring at me and not seeing. That realization that we were just running away to preserve our already doomed selves. The helplessness of the whole situation. It’s all burned in my mind's recorder. He didn’t deserve to be left behind like that. No way. A son who outlives his father is supposed to bury his father. It was just not any way to say goodbye. But then, I guess to be fair, I have to look at the entire picture. Perhaps it’s just fate’s revenge. Fate’s revenge, playing out on a father who couldn’t bother to attend the burial of his own son.

In a sense, this will have to serve as my father’s eulogy. This entire writing, come to think of it, will have to serve as a eulogy for everyone.

So here we go.

While Andrew’s father and my grandfather, Zachary McArthur, was off on his Dominican adventure, his mother and my grandmother, Rebecca, adjusted to life as a single parent. The son/mother relationship really wasn’t that much different from before. Rebecca was hardly around. Money was obviously no longer a concern, thanks to the divorce settlement, but my grandmother still felt compelled to continue working as a graphic designer in New York City. Her firm had finally hired her as an employee, and she wasn’t willing to throw away her career just because she had left a rich husband. It also didn’t hurt that she had her own parents around to help fill the void.

Edward and Victoria White were instrumental in my father’s childhood. Both were retired, Edward from working twenty-five years as a fireman, and Victoria from working thirty-two years for one of the old telephone companies, so they had ample time to spend with their adorable grandson. They picked Andrew, or as they called him, little Ronnie, up from school everyday in their white Subaru Legacy. The little version of my dad went home with the Whites, and he watched cartoons in his mother’s old bedroom, or played checkers with his grandmother in the dining room, or he went into the living room and watched CNN with his grandfather. Along with his homework, he did one or a combination of these things until he was picked up by his mother late at night.

For a young kid, he was awful curious to find out what was going on in the world. He always asked questions. He was never satisfied with simple answers. He absolutely consumed the news, whether it was from newspapers, or the internet, or overhearing a conversation around him. Information was his comfort food. He never shied away from a meal or snack.

The Whites and my father also went to hockey games. My father was a huge New Jersey Devils fan. Huge! He would always wear his authentic jersey, a jersey that almost swallowed him whole as a child. The thing survived all the way to my adulthood, believe it or not. He had his left cheek painted with the team logo before every game he attended—it was his war paint—and he continued with this ritual all the way until he went to college. The highlight of his fandom was attending Game 7 of the 2003 Championship series. The Devils won that year, and my father always talked about that game. It used to annoy the hell out of me at moments. Whenever he met someone new and talked to them for some time, he’d eventually get to saying, “Hey, are you into hockey? Let me tell you about the time that my team won the Cup. I was in the arena that night and…” He’d go into it and relive the moment as if it was yesterday. Telling that story never grew old to him. Never. He’s probably telling someone that story in the afterlife as I type this. 

Eventually, my grandmother met a man—his name was Dick Rosen. Dick was also a divorcee, he was a criminal defense lawyer with an office in Newark, and he met my grandmother on a dating site. The two worked long hours and hardly had time to see each other at all, but in spite of that they gelled. In fact, my father believed that the lack of time together worked in his mother and Dick’s favor. They were eternally patient with each other. Rebecca never complained if they had to cancel a planned night out or a weekend together due to Dick working on a case. Dick never tested Rebecca’s irritation when she had to meet a deadline for some advertising project or another. They got together when circumstances allowed it, and both were happy whenever they had their moments. With this compatibility, it took Dick only nine months to become Andrew's stepfather.

Dick also had two brute children; they were from his previous marriage. Their names were Skyler and Mel, and every now and then they’d pay their father a visit. Andrew didn’t like “those bastards” at all. He said that they were evil, he swore by it. Skyler was five years older and Mel was three years older, and the two used this disparity in age to treat Andrew like crap. One time they threw a baseball at Andrew’s face by “accident” and gave him a black eye. Another time they ran him over with a bike as he was crossing the street. They were even brazen enough one winter night to strip Andrew naked and lock him outside in the freezing rain for over twenty minutes. And the verbal abuse, it was just as potent as the physical. Poor Andrew was a called a bitch and a loser and a cock-up more times than he could count. The boys relished the opportunity to be abusive, and for the most part, this was done when Rebecca and Dick were nowhere in sight. The couple left the boys in charge while they spent some rare quality time together. Like most fathers, Dick was very partial to his kids. Whenever Andrew complained, his stepfather would tell him to toughen up and fight back if he had to. It was just boys being boys, as far as the partial papa was concerned. Rebecca did try to make a fuss every now and then, but she was simply ineffective. So long as a bone wasn’t broken, she really didn’t see a reason to put her foot down firmly. As a result, Andrew only grew so close to his stepfather, and he only felt so comfortable in his own home.

In 2007, Andrew's twin sisters, Beverly and Beatrice, were born; and after this, whatever place Andrew had in his family, it was dwarfed by the adoration lavished on the baby girls. My young dad became an afterthought. That was when he started gravitating towards his own father.

At first, he and Zachery would start out slow. They met once a week at Bean Diner on Bloomfield Avenue. The two didn't have much in common at this time, but they would do the best that they could. Silence dominated those first few meals, and it was only broken up by bits of small talk. "How’s school?", "Look at the weather." Stuff like that. But as the weeks and months progressed, and the more Andrew came to realize he didn’t have a better option at home, the relationship started to thaw. Their conversations became more honest and candid. Zach admitted that having his family split was the hardest blow he had ever suffered, and he hoped that his son could forgive him. Andrew admitted that he was hurt by the split, but that it made no sense to dwell on an unchangeable outcome. They agreed to move forward. They agreed to let rebuilding begin.

Soon, Andrew stepped it up to spending entire weekends with his father. He also showed up after school, and that was where he learned the ropes of rental property real estate. From the standpoint of a silent pupil, he observed how his father handled various people and various situations. He learned how to tell the difference between someone who was down on her luck and someone who was a consummate bullshitter. He learned who to go after in court and who to let certain things ride with. He learned which vendor was worth the time and money, and which vendor wasn't worth the light of day. He learned that credit, sweet credit from any number of banks, was life, especially when it came to making sure that the business had liquidity. He was by his father’s side as he had to deal with government agencies and all the headaches that they would bring. It was a fascinating and complicated world, and Andrew was hooked by the politics of it all. He became so hooked, he eventually lost interest in living at home almost all together. It reached a point where he ended up spending five or six days out of a week living with his father. There were even a couple of weeks where he didn’t go home at all.  

My grandmother wasn’t too happy about this—not in the slightest. She tried to steer Andrew towards after school activities like sports and academic programs, anything to slow down the bond that was growing between her son and his biological father. Guess it was a pride thing. But as hard as she tried, Andrew was quick to resist. My grandmother and my father used to have epic shouting matches. The tension was thick within the house; neither could stay in the same room for too long. Eventually though, Andrew did broker a peace. He agreed to set a family day on Sunday with his mother and family, and he agreed to show up without fail. That commitment went along way towards calming things down. My father’s skill in negotiating that deal was critical in boosting his confidence in tense situations. It would serve him well in his political life ahead.



As high school approached, Andrew had three true passions in his life: Devils Hockey, real estate and debate. He was a prominent member of his high school debate club. Later on in life, I was able to watch some of his recordings. His style was low key but effective. He would never raise his voice, never personally attack his opponent, but instead, he would always have an answer, and he would drive his case home, sure and civil. In other words, his tactic was to wear out his opponents, to chase after them, overcome them, and beat them to death with the facts.

His most famous debate was what he called, “The Evisceration of Obamacare.” The president and Congress had passed that doomed healthcare bill in 2009, and through the partisan haze, the majority of everyone Andrew knew was in favor of the legislation.  He was an oddball Republican in a state, school and household full of Democrats. Even my grandfather was a voter of the blue column. Andrew faced hatred and seething all around him in the auditorium that day. The crowd was actively cheering on his opponent. But through it all, Andrew persevered and he made his case. His opponent, a young curly haired kid named Leandro, said that the system will cover millions of disenfranchised citizens. Andrew countered that those millions of citizens will incur spending that would for the most part prove unnecessary or ineffective. He predicted that there will be a decrease in quality as demand outstripped the capacity of the service providers. That service providers will game the system by dragging people off the street to cure their phantom ailments. That people will visit emergency rooms with impunity just because they can.

Next, Leandro said that there will be more money in the system as new people bought insurance. Then Andrew pointed out that this expectation was shortsighted and designed for failure. He asked how healthy and young people were going to buy coverage with ever-decreasing disposable income. How were they going to absorb the new expense along with the pressures of student debt, inflated cost of living, shrinking job prospects, and increasing competition from more experienced and older workers crowding job pool? He emphasized that the money was simply not going to be there. Not from the individual payers, not from the governments themselves, which were threatened with deficits and impossible obligations to begin with, and not from the margins of the private providers, who were going to be straitjacketed with rules and price controls. There was no feasible way to make the system work.

Growing frustrated, Leandro went on to say that the economy will adapt to whatever initial obstacles are in the way. That this is has happened in the past and that it will happen in the future if only people have the courage and selflessness to give it a chance. That pretty much set up Andrew to rip his opponent a new ass. Andrew went on to say that his opponent was correct in assuming that the market would adapt, but not in a way that was reflective of the past. The market will adapt to a nation of part-time workers who will soon forget what it was to only work one job to make a living. The market will adapt and breed companies that will no longer see the incentive to grow beyond an arbitrary limit imposed by an inflexible bureaucracy. The market will adapt to "brain drain" as talent is exported or returned overseas to countries. That this talent will end up in the hands of employers who are in better position to compete. By the time Andrew finished that debate he was showered with stone cold silence. He had earned a lot of ire that day from his classmates and teachers, but he also earned some respect for sticking to his convictions. It garnered him some welcome opportunities. Especially in an environment where he was a political minority.

In his senior year, Andrew was recruited by the Young Legion of Upper New Jersey Republicans. They pretty much were a ragtag group of well-to-do kids who laid the groundwork for losing campaigns. But in this group Andrew developed some great friendships, he was able to meet the governor a few times, and after he graduated, he was handpicked for a summer internship in Trenton, NJ. He worked on the staff of Assemblywoman Vanessa Newton (R) of Monmouth County.

Andrew didn't really grow affection for Trenton politics. The experience was very helpful and formative, but life in that particular system was nothing he could ever see himself aspiring to. He stayed in a very old three bedroom house along Hamilton Avenue with four other roommates. Five days a week, he and these roommates were shuttled from their house to the underwhelming office complex downtown, and for eight hours a day he basically read letters and emails and fetched coffee and dry cleaning on demand. Every now and then he'd get his hands on the draft of a bill and read it, and he found state level legislation to be very petty. They were proposing things like making sure that the rear view mirrors of cars were of a certain diameter, or making sure that vaccines didn't contain too much of a particular vitamin, or establishing a task force to study the popularity of bicycle helmets. It was just proposed law after proposed law, like sperm trying to find a receptive egg.

And these legislatures lost their cool all the time. Emotionally, they were highly invested in their own proposals, their "babies". Some of Ms. Newton's colleagues would call her office mad as hell, demanding to speak with her if she failed to vote for, or go to battle for, one bill or another. It was amazing to witness middle-aged, college educated adults act in such a manner. Andrew had to diffuse countless temper tantrums before passing the line on to his boss. Andrew was applauded for his ability to diffuse verbal bombs. It was more invaluable practice at diplomacy.

The one thing Andrew loved the most about his experience in Trenton was when the office actually solved problems for the constituents. Among his favorite stories was the time there was this lady who owned a sushi restaurant over in Freehold Township. She was having the hardest time getting approval for her liquor license. She kept getting the run around for some reason or another, and she was losing business by the day. Running low on hope, she called the office of Ms. Newman, and within two days of that fateful phone call the lady's application was found underneath some desk at the processing office, and the license was express mailed to her address. It wasn't something that made the hugest difference in the grand scheme of state politics, but it made a huge difference in the life of that constituent. To Andrew stories like that brought home the importance of public service. When you only look at all the ridiculous laws being proposed, you can barely see the point of public office. But when you look at the individual cases, the real-life impacts, the accumulation of testimonies…that is where you’ll see the heroics of public office.  During this internship he fell in love with constituency service and he developed his political philosophy. He decided then that he would hold office of some sort one day. Perhaps not in Trenton itself, but at some level above or below.


Even though Andrew was determined to be a politician, he didn't pursue a degree in an obvious choice such as political science or law. Instead, he majored in business, and he went to Rutgers University. The idea behind the move was to have a backup plan, a "day job", and preferably in something that he was very familiar with: real estate.

Campus life was easy for Andrew. He had a great work ethic and he used his social skills to his advantage. If he was taking a course that was taught in a previous semester, it was a guarantee that he would make a friend who taken that same course, and he would convince this friend to coach him through or give him old notes. He had a habit of taking the syllabus from the first day he received it and quickly cramming to gain a functional knowledge of whatever he was supposed to learn. He worked with groups of like-minded students. He had no patience for friends who were lazy. If someone wasn't pulling his or her own weight, if they were hanging around to let other members do all the work, then Andrew was quick to tell them to move the hell on.

On top of his dedication to college work, Andrew was a prominent member of political life on campus in New Brunswick. He was a member of no less than four political clubs, in addition to a Devils fan club that he had founded on his own. Whenever there was a town hall meeting featuring some politician or another, Andrew was there front and center to either scold the Democrats or defend the Republicans. Whenever Andrew was in the middle of a cafe or a student center discussion, he would hold his own among all the law students and the sons and daughters of politicians, and he would do it with great ease. This was during the last years of the Obama administration, when the momentum of the country was gradually swinging red as it had swung blue eight to ten years prior. Politics of the time was like one great big pendulum, and the wind was at Andrew's back as he preached the GOP gospel. He crowed that the Democrats had run the country into the ground and that they had shot themselves in the foot with their Trojan horse of a healthcare bill. All across the country people were discontent with how things were going. Private insurance was breaking apart at the seams. Businesses were only hiring people part-time if they were hiring at all. Young people were refusing to buy health insurance by the millions, they were opting to pay the penalty instead of taking on an impossible expense. The rising interest rates on student loans and other debt were crushing an entire generation of young adults. The middle class was continuing its long decline, and the very people who were supposed to be their champions were letting them down. Andrew was sitting pretty.  He predicted that there was no way the country was going to elect a Democrat for president. It simply wasn't going to happen, even if they dug up and resurrected FDR himself. He made as many rivals as he made friends during his arguments and speeches, but most importantly, Andrew McArthur made a name for himself; a name that carried to all regions of the small college town and throughout the state of New Jersey. It was a seed that would take a while to bloom, but nonetheless it was a seed planted.

In his last two years at Rutgers, Andrew had three major internships in New York City working for major real estate firms. It was a pain in the ass for him to commute back and forth on New Jersey transit, but the experience was well worth it, in fact it was priceless. Before, Andrew thought his father was a big deal over in Essex County. Then he saw how things were run over in Manhattan. The internships opened his eyes to what large-scale real estate was all about. Own a few apartment buildings and homes, and you'll still have to bend to the will of a local government. Own several buildings and dominate a few neighborhoods, then the local governments will bend to you. The bigger the company, the greater the advantage was. It was great when it came to tax breaks, it was great when it came to the quality of tenants, and it was great when it came to political influence. It was basically an urban parallel to farming in the countryside. Being small was practically a waste of time. Andrew had no idea how he was going to do it, but he knew when his education was over, he was going to dedicate himself to helping his father grow the business. It was the only way the family was going to secure a bright future in the tri-state region.

Andrew received his BA from Rutgers in 2016 with a GPA of 3.9. He was the first male member of my family line to receive a college degree, and my grandfather was so proud of his son. Zachary McArthur was a self-made man who overcame incredible odds to find his success, but that didn't mean he wanted his children to take their chances along the same path. He celebrated this occasion by taking his son on a vacation throughout Canada. They spent a summer month traveling from town to town and city to city in a rented SUV. It was a wonderful adventure of discovery as they spanned from Halifax in Nova Scotia all the way to Vancouver in British Columbia, over 3,700 miles of bonding between the two that would lay the foundation for their working together in the following years. It was also a great way for Andrew to decompress after four straight years of college. And the best part: When they returned from the trip, Andrew had a brand new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E350 waiting for him in his father's driveway.

Andrew took a quick year off from education and worked at his father's office, handling some token bookkeeping. He also lived at his father's house. He kept a low profile and he used that year mostly to plot his next step: Harvard Business School. It was hard as hell for him to get in. The application process was one of the most stressful moments of his life. But once he was accepted, he quickly found out that it was well worth the endeavor.

To him, it wasn't the spreadsheets, the number crunching, or the countless papers that he had to write that brought out the value of the program; instead, it was the case studies and the team projects. Andrew loved the critical thinking, the mental challenge, the clear illustration that the case studies brought to life. It was so instructive to step into someone else's shoes and see how they solved problems or how they could've solved problems when the opportunity was there. He implemented many of the techniques from the case studies into his hiring process. His "little tests" were very effective at vetting applicants in both New Jersey and later on in Washington, and then back in New Jersey after his political career was done.

During the different projects, Andrew developed friendships among his classmates that would serve him well throughout his whole life. Among those friends were my godfather and the future mayor of Newark-Essex, Bill Conners; the former CEO of Ballisimó Airlines, Sammy Chase; the seventy-sixth Governor of the State of Massachusetts, Stanley Swift; and the former Ambassador to The United Islamic Emirates of the Caribbean (the UIEC), Miguel Adams. It was a lot of hard work making it through the school, it was very much the equivalent of a full-time job, but the education groomed my father to accomplish big things. He left that program a better planner, a better team player, and a person with countless connections. He also left that program a man in love.

While living in Cambridge, Andrew met his future wife, my mother, Sally Woods. They met at a fundraiser for a Republican candidate running for comptroller; I believe the guy's name was Danny Brewer. At the time, my mother was a sophomore at Boston College. She was also a fellow native of New Jersey, hailing from East Vineland, a suburban community in Cumberland County. My mother came from a well-to-do family. Her father, Ned, was an optometrist, and her mother, Clara, owned a pharmacy along Landis Avenue. My mother also had two brothers, Uncle Vincent and Uncle Salvatore, but unfortunately, they were not all that upstanding. Vincent was a small time drug dealer who once did a ten year bid in a federal penitentiary, and Salvatore, he was drunk and a wife beater, and eventually he moved out to Reno, Nevada, where he spent most of his time in and out of rehab. But despite this mixed picture, my father and mother were crazy about each other from the very first night they met. My mother loved my father's passionate nature. She loved his energy and his ambition. She also loved that he was a complete gentleman, and that there wasn't a hint of selfishness in his treatment of her, unlike the countless other men she had known before.  My father was obsessed with my mother's sharp mind and brilliant sense of humor. My mother was half Italian thanks to her own mom, and that Italian side gave her a spirited and addictive personality. Whatever free time my father had from his studies, it was a guarantee he was either texting, calling or visiting his new girlfriend over in Boston. They went to hockey games together, especially when the Devils were in town. They traveled back home to New Jersey and rotated between staying with her parents in East Vineland and staying with his father or mother in Essex County. During those intense years of non-stop studying and brutal weather in Massachusetts, they completed each other. They were a textbook college-aged couple.

In the background of this courtship, however, things were really starting to grow dire throughout the country. This was during the buildup to the Municipal Explosion, and the symptoms of pending crisis were everywhere. The federal taxes were cut in half, but inflation quickly snatched away any savings. People couldn't fill up their gas tanks. Grocery items were literally shrinking on the shelves. The housing market was in havoc as homeowners refused to sell, buyers couldn’t find many houses to buy, and lenders wouldn’t to lend to individuals families. For the most part, only the rich and deep pocketed rental corporations were successful in acquiring new homes. Employment plummeted as businesses shifted to automation. Robots and computers were steadily taking people's jobs. Protests were common in all fifty states. There were mass demonstrations for more jobs, for better wages, for higher taxes on the rich, for affordable food, housing and fuel, and to reverse budget cuts. Whatever was considered a discontent you could bet that there was a demonstration for it. There were even massive rallies to recall the Congress and impeach the president.

Crime escalated to levels that hadn't been seen in decades. High profile cases of home invasions, store robberies, flash mobs, apartment raids, warehouse raids, and kidnappings flooded the nightly news. In fact, my father was almost robbed one time while stopping for gas in Connecticut. The only thing that saved him was a state trooper. The patrol car pulled into the gas station at just the right time and the assailants quickly retreated.

The states and cities and towns were hemorrhaging deficits as the federal government implemented hardcore austerity. The local governments couldn't handle the sudden influx of people who had to be fed, or the elderly and vulnerable in need of care, or the extra overtime that had to be paid to law enforcement to combat the growing chaos. Within three years leading up to the Municipal Explosion, costs for home insurance doubled, costs for life insurance tripled, and hundreds of thousands of Americans began to defy mandates to buy car insurance.

Simply put, society was beginning to breakdown. Things were not functioning the way they were supposed to. People were clamoring for a way of life that was not coming back, and now they were truly beginning to see it. This was one hell of an environment to begin a career.




After my father earned his MBA, he moved back to New Jersey and he began working for my grandfather. This was in the summer of 2019, just months after the Municipal Explosion, and he said that it was like Para-trooping into a battlefield. Tenants were not paying their portion of the rent because they had lost their jobs. They didn't have enough money to put food on the table, let alone pay for a roof over their heads. As a result the business was plagued with unpredictability. The gap in expected income and actual income grew, and the deficits threw off payroll expenses, utility payments, vendor payments and loan installments. My grandfather could have easily bailed out the business with his own money if that was what he had wanted, but he didn't believe in doing that. So this put the business in a tough spot. People were obviously hurting from all of the social chaos, but how sympathetic could a landlord afford to be? Especially when he was faced with financial pressure from all around. My father and grandfather compromised whenever they could by letting some tenants break lease and abandon their apartments, or pay a trivial amount of fifty dollars, but with others they had no choice but to bring down the hammer. They had to go after the ones who were not looking to come to the table and work out a deal at all. It was a battle on three fronts. My father and grandfather had to fight tenants, who were looking out for their own self interest; they had to fight the freshly bankrupt city of Newark, who was trying to raise emergency taxes; and they had to stave off a list of vendors and banks, who were struggling to stay afloat themselves. All throughout that year of 2019 and into 2020 it was a struggle. But things were about to get a lot more hectic. 

To douse the economic fire, Washington passed the controversial Municipal Reconstruction Act of 2020, on January 3rd, and it was passed along party lines. This bill was a huge. It was the 21st century version of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, the act that ushered in the suburban based economy. Only this time, the result was a reversal. It set the stage for the last chapter of United States history, putting the continent on the path towards the modern world of my time. It was nothing short of a right-wing revolution.

The act gave all bankrupt municipalities and states the blanket authority to dismantle their workforces, to sever any prior contracts, to ban labor unions in the public sector henceforward and forever more. Public employees were fired all across the country, from teachers to cops, from firefighters to librarians, from court officers to state troopers; even the elevator man in the courthouse was not spared. Anyone who was under a union was let go, and they were offered a settlement, sometimes for as little as 46 cents on the dollar, to cover their pension obligations. Can you imagine being a teacher at a school for almost thirty years, and then suddenly losing your job? Can you imagine being offered a $170,000 lump-sum payment, take it or leave it? Being told that that was what you'll have to live off of for the rest of your life? Prior to the Municipal Explosion, hardball like this would have been a fantasy and a crime. But in this new reality, strength in numbers worked against the labor establishment to devastating effect. What do you do when thousands of government bodies go on strike? What do you do when they sit at the table and force you to take a bad deal? How do you rely on the law when you are facing the law itself? At the local level, governments were paralyzed to act autonomously due to the sheer scope of the crisis, and in the Federal Government the Right had all three branches locked up.  The Republicans controlled the White House, the Senate, the Congress, and they also had six conservative members on the Supreme Court. There was simply nowhere to turn.

After the purge, most public laborers were hired back almost immediately, but they were hired back as contractors, responsible for their own benefits and taxation. The contract agreements averaged three to four years, and not all worker agreements were created equal. Some cops did extremely well as they could option to work for hire at private businesses for excellent rates; other cops, however, were paid low rates, and they had to take whatever general assignments they could land. Well-connected social workers landed lucrative deals with cherry-picked clients. They also had nice office buildings to work in. The less connected, on the other hand, had to struggle for crumbs. They were destined to work near minimum wage, and they often had to operate in hostile conditions. It was the same scenario for teachers. A small percentage nearly doubled what they used to make in public schools once they switched to a desired charter institution. But many other teachers suffered a net loss in salary, often working in lower tier schools with minimum funding. Contracting was a Darwinian experience. The days of blanket security and a level playing field had come to an end.


The act also picked certain towns to collect the poor. The Department of Housing Security was created under the pretext of ending homelessness in America once and for all. If a town was bankrupt, its fate was in the hands of a merciless algorithm. The algorithm chose certain towns for their proximity to a neighboring big city. The Department of HS effectively annexed these towns and cities and turned them into federal districts much like Washington D.C. The federal government would run these districts with vast resources in comparison to what the municipalities had before. And private homeowners were bought out as soon as word hit that their town was chosen as a Quantitative Housing Zone. They were highly motivated to dump their properties for the highest price, because once their town was chosen, the values were destined to plummet. A $300,000 dollar house could suddenly collapse to $50,000 if owners chose to stay. With a drop like that, the decision was easy. It was public domain on its grandest scale.

With the strategically located towns at their disposal, the Department of HS had roughly 6,000 square miles of territory to build and demolish housing as they saw fit. It was a direct lever, used to control the national housing supply, similar to how the Federal Reserve controlled the currency. All federal spending regarding affordable housing was funneled into these districts. If an area had a homeless population, individuals and families were taken to the nearest intake center and they were assigned an apartment or a house depending on availability and the size of their household. Basically, no one had an excuse to live on the streets or in a shelter anymore. Entire neighborhoods were razed inside these QHZ's, and huge building complexes were erected to outpace the incoming population. The flip side of this was the surviving Housing Authorities of the big cities collapsed. They fell like dominoes all across the country once they lost their federal grants.

This altered the entire direction of my grandfather's business. He only had three years to make the transition from providing affordable housing to renting at market rate. Some of the tenants had lived in their apartments and neighborhoods for generations, and now they were going to have to leave and start all over someplace else. Most were destined to end up in the local QHZ of Elizabeth, NJ, but plenty of others opted to move to cheaper suburbs, or move out of the region all together. A lot of them made plans to migrate to the South.

Obviously, none of these changes were supposed to happen overnight, but the implementation was helped considerably by social unrest. The Twin Riots of Harry Freeman broke out the second week of August in 2020, and Newark was in a state of anarchy for the rest of that month and beyond. The whole thing started when cops shot and killed an unarmed fourteen year old as he was driving his uncle's car. The cops thought that Harry had stolen the vehicle. They stopped the kid, the kid panicked and tried to take off, and then he was gunned down. After the shooting, the cops claimed that the boy was a threat to men in the line of duty, so no charges were pursued. All hell broke loose once this hit the news. People took to the streets and destroyed cars and broke windows all along Central Avenue and the adjoining side streets. The trouble lasted for one very long night, but it was ultimately contained by a combination of Newark Police, State Police, and some support from neighboring town forces. Damage was extensive. There were three deaths, thirty-four injured, and a couple of hundred arrests. But it was nothing that the city couldn't recover from. Still, things were simmering, and peace was not about to return so easily. 

The next riot was sparked five days later when Harry's uncle, Devon Moore, was charged with reckless endangerment. That was the breaking point. A kid was shot dead. The cops were free to walk away with no consequences whatsoever. People had actually died in the outrage over the shooting just days before. And now, on top of that, a grieving uncle was going to be held accountable. In light of all the stress that was happening with the times, it was just too much. Newark erupted, and violence quickly spread beyond isolated neighborhoods. It spread downtown. It spread all along the college campuses of the city. It spread in recently gentrified neighborhoods. People were pulled out of their houses and shops, they were pulled out of their apartments and cars, and they were beaten in the streets. Local law enforcement was no match this time. In fact, a couple of the police stations--one in University Heights and another on Broad Street--were attacked and overran. This time the governor had to call in the National Guard. The president made a public address to the whole nation, and Homeland Security, with their ground troops, helicopters and tanks were brought in to basically wage warfare on the streets. And even with all that force it still took over four days to put a definitive end to the fighting.

The devastation was overwhelming after everything was finally secured. Over five hundred and thirty people lost their lives, several hundred more were injured, several blocks of the city were left in ruins, and my grandfather lost one of his buildings in a fire--it was a fourteen unit walk-up on South Orange Avenue. Fortunately, none of the tenants in the building were killed, but several were critically injured. The only thing that saved my grandfather from having the bejesus sued out of him was federal involvement. His liability was covered under the umbrella of a national emergency.

As bad as things were in Newark, it was even worse in some of the other major cities. Instead of calming things down or serving as a deterrent, the incident in Newark spurred a chain of copycat riots. The first occurred in Philadelphia on Labor Day. It started as a peaceful protest, but it quickly got out of hand after a little girl, Winona Ruiz, was killed by a rubber bullet. She was shot in the throat and she choked to death on her own blood. The Philly eruption was followed by riots in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Elizabeth, Yonkers, and pockets of New York City. Then people rioted in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Richmond, Miami, and St. Louis. After that it spread south to Memphis, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Jackson, MS, and Houston. They also rioted in Oakland, Greenville and Spartanburg SC, Flint, MI, Atlanta, and dozens of other cities both large and small. You could see the fires and smoke from satellite images as they stretched from one end of the lower 48 states to the other. The economy, what was left of it, came to a standstill. Entire metro areas were frozen in place as people couldn't get to their jobs. Cities became no-go zones. The interstates were impassable. And Martial Law was finally declared across the entire country on September 19, 2020.   

Martial Law in America. Many people never imagined that such a thing was possible. But in a state of crisis, preconceived notions are often thrown out of the window. Implementation was easy, some would say unstoppable. States and cities were bankrupt and the law of the land was smashed to pieces. The economy was in shambles, and without order it was going to stay that way. Millions of Americans were confined to their living rooms without a job to go to, and their televisions were flooded with live footage of the cities ripping themselves apart. They were fed images of people--mostly black and brown people--causing utter chaos. Gentrified neighborhoods and schools were under attack. The city centers were threatened. Infrastructure was threatened. The close-by suburbs were threatened. Social fires were poised to spread beyond the metro areas and into the countryside itself. It was going to leave no corner untouched.  If something wasn't done and done soon, it was all going to spiral beyond the point of no return.

Tyranny is only tyranny if you find yourself on the wrong side of its gun. So when a call to arms was made, people volunteered like crazy, particularly people in rural parts of the country. To them, it was a paycheck when there was no other paycheck to be had. To them, it was a chance to save the country from the unruly urban barbarians. To them, it was a chance to stick it to the users, the parasites, the liberals, the criminals and the drug dealers, the gang bangers and the stickup kids, the the job stealing immigrants, the homo-thugs and the Atheists. Everything that they hated and resented was symbolized in those inner-city rioters, and they were eager to take on what they didn’t understand or like.

Most of these men and women were picked up in trucks and buses, and then they were transported to improvised training grounds. These grounds ranged from sophisticated army bases to random football fields. Veterans and law enforcement officers were ready to go after only three days, and then there was a steady roll out of volunteers as they were deemed ready. It was astounding how fast the government acted in this crisis. Many people theorized that the government had all of this planned out from before any of it had started. Dumping costs on the cities and states, the Municipal Explosion, the riots, self-occupation, everything—it was as if someone was checking off events as they unfolded. And looking at the results, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

The rioters didn't stand a chance once the troops hit the ground. Over the course of a few weeks the opposition was crushed by an onslaught of pressure, death and mass arrests. Troops marched in the streets as they took the cities neighborhood by neighborhood, apartment complex by apartment complex and house by house. Handguns were no match for M-16's. Street mobs and petty bandits were no match for the full weight and resources of the United States government. A few went out fighting in some delusion of glory, but the majority surrendered or dispersed once they realized what they were truly facing. Prisoners were sent to makeshift camps. They were led away like cattle. Checkpoints were set up within eyesight of one another in most neighborhoods. Curfews were put in place and food was rationed because stores of all kinds were ransacked. Helicopters with bright spotlights swarmed the night skies.  

By the second week of November peace was finally restored, but the aftermath ushered in a new reality. The cities were occupied in the likes of something only seen on the other side of the world.  The disenfranchised had destroyed large swaths of the only thing that they had to fight for: their homes and communities. For the people who were not arrested, they were given shelter wherever they could find it, but one thing was for sure: no one was going to build a new home for them where they had lived before. Many would never get a chance to live in a major city again. 




After things had settled, my father saw tremendous opportunity where so many others only saw disaster. The city of Newark was only 24 square miles of territory at the time, and roughly 13 square miles of that territory was damaged. Insurance companies declared bankruptcy all across the country in the wake of the conflict; they threw in the flag before the first claims were even filed. So that meant a lot of property owners were on their own. They had lost everything. The city was already bankrupt, the state was already bankrupt, and the federal government was not in a position to help--after all, they were outfitting a huge army to hold the country together. In an environment like that, capital was king. If someone had cash on hand they could buy up a lot of real estate and buy it up quickly. The market was full of desperate sellers.

My father easily convinced my grandfather to form McArthur Phoenix Group, and quickly the two began acquiring damaged property, all that they could buy. My father used his extensive list of connections to raise cash so that they could grow a vast portfolio. After the first wave of buying, which lasted a couple of years, MPG controlled 23 buildings and 56 homes, and all of the holdings were within Essex County. While most of MPG's competitors were busy buying property all across the country, my father made sure that MPG kept its holdings local. He did this because he knew things were going to be different going forward. The damage was so widespread, so extensive. As municipalities and states emerged from reconstruction, they were going to be looking out for their own, prioritizing the interests of local players over outsiders as they rebuilt. The bigger the local player the better the deals were going to be.

Another thing to consider: this was not the late 1960's. Cities were not going to be left to rot for a generation or two this time--it was not the same world. Urban living was reviving long before the Municipal Explosion. Demographics, the nature of the information economy, and outside pressure from global competition all favored close proximity in strong, centralized locations. Cities could pool resources to cover more people for the dollar. It made more sense to green light infrastructure projects for densely populated locations, as opposed to a bunch of competing suburbs. A well-designed city was ideal for transportation, ideal for streamlining taxes, ideal for policing, ideal for educating children, ideal moving products in and out and sharing ideas. The Municipal Explosion and the chaos that followed only accelerated a process that was naturally taking place. My father, and then my grandfather, saw all of this, and they knew it was time to act, to put themselves in a position to take advantage of this new golden age.

As luck would have it, Newark turned out to be the best location in the country once rebuilding began. For most of its history, New Jersey's most populous city was in the shadow of its big neighbor to the east, NYC. But as the new decade unfolded, the Big Apple was exposed. The city was overpriced in every single way. Even professionals with decent salaries couldn't afford to live there anymore. The housing market was over-saturated with luxury, unattainable stock. The business climate catered to billion dollar corporations and franchises with deep pockets, and at the expense of small competitors. Between the rent and the taxes and the regulations, failure was almost a guarantee to startups and small businesses looking to grow. Transportation, especially coming from New Jersey, was no longer a viable option. It cost $25 to cross the tunnels and bridges. If someone wanted to commute via bus from, say, Montclair, it could easily cost $600 dollars a month. Even with inflation these were insane prices. It was cheaper to commute to Philadelphia on the other end of the state. On top of the high expenses, New York also passed a draconian commuter tax of 3%. That meant anyone who didn't live in the city had to pay a penalty just for showing up to work. The capital of capitalism had become a runaway monster. There was serious demand to have a location that could counter this monster. That was where Newark came in. In the early 20's, businesses jumped across the Hudson and set up shop by the hundreds. If a company had a sizable workforce in the Garden State, it made perfect sense. And even if they didn't, it was worth it to make the move and persuade workers to relocate. New Jersey was, once and for all, going to have her own economic power in her own territory and her own people. This was how it was always meant to be.


As people moved into Newark, the demand for development exploded. Office buildings and apartment towers, charter schools and college towers, grocery stores and parking garages, walkable neighborhoods and public parks, car-share systems, bus hubs and retail shops...a new city was literally built over the old one. And MPG expanded its holdings and influence throughout the entire boom. If my grandfather and father didn't have a controlling interest in most of the action, at the very least they held a significant investment. The profits and values kept rising, but in un-New York fashion it rose at a modest pace. The Quantitative Housing Zone in Elizabeth kept real estate prices from spiking out of control. Just the threat of the government building 400,000 new units at a time was enough to keep developers from becoming too greedy. It was better to make a reasonable profit than to have prices dragged down by a glut of affordable housing.


Prices were also kept down by the nationalization of contracting and technological changes in construction. After the cities were occupied, the United States didn't dismiss the built-up forces right away. In fact, the government continued expanding the rolls. There were millions upon millions of able-bodied adults in the country who were in need of skills, who didn't have the prospect of a bright future, who were destined to go back to a life of limited opportunities and possibly a career of mischief if something wasn't to be done. They were a social and economic burden, poised to plague an entire generation or two. So with all of these adults assembled into an army, the government transitioned the force from patrolmen to general construction laborers. These men and women turned in their automatic rifles and then they went into on-the-job training. At the instruction of developers who paid the government, this army of labor helped to dismantle entire cities and rebuild them. They cleared away structures and sorted salvageable material. They repaved damaged roads and rebuilt aging bridges. They built new parks and recreation centers in the place of cleared-out lots. They built new neighborhoods from street to street and avenue to avenue. It was like erasing a great big canvass and repainting it anew.  As time went by, the force localized so that individuals could return close to home. Even many of the vanquished opponents from the inner-cities were recruited to tear down the remnants of their old neighborhoods.

On the flip side, private contractors and unions couldn't compete with the sheer volume of this force. They were either absorbed into the government program or they were ran out of the business all together. The government wasn't interested in listening to any of their self-interested complaints. The construction force was a much needed source of income to recoup, or at least try to stay on par with, expenses, and public opinion was in favor of the men and women obtaining much needed skills and jobs. The government charged developers $25 dollars an hour per head, and paid the laborers a taxable wage of $16 to $20 an hour out of that fee. The majority of low-skilled workers were not going to get a better deal from the private sector. The developers didn't have to worry about payroll or providing benefits, and they were given huge tax breaks for participation. This arrangement went a long way towards restoring the peace, spurring economic activity and investment, and reducing unemployment and crime. Also, when you average it all out, the costs of overall construction labor was reduced significantly, especially in the northeastern states where workers averaged well above $50 per hour.  

Construction itself also underwent a major revamp. Powerful software programs improved the safety, efficiency and accuracy of the projects. Virtual directors told people where to go and what to do through wireless goggles. They also made sure that things were done right and done right the first time. 3-D printing brought down the costs of manufacturing. Science had improved the quality and durability of all the materials. Concrete became more durable and it dried a lot faster. Steel became both lighter and stronger. Wiring and piping was easier to install. Streamlined delivery systems and crowd-building turned swarms of people into human ants. It was an endless chain of simple functions, and they all added up to a completed structure. It was much like putting together Lego houses piece by piece. Entire buildings were erected in a matter of months as opposed to years. All of these improvements, in addition to the savings in labor, reduced the costs of construction to a tenth of what it was in the previous decade. Newark became a model location for all of these innovations, and MPG was one of the main developers leading the way.  

As MPG was getting off the ground, my mother graduated from Boston College in May of 2021, and she quickly moved in with my father who had just bought a nice four-bedroom house on Forest Avenue in Glen Ridge. She landed her first job with Wilderman Energy, a company based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She was what they called a Groundwork Representative. It was her job to convince legislators and private businesses to invest in natural gas infrastructure. The timing was great because gasoline had become entirely too expensive at over $8.00 a gallon. Only twenty years before that same gallon was less than a buck. America was desperate for an alternative fuel source. Natural gas was a cheap and abundant option, and most importantly, it was an abundant option within domestic borders. It really wasn't a hard sell, but still, it was a lot of work. My mother traveled all the time. She had to attend town hall meetings from Maine all the way down to Virginia to explain the industry vision. She had to set up booths at business expositions in different towns almost every weekend. And she also had to fly out at a moment's notice to talk with COO's and politicians when things were on the verge of a breakthrough. 

Between their demanding jobs, my mother and father barely had time for each other those first few years, but they did make the most of the opportunities they had. My father traveled out of town with my mother whenever business allowed it, and during the downtime of her presentations, they rode around and explored the given area in a rented car, or tried a new restaurant, or went to the tourist trap if they couldn't arrange something else to do. Sometimes they would coordinate and take time off from their jobs to make a quick trip to the Jersey Shore. The beaches were practically empty in the middle of the week, but that suited the two well, they only needed the company of each other. My father proposed to my mother a week after it was confirmed she was pregnant with me.

With a round belly that was bound to pop in less than three weeks, my mother and father married at a small seaside ceremony. It was on a beach in Cape May, and it took place the last week of August in 2022. Wisely, they decided to delay the honeymoon until after my birth, which took place on September 16, 2022 in Bloomfield NJ.


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The Last Statesman
by
Christopher Hunter
Copyright © 2013 Christopher Hunter

Life on the Other Side

August 11, 2068

3:54am

The Great Escape. My grandfather always called his accomplishment the Great Escape. And he called it that for good reason. When he saw that six-figure balance on his deposit receipt for the very first time, it truly hit him—it hit him like a ray of sunshine on a solar cell. He knew he had found deliverance. Deliverance from sacrificing another night and weekend to run someone else's business. Deliverance from delaying a payment on the mortgage to save the car insurance policy. Deliverance from never taking a vacation beyond the Jersey Shore to get the property taxes off his back.

It was the late 1990’s, and the economy was doing well by most measures. But Zach could tell underneath it all, the tides were turning against the average worker. A great chasm was growing between the rich and everyone else. This chasm showed itself when he and his wife had to work so many hours only to fall further behind, in everything. It showed itself when Lewis Izzola fired him, after eight years of employment, with no regard for his family or well being, over something as petty as a no-call-no-show. It showed itself when Zach realized that his wife, even with her expensive college degree, was just as vulnerable as he was. Rebecca worked at the graphic design firm, not for, but at the firm, and she was only a permatemp, someone who didn’t have any real benefits, someone who could’ve been laid off at anytime. All of this revealed a very sobering truth to Zach. Before his magical run, his entire financial existence had been on pins and needles. It all could have fallen apart at any moment. My grandfather fully realized how blessed he was to make it to the other side of this great divide. And he was determined to remain there.

Zach paid Patrick Smith $100,000 in cash, and he gave Earl $10,000 as a referral fee. After he took care of his under-the-table obligations, he quickly went on to wipe his household’s slate clean. The credit card balances were paid to zero. The mortgage was closed out in one check. The taxes were paid up to date. The burden of Rebecca’s student loans was lifted. And as a gift to himself, he bought a brand new 1999 Pontiac Firebird.

Zach decided to keep a million dollars in the market, and this time he was much wiser, and much more fortunate, with his decisions. There was an old saying in his days: “It takes money to make money.” Well, that was certainly the case this time. Zach kept most of his balance in conventional stocks, and he rode the ranges and stuck to a strict discipline of buying low and selling high. After gaining a good footing in conventional stocks, he learned to time penny stocks just right. He said that it was like timing a swing to hit a baseball—that it was a matter of self-discipline. You had to get in and get out, and above all, ignore your basic instinct for greed. He also became a prolific researcher. He joined clubs, talked in chat rooms, and went to seminars all over the tri-state area to improve his craft. His financial IQ grew by leaps and bounds. He said that it was like evolving into a different person. At one point, he was making more money in a day than he had made in an entire month working at the restaurant. The last year of the Internet Boom was very good to him.

But, there was a downside to all of this: His personal life.

Zach’s mother was heartbroken when she found out her son had lied about attending classes. He finally had to fess up after she had seen his brand new car. My grandfather said to me many years later that he could never forget the look of anguish on his mother’s face. The blessing of his financial security didn’t matter one bit in the eyes of Leslie McArthur. It was the principle of the whole thing. Her own son was deceitful. Zach’s father, Damon, took offense as well. His relationship with Zach was always cool, especially after he realized his son didn’t have the talent or desire to continue the family business. But the relationship cooled even further after the elder McArthur took sides with his hurt wife. Even Sarah was bitter towards Zach for lying. She saw Zach maybe once every two or three years after the fallout, despite the fact that the two lived in the same state for most of their lives. It was another great divide in my family. And this divide spread all the way up to my life. I hardly knew anyone from my father’s side of the family. Even my securing the highest office in the land didn’t truly abate this.  

And the situation in Zach’s home continued deteriorating. Rebecca was still growing apart from her husband, despite the relief from debt, despite now having the freedom to enjoy her income however she wanted, despite Ronnie having the opportunity to go to any school they desired. She still couldn’t get over the fact that her own husband had been so dishonest and reckless, and so dismissive of her desires. Victory or no victory, she simply didn’t trust Zach anymore.

That was the catch of my grandfather’s life. He changed the McArthur trajectory in one heroic stroke of fortune, but he paid a very dear price. He wasn’t met with any revere and awe as one would expect. Instead, he was met with disappointment and resentment. He couldn’t savor his improbable triumph. Instead, he had to live with the fact that it would remain forever tainted.

Perhaps he could have made peace if he had made the extra effort. Perhaps if he had channeled his hurt into guilt and humility, he could have begged for forgiveness and reconciled things one humble deed at a time. But that wasn’t the way Zach reacted. Oh no. He went the other way. He became defensive. To him, they all had huge sticks up their asses, and he took every opportunity to tell them as much. The way he saw it, it was just a matter of time before they got over themselves and realized how lucky they were to have a self-made man in the family. He knew he was right. He swore he was right. His bank account balance and his portfolio told him so.

With hostility all around him, Zach spent less and less time at home. He often went out and partied four nights a week with his new best friend, Patrick Smith. They took trips across the Hudson to New York to go clubbing and shopping. They rode down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City to hang out in the casinos. They flew out to Las Vegas, and Miami, and New Orleans. They played blackjack, watched live sporting events and concerts from good seats, and they ate seafood and blew thousands of dollars on drugs, strippers and other opportunistic women. It was a slide down a very slippery slope but it was one hell of a fun ride. Zach was lost in this lifestyle, one that was simply not suitable for a married man. And by the end of 1999, it finally led to him becoming an unmarried man. Rebecca was granted an uncontested divorce.

Now, in all fairness, Zach did go out of his way to earn his fate. A man can only do so much before reaching a point of no return. But still, he was devastated. It pierced his heart that Rebecca had actually gone through with the split. He knew that the odds weren’t in their favor. He accepted that the possibility, a strong possibility, was always there. But to experience the real thing, to know that his marriage was a definite failure, to know that his son was now an unwilling member of a broken home, it truly did hurt. And it hurt his wallet as well. He had to pay a huge legal bill and fork over pay child support and alimony. As a consolation, he did manage to keep the house in Bloomfield. But Rebecca, with her new proceeds, was able to buy a half a million dollar bungalow right across the border in Glen Ridge.

After the breakup of his family, Zach moved on the only way he knew how. He drowned his woes in more partying, more drugs, more booze and more women. During the day he traded like a fiend to recoup his expenses. He was making a ton of money, but his life was beginning to feel a like a treadmill again. It was better than the old one, that was for sure, but it was a treadmill all the same.  

It went on like this until March 7, 2000. Zach was at a bar in Hoboken that night having a few beers when a fellow patron sat in the stool right next to him. Zach took one look at this man, and he could tell right away that this guy was a true-to-life screw-up. The man had wild eyes, unkempt facial hair and wrinkled clothes. He had on cheap cologne, he wore a funky fleece coat, and his shoes were odorous on his feet. The man started a conversation with Zach as if he was dying to speak with anyone who was willing to listen. He awkwardly asked Zach where he was from, and once he got an answer, this fellow knew he had someone willing to listen to his ramble.  First, the man went on about New Jersey and how he hated living in the state, a state he had lived in all his life. Then he went on about the bars and how much it sucked to spend so much money on a beer. Then he complained about how hard it was to find a good cheap hooker without having to resort to some “crackhead hood rat in Newark”. He spoke in a low hesitant voice, and every now and then, he’d burst into a manic laugh when he thought he had said something funny. Zach endured this creature of a man with the occasional nod and “wow’ and “I hear ya.” He couldn’t bring himself to tell the sad sack to get lost. Then the man started talking about the stock market. The man crowed about investments he was planning to make as if he was some kind of expert. He was bragging about how he had maxed out all his credit cards and borrowed against his life insurance policy to put it all in the market on his “can’t lose stocks.” He said that he couldn’t wait to be a millionaire. That he couldn’t wait for “all the bitches” to come his way.

Zach looked at this guy one more time, and saw how lost the poor schmuck was in his own delusions. It was a sobering sight to see. His buzz was killed immediately. It was such a wake up call. Zach suddenly remembered a story from history class, something about shoeshine boys giving stock tips to brokers in the late 1920’s before the stock market crashed. This was the same thing—the exact same damn thing, he realized. It was surely a sign. A sign to get the hell out.  

The next day, Zach logged onto his computer and he sold every single stock that he owned, and I mean every single stock. It brought his cash balance to $2,345,567.33. His timing was perfect. The markets peaked that Friday, March 10th, and the Dot.com Bubble began to burst.


Zach went into exile for the next two years. He hired a local accountant to manage his expenses, he rented his house out to a nice Japanese couple that worked in Manhattan, and after securing things in America, he booked a ticket to the Dominican Republic. He chose DR because Patrick had recommended the country to him several times. Patrick said that it was safe compared to most places in the Caribbean, and that it was just big enough to keep him occupied all the time, that a man could never end up bored unless he was boring himself. So Zach took flight with only a backpack, a passport, and a debit card with $200,000 on it. And from this humble beginning, he went off to live a great adventure.

Not even fifteen minutes after landing at the airport outside Santo Domingo, Zach ran into a local; and this local saved him from getting ripped off by one of the awaiting cab drivers. Felix Rivas was short and stocky with small eyes, a young trustworthy face, and a silky smooth voice. He was incredibly smart and resourceful, you could tell this after talking to him for less than half a minute. He spoke decent English with a very heavy and charming accent. He had lived in America for two years in New York before he was deported. He survived by finding tourists and serving as their guide and protector.

Zach took an instant liking to Felix, especially after he had saved him from paying some guy $100 for a $40 ride into the city. Not wishing to make things complicated, he went ahead and hired Felix as his right hand man. Three days after they met, Zach offered Felix an annual salary of $20,000 paid in weekly installments, with additional expenses included.

To Felix, this was a dream come true—everything he could have hoped for and more. And to Zach, it was simply money well spent. Having a guide and protector with local knowledge made life incredibly easy. A whole lot easier than it would have been for a white American who spoke horrible Spanish in a country with so many merciless hustlers.

My grandfather said his time in DR was the best years of his life, and I have no doubt he was telling the truth. He said he roamed from town to town, never staying in one place for more than four days at a time. And he attracted women of all types, from all corners of Hispaniola. He said he didn’t have to go up to anyone. They came to him, practically lined up for him, sometimes as soon as he stepped outside his rented apartment or hotel room, or as soon as he stepped on a beach or inside a resort lounge, or as soon as he set foot in a discotheque. Like most single men, he couldn’t prevent himself from gleefully taking advantage of this. He became a prolific and shameless sex fiend. He said he ran through countless prostitutes and temporary girlfriends. From the eighteen year old mamicita to the sixty year old mamichulita, it was just an endless torrent of ass. Felix had good instincts to screen these various women, to sort the opportunistic from the outright no good. Zach had a nick name for this period of conquest. He called it the era of the Jersey Rooster. And almost every night there was a new hen.

He spent a considerable amount of his time screwing around, but he did do other things as well. He gambled like an idiot at casinos, drinking endless cups of rum and Presidentes. He also played Blackjack, Poker and Barrarat. The highlight of this time was a night he had won one million pesos (roughly $50,000) in Puerto Plata. He also went to cockfights in the countryside. He said that the sport was very barbaric and that he hated the fate of the poor birds, but all the same, it was absolutely enthralling. The crowd, the noise, the action—it really got the blood pumping.

As his Spanish improved, Zach made plenty of friends. The Dominican people were very warm and inviting. They were a nation of charmers, and Zach embraced this charm with both arms. He sponsored birthday and neighborhood parties, he treated different social clubs to the movies, and he was adored in a hundred different towns and barrios throughout the country. He befriended local politicians and he donated to their campaigns under-the-table. He never had a night without something to do or somewhere to be. He was practically a celebrity.

And running in these circles taught Zach how the world really works. He learned that it’s all about who you know and how much you have. If you were rich and if you were liked by the right circles, people would literally bend over backwards and bend over forwards to please you. The powerful would listen to what you had to say and they would actually do what you told them. You’d never have to worry about getting into a night spot or getting the best table at a restaurant. You’d never have to worry about getting the apartment or the property you wanted to have. You’d never have to worry about getting a piece of ass from the hot chick that’s been eyeballing you across the room all night. If you can give the person who matters something that they want with some safeguard that they can’t fuck you over, then you are assured that life will be your playground. Doors wouldn’t just open, they would come tumbling down.

In his second year in the country, Zach met a young lady named Yani Perez in Punta Cana. They met at the wedding of a man named Kris, who happened to be Yani’s cousin and the owner of a bar that Zach frequented when he was in town. Yani was only 18, and she had just graduated from La Romana Christian School, a private high school that taught all of its classes in English. The most important thing to understand about Yani was she gorgeous, beauty pageant gorgeous. She had fair skin, long silky hair that shined in the light like silver, a body that money couldn’t build, and the most inviting brown eyes you are ever likely to see on a human being. She walked right up to Zach while he was outside during a cigarette break, just walked right up to him out of nowhere, and she was an irresistible force from the very start. Zach was wearing a Nautica watch, and she used that topic as an opening. She stated how she gave her father the same watch as a gift for his birthday and told the story about that night in riveting detail. They talked for a long time that day, so long that they flat-out missed the reception.

Unlike most young girls her age, Yani was mature enough and intelligent enough to hold a conversation with a grown man about anything. She could talk to someone for a few seconds and tailor her presence to make them feel as if they were the only person who mattered in the world. Zach adored this girl right from the start, he absolutely worshiped her. They got together after the wedding, first in secret and then out in the open. Felix tried to warn Zach about dating such a young girl; he felt that no good could come of it. But Zach, well, he was not having any of it. He immediately put an end to his whoring ways. He also got in good with Yani’s parents, a well-to-do couple who happened to own a couple of resorts on the eastern coast of the country, and it wasn't as hard as one would think. So long as the man was rich and American, Yani's parents honestly didn’t give a damn who their daughter was dating. Zach actually settled in Punta Cana in an apartment overlooking the beach, and he convinced Yani to move in with him after only one month. Yani ended up pregnant shortly after that, and once she was pregnant, Zach didn’t hesitate. He proposed to her. They had a four month engagement period and then they married at a small church in Bavaro.


Life was good in the Dominican Republic, but after his wedding, Zach began to feel homesick. He simply wasn’t built to live his entire life as an expat. So in September of 2003, he returned to New Jersey with his new wife and baby daughter, Yarenis. Unfortunately, and some would say predictably, things fell apart as soon as they landed on American soil.

Yani started acting strange after moving back into Zach’s old house. She was very confrontational, disrespectful, and not the sweet wife or charmer that she was in her old country at all. She spent most of her time shopping and hanging out at a beauty parlor that was owned by a family member in Paterson, NJ. She made new friends and went days at a time before coming home. When she did come home, she and Zach had epic fights that would leave little Yarenis screaming. It only took eight months for Yani work her way to a divorce, and Zach was happy to pay child support and alimony to make the problem go away. Yani and Yarenis went ahead and moved to Paterson, and Zach visited his daughter rarely after that. I barely knew auntie Yarenis myself as a result. I met her only three times in my life.


My grandfather felt betrayed after what happened. He really loved that girl, and it turned out she had only used him as a stepping stone. He swore that he would never marry again. And it was a promise that he kept.

To get over this stunning setback, Zach buried himself into making more money. He returned to investing. But this time he branched from being a trader. He was done being a cowboy. Now he started to look at the bigger picture. In the first decade of this century, there were three avenues to build serious wealth: Oil, Gold and Real Estate. By the time he returned stateside, Zach found himself in a very different country. 9/11 had happened. The country was at war. His federal income taxes were lower. He was able to keep more of his earnings, the interest rates at the Federal Reserve were reduced to practically nothing, and the dollar was losing it's value.

With the War in Iraq and Afghanistan raging on, Zach invested in a few key oil companies because he knew there was going to be a lot of uncertainty and demand. And he was right. Throughout the decade, speculators had a field day driving up the cost of fuel. The price of a barrel of oil skyrocketed from $40 a barrel in 2003 to a peak of $145 a barrel before a temporary correction. If you were invested right, this was practically free money. Fuel was something that the average American had no choice but to pay.

Zach also invested in real estate. The interest rates were low, credit was dirt cheap, and lending standards were loose. Taxes were low for the affluent, so the wealthy had a lot of capital to park. That meant that the ingredients were in place to drive up demand, especially in the New York area. Zach liked the idea that his house was making him money while he was away in another country. And that was the key. His house was making him money. It was an asset. Assets are wonderful. It’d be a great idea to acquire more.

So Zach leveraged his good name and excellent credit to buy his first rental property, an apartment building in Newark that rented to Section 8 tenants. He also bought two foreclosed houses and he rented them out as well. Prices were rising all over the place, but Zach wasn’t impressed with flipping houses. He looked at property as if they were stock. Prices rise and prices fall with different moods, but if the asset pays the owner a dividend, especially a dividend backed by the federal government, then he would have a guaranteed income. This was the foundation that Zach built his business on. Within five years, he had added seven apartment buildings and ten houses. He opened an office with a staff of seven, he hired a full-time accountant, and he had a lawyer on retainer.


Even the real estate bust of 2008 didn’t slow his momentum. Zach saw that the boom was propped up by smoke and mirrors, and he easily insulated himself. By the middle of 2007, he had moved all of his stock investments to cash, then he watched as the prices declined. He lived off the income of his subsidized apartments and he easily weathered the storm.

In 2009, when the recession finally bottomed out, Zach took his cash off the sidelines and he bought back into equities. He concentrated on stocks that were entirely too low, and sure enough, they rebounded. This gave him a nice short-term gain and he almost quadrupled his net worth. For the long-term, he invested in gold trusts. He bought into these trusts because he saw another trend. The real estate crash and the damage it was inflicting had brought on a torrent of deficit spending. The dollar continued its decline, the interest rates remained at the bottom, and investors were wise to have their money in a safe commodity. Zach was all too happy to follow suit. By 2014, his worth had ballooned to over twenty-five million dollars.

On April 4, 2015, my grandfather had a third child, William, by his girlfriend and former secretary, a small woman from Vermont named Allison Brooks. Keeping true to his promise, Zach refused to marry again, but he and Allison did live together as a common law family. Life was very good for Zach. Things were pretty calm.


Then country ran into turbulent waters.

Many called that first week of April 2019 the beginning of the end. It was referred to as the tipping point, the moment when America’s elite had finally secured irreversible victory over everyone else. From the late 1970’s, the rich had spent forty years actively tilting society in their favor. The middle class, the poor, and government bodies of all sizes were weakened by slow and systematic starvation, while the ones at the top saw their incomes swell.  

Many tools were used to carry out this deed. Financial deregulation had allowed banks to destroy savings, making the middle and lower class dependent on credit. Federal Reserve manipulation was the key driver of this deregulation. They were practically flooding the world with Monopoly money. And of course, most of this money landed in the hands of the ones who rigged the game. It was a well-coordinated machine that made the world dependent on debt. Bank and State was showing that it was more dangerous than Church and State. Church and State affected people of certain regions of the world. Bank and State affected the whole world. Strategic government lobbying steered members of both political parties to do the bidding of their wealthy masters. Campaign financing laws turned politics into a money sport. If lawmakers couldn’t be persuaded, or if they decided to do their own thing, they were either drowned out by a well-backed opponent in the primaries or left to die in a general election. This was later termed campaign production.

Pay scale devolution systematically eroded the standard of living for millions of Americans. A person with an $80,000 income could end up with a $20,000 income after a few cycles of job losses and rehirings. Outsourcing, both domestic and international, was used as leverage to keep those wages down.

Healthcare inflation was another means to grow inequality. Between the inefficiency of the system, obstruction from the ones who benefited from that inefficiency, infighting among the lawmakers to fix the system, and the ballooning costs of taking care of the Baby Boomers (people born between 1945 and 1964), expenses escalated into the stratosphere. In 2016, private insurers went bust and needed a bailout from the treasury, and this effectively created a single-payer system. This led to a dam-break of the national deficit.

This inflation also extended to education. The cost of a college degree increased seven-fold in the same forty years, and the quality of that education, aside for the elite schools, slipped further and further behind. To top all of this off, culture poisoning placated the masses. By television, by music and by books, materialism, crudeness and shortsightedness infiltrated the collective consciousness of the American people. It dulled the population to how far they had degenerated as a society.

All of this added up to transform America into a soft plutocracy. People had complained about it for years, but they were unable or unwilling to stop it. By the very nature of America and unchecked capitalism, this was predestined. Within my grandfather’s lifetime, his country had become unrecognizable. But all of this was just a set up for the checkmate.

In 2017, a Republican Congress and a Republican president fought an aggressive and successful battle to cut the federal tax rates in half across the board. They also took a big axe to spending. Social programs, subsidies, and even the military wasn't spared from the chopping block. The National debt had ballooned to 22 trillion dollars and the economy was crawling along with an anemic growth rate of 3%. The Republicans argued that the country needed to take these extreme measures to create more growth.

Naturally, the Democrats, the opposing party, cried that his was suicide. They argued that slashing revenue and cutting spending so deeply would lead to utter destruction. But the argument against tax cuts was an impossible sell. Most Americans saw the collapse of private health insurance as a back door coup to usher in Universal Health Care, something the Republicans had been warring against for years. The average American had heavy tax burdens, if not federally, then locally. They were financially stressed from all angles--good jobs were steadily disappearing and not coming back--and they were fed up with it all. Deserving or not, the Democrats had historically been linked to big government and high taxes. America was fatigued with both, and that was how the Republicans got their way.

The decrease in taxes and the boost in the stock markets did create a short-lived, positive effect. However, the deficit continued to soar, and at a much faster rate with the loss of tax revenue. The growth rate only improved to 4%. Unemployment remained at 7%. The stock market went into perpetual volatility. But those were only the mild problems.

As a result of the Federal tax cuts, a great proportion of the federal expenses were shifted to the states and local governments.  This was a devastating side efect. The treasury could get the Federal Reserve to print them more money, but local governments could not. They either had to raise taxes, borrow, or make cuts. But they had already been doing this for years. There was only so much a government body could cut and tax, and lenders were starting to see the black hole for what it was.  

Thousands of government bodies plead with Washington for bailouts, but Washington wasn’t having any of it. From their perspective, local governments needed to follow suit.  The federal government was tightening its belt, and it was about time the local governments did the same. It was the only way to solve this problem once and for all, they said.

Incredibly, the Republican majority survived the mid-term elections of 2018. Some interpreted this as meaning Americans were finally starting to come to terms with austerity, but truthfully, this survival was due to deflection. People were angered at local politicians for “not knowing how to manage”. The national incumbents did a great job of building the contrasts. Also, gerrymandering from 2010 had entrenched politicians into stable districts. What was red remained red and what was blue remained blue.

But whatever comforts people had with one party rule, it came crashing down. Shortly after the election cycle, a full-blown recession kicked in. The stock markets began to trend downward. Layoffs picked up in stride. And once again, states and local governments turned to Washington for help. But Washington still wasn’t willing to budge. They argued that it would be foolish to undo all the hard-fought austerity, to give in to a bailout mentality now. They stressed that things would bottom out soon, that America had to take her medicine, that the situation would correct itself as the free market adjusted.

This turned out to be the final straw.

On April 1, 2019, Paselo, Nevada, a small town of 14,000 declared bankruptcy. But this wasn’t an April fool’s joke. The mayor of the town, Eduardo Walsh, famously said, “Washington can run this town their damn selves. Let them figure out how to pay for this shit!” The next day, seven other towns across the country declared bankruptcy as well. This was followed by sixty towns and counties on the third day. On the fourth day, three states declared bankruptcy along with three hundred and thirty-seven towns and counties. By the end of Death Friday, 34 states and over 23,765 cities, towns, and counties had done the same. This event was known as the Municipal Explosion.

What was left of the economy fell off a cliff; it was a flash-depression that was dubbed “The Hammer.” American markets tumbled 75% from their peaks of early 2018. Property values caved and foreclosures skyrocketed. Job losses accelerated and unemployment shot up to 20%. People couldn’t pay their rent. Even tenants of government subsidized housing struggled to pay their portions.

Once again, my grandfather had seen this coming. He had been pulling equities for months leading up to the mid-term elections of 2018. He stashed as much cash as he could into gold reserves and overseas accounts. His property values took a major beating, but he held on because he knew there was going to be another side to all of this. In the meantime though, he had to deal with multiple evictions and he was in court almost every day.

Then in 2020, the embattled Republicans passed the Reconstruction Act, legislation that basically picked winners and losers. If someone’s livelihood depended on the dwindling public sector, or if they had retired with a public pension, of if they were an investor who was foolish enough to still hold public debt, then their lives were turned upside down. Public Unions were dissolved and workers were invited to return to work as private contractors. Basically, what was done to the private sector for the past thirty years was now done to them. Local government assets, such as schools, buildings, and public housing were privatized. Tort reform was nationalized. Cities, towns, counties and state governments across America were restructured and re-chartered with balanced budget as law. A municipal commission was set up to determine which towns were worth saving and which towns were not.

As you can imagine, this had a profound impact on the American landscape. It was societal engineering on a historic scale. Nearly 60 million Americans were either displaced or were encouraged to move. The Satellite Slum era was ushered in as entire communities were doomed to collect the poor and vulnerable from the larger cities. It hit everywhere, but the East Coast and the Midwest were hit particularly hard. As the poor left the inner cities, suburbanites and people from smaller towns were encouraged to take their place. It was the reverse of what happened to Newark in the 1950’s and 60’s.

This dizzying array of legislation and moving created a serious backlash. Demonstrations and riots broke out from coast to coast. It really looked like the end of America, like the country was undergoing full-scale disintegration. To make matters worse, police forces all across the country stopped enforcing law in protest of the destruction of unions. This prompted the federal government to declare a national emergency. The draft was enacted, and the National Guard and Army were sent to maintain order. In other words, the U.S.A. had to occupy itself.

With time, order was restored, but at a high cost. With the upheaval, over 23,470 people had died and 112,000 were injured in what could be described as a low-grade civil war. There was over 476 billion dollars worth of property damage. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party died a mutual death in the midst of all this. Defections, conversions, resignations and fractionalization ate away members until they were all divided among a collective of independent banners.

On a local level, Newark and Essex County suffered severe losses. 517 people died in Newark. Huge swaths of the city were destroyed in the Twin Riots. My grandfather lost a couple of buildings; they had burned to the ground. Things were really a mess for a while.

But all of this chaos converted into an excellent opportunity for the wealthy, not only in the United States but around the world. America was down on her knees, injured and desperate for capitol and renewal. With over half a trillion dollars in damage and a national debt of over 32 trillion, investors were her only hope.

Conglomerates were set up to buy destroyed properties and land. My grandfather found one of these conglomerates: McArthur Phoenix Group, or MPG. He leveraged his cash reserves to borrow money so he could gut his destroyed buildings, then he quickly added to his portfolio, digging deeper into the Newark market. The city and surrounding towns of Essex County were carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey, and my grandfather gobbled up a huge share.

This was all part of the country’s path to recovery. The major cites were turned into emerging markets. The greatly depleted Midwest was now open to expanded exploration for the drilling of oil and natural gas. People were sitting on top of all kinds of newly discovered reserves, and now it was no longer a major issue to remove them. Companies in Texas became a major power player in this market.

To get people aboard with all the change, jobs were created. Cities had to be cleared of old neighborhoods and rebuilt. Towns had to be destroyed and replaced with abstracting wells. A lot of capitol was floating around and employees were in great demand. The middle class didn’t have unions anymore, but they didn’t really miss them all that much because their lot began to improve. And my grandfather was on the front lines of all this. He built new apartment complexes and business centers throughout the city and county. His net worth shot from the tens of millions to over a billion by the end of the 2020’s. Newark was gaining in world stature as a viable alternative to New York City, and more and more people moved to town. They were coming from the suburbs and from all over the country. The middle class and the affluent were taking the city of Newark back in wholesale and the old residents of the city were displaced to a Quantitative Housing District set up in Elizabeth, NJ, a town to the south. Elizabeth, NJ was designated as a refuge location, but the temporary solution became permanent.

By this time, I was in the picture. I was born in 2022, so I got to experience my grandfather’s life at it's financial peak. I used to hang out at his office with Uncle Willie, who was only seven years older, and we used to run wild all over the place. My grandfather had a corner office at Tune Tower, on the 45th Floor. I could see all the way to the New York mountains from that high. If he wasn’t in meetings or involved in running his business in some other way, my grandfather used to tell us stories, and we would design our own toys for printing and play video games. I remember one time he spontaneously rented a jet to fly us out to Cuba. We spent four days in Havana without a clue or a plan and we had a ball.  

Another big thing my grandfather and I used to do was go fishing. It was during one of these trips our time together came to a tragic end. We were at Lake Tappan, and he was in the middle of telling me about the time he caught a swordfish off the coast of the Dominican Republic, when suddenly he grasped at this chest. I thought he was joking, that it was part of the story. But he wasn’t joking. He was having a full-on heart attack. I was only ten at the time, but I did manage to get us to the shore, then I ran for help. It took twenty agonizing minutes for an ambulance to arrive. My grandfather died on the way to the hospital. He was only 62 years old.

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The Last Statesman
by
Christopher Hunter
Copyright © 2013 Christopher Hunter


The Game Changer

August 10, 2068

9:15pm

The American Dream. Countless people came to these shores to have a chance at it. They came since before United States was even a nation. Some found it easily, and others failed to obtain it beyond the very end. Some found it within their lifetimes, and others only paved the way so that a future generation might have an opportunity to seize it. John MacArthur didn’t do too badly for himself. He escaped poverty by crossing the Atlantic and venturing into a new world. He ran into an opening, then he found a better opening, and he made the most of both to live comfortably until his death. Peter picked up the torch and carried things into the teeth of the Great Depression before the family store finally unraveled. And even then, he was able pack his things and move across the country to begin anew. Jason went through his ups and downs, and ultimately it worked out for him as he found his niche during the rising tide of America’s prime. Damon worked alongside his father until the family business was his alone, and he lived a decent life as well. These men were excellent examples of what the old country could do for those willing to work hard and forge a place in it. But their story blends in with millions of others across this land. Their marks were like footsteps on a beach, vulnerable to the ocean of history. They would have been forgotten through time, pandemic or not, and their narrative would have been reduced to vapor scattered in the winds. This still might be the case for them, when it is all said and done, but now, at least now, it isn’t a guarantee. They blazed the trail for three generations, three generations that reached the upper levels of affluence and power on this side of the continent. And whenever a family made such a tremendous leap, it could be traced back to one game changer, sort of like a random mutation in genetics. Our game changer was none other than Zachery McArthur.

I am a forty-five year old man, but whenever I think of my grandfather, the little kid inside me comes alive. Now, no doubt, some would have called him a red-blooded bastard. The man was full of vices. He smoked, he gambled and he drank. He did pot, he sniffed coke and he philandered. He had a quick temper, he lied with ease to anyone, including his own mother, and occasionally, he broke the law in more serious ways than casual drugs. But in spite of it all, the man was simply my idol. In my eyes, he could do no wrong. It was a joy to be around him every single time—he is the only person in the world for whom I could say that. And he adored me as much as I adored him. If there was anything I wanted, it was mine. If there was anywhere I wanted to go, we went there. If there was anything I wanted to say, I had no inhibition to say it. With my parents, I always had to behave, to carry myself a certain way, to meet some model standard of what a young boy had to be. But with my grandfather, I could simply be me. There was no pretending with him. He was my best friend above my best friend, my playmate above my playmates, and my storyteller above anything the best book in this universe could tell. He was more than a man to me, more than blood. For the first twelve years of my life, he was larger than life.

Zachery McArthur was born November 9, 1970, at Hillside Hospital in Montclair, New Jersey; and his childhood was more laid back than any of his predecessors by far. He didn’t have to work in any family store, he didn’t have to fight any little asshole bullies, and he didn’t have any desire whatsoever to accompany his father to worksites. Instead, Zach watched hours upon hours of television and hung out with other kids from his neighborhood. When he was in the house, his favorite cartoons were Scooby Doo, Tom and Jerry, and Looney Toons. His sitcoms of choice were Mork and Mindy, Happy Days, and Diff’rent Strokes. When he was outside, he used to play tag football in Watsessing Park and ride his bike, a bright red Schwinn BMX, all over town. He was a forgettable suburban kid in a forgettable suburban setting. Life was very comfortable, very American. No one, including himself, had a clue of what he was to become.

He had a sister, Sarah, who was born four years after him, and the two were only so close. They were completely different personalities. Sarah was much like their mother: into books and education, disciplined, and always looking to please her parents and teachers. Zach, on the other hand, was a procrastinator and a rebel. He didn’t take school, or his parents’ displays of disappointment, very seriously at all. He was a classic C student who did just enough to pass every class by the end of the semester. He gave no more and he gave no less.

He transitioned from TV-head and bike rider to weed head and beer drinker by the time he entered junior high school. Occasionally, he and his best friend, a boy named Gilly, would skip class, go to the store on Bay Avenue that sold beer and cigarettes to anyone, and play video games at either boy’s house. A high school dropout named Earl would come by and sell the boys weed, and sometimes the boys used the prospect of this weed to convince a couple of girls to join them. The two were a terrible influence on each other but they were kindred spirits. If Gilly hadn’t died in the first Gulf War in 1991, the two would have been great friends for many decades. My grandfather could never talk about him without the story ending with a twinge of sadness.

Zach did manage to graduate from Bloomfield High in 1989 with a GPA of 2.25. And once he passed that milestone, his prospects weren’t too bright. He didn’t have any discernible talent at all. He didn’t make any friends of influence, or have any connections with adults who could help him land a decent job. He couldn’t use a hammer to drive a straight nail, so he was useless to his father’s business. And he didn’t even consider college an option.

But he had to do something.

Leslie McArthur, an eighth grade school teacher, was not going to tolerate her son sitting on his ass wasting his days. How was she going to encourage kids to stay in school, seek a higher education and do the right things if she couldn’t motivate her own, in her own house? What type of example was this going to set for Sarah as she entered her crucial high school years? Leslie wasn’t having any of it. So she gave her son an ultimatum. She told him that if he wasn’t going to go to college, he had to find a job of some sort, any sort, or he could go and live on the streets.

With it put to him like that, Zach went out and searched for employment. He walked to the business district and he applied to places left and right. The convenience stores were not hiring. The grocery stores were not hiring. The department store was not hiring. And the car wash was hiring, but they were only paying the minimum wage, $3.35 an hour. For a brief moment, Zach considered joining Gilly in enlisting, but eventually decided against it. He remembered watching a movie called Full Metal Jacket, and for some reason that movie “frightened the shit out of him.”   

After a month of fruitless searching, Zach was readying himself to hit the road as a vagabond, then he happened to walk into Izzola’s Pizza and Pasta to buy a Sprite soda. He struck up a conversation with the owner, a guy named Lewis, and this chance encounter turned into a timely rescue. It just so happened that Lewis was looking for someone to work the evening shift. He and Zach talked for a couple of hours in between the regular business of the day. They talked about women, about growing up in the neighborhood and about life in general. In that time, Lewis grew to sympathize with the young stranger. He could tell that this poor slacker didn’t have a damn thing going for himself. Someone needed to throw him a life line. So, Lewis figured why the hell not. He hired Zach on the spot and started him at a rate of $4.00 an hour.

To Zach, this wasn’t an ideal gig, but it was a job, and it was enough to keep his parents at bay. He worked from 2pm until closing five nights a week, taking orders over the phone and counter, and serving as a waiter to the customers who actually cared to dine in. The restaurant was a stuffy place on Bloomfield Avenue with cheap wood furniture and dull, green painted walls, and it only had a capacity of thirty people; but the customers were pretty loyal and business was fairly brisk. Zach got along well with the regulars, he proved to be very reliable, and he learned to speak rudimentary Spanish while working with the Mexican cooks. As time went by, Zach received raise after raise, and this dulled his sensitivities to the evening hours and lack of having weekends off. In other words, he got comfortable. After three years, he was practically running the place. Lewis had bought a new house and a bar over in Kearny, and he only showed up in Bloomfield to cover the evenings his young manager was off. This meant that Zach had just enough space, responsibility, and income to not fume over the fact he was in a dead-end career.  

Other than his best friend’s untimely death, nothing truly eventful happened in Zach’s life until July 1993. It was a rainy night, and one customer had ordered a pepperoni pizza. She paid the delivery man and tipped him a five dollar bill, then she called her parents and sister to the dinner table. After they had gathered, everyone was ready to dig in--it took an hour for the pizza to finally arrive and they all were starved. But when they finally opened the lid of that box, there wasn’t a single pepperoni on the pie. It had anchovies and pineapples instead.

This customer and her family were absolutely furious. The customer was so mad she ran to the family car and drove to the restaurant in her pajamas and slippers, with only a flail green windbreaker to protect her from the downpour. When she arrived, she double-parked, bee-lined for the restaurant, and barged through the front door. She walked right behind the counter and in front of a flabbergasted Zach, and she demanded that he cook her family a new pizza.

Now, at first Zach didn’t know what to make of this hell raiser.  She was attractive with a cute face, intense gray eyes, dark brunette hair, and a skinny and inviting frame; but she was intense, impulsive, and obviously a little insane when mad.  Wanting to keep the peace, Zach went ahead and complied. And as he was cooking the pizza, he figured why not take a shot at this chick. After all, he had nothing to lose but a customer. He offered her and her family dinner on the house if they were willing to dine in. He said that they would be treated like royalty, and that they could have any type of pizza they wanted with bread sticks and a complementary three liter soda thrown in. He said that the owner would ‘totally kick his ass” if he found out about this, but he was willing to take that risk to make things right. Then he said if she wasn’t willing to step inside the restaurant again, he would love to take her out to a restaurant of her choice, hopefully to a place with a competent staff that wouldn’t put anchovies and pineapples together on the same dish.

To Zach’s surprise it worked. Rebecca White eventually calmed down, and after doing so, she found the pizza guy kind of cute, and charming, and decent enough to acknowledge a mistake and fix it. As fate would have it, this masterful diplomacy sparked the beginning of an improbable romance.

Rebecca, a senior graphic design student, went on to order pizza once a week from the restaurant after her family’s successful free meal. She came to the restaurant herself under the guise of making sure her order was correct, but in reality it was to see Zach. The more they talked, the more they looked forward to seeing one another the next time. The Mexican cooks teased Zach mercilessly about it, but he took it all in stride. Soon, Rebecca just showed up to order something as simple as a Diet Coke just so she could hang out. And best of all for Zach, she was oblivious to the inconvenient hours he worked. They went from hanging out in the restaurant to hanging out when Zach had some time off. They became intimate before long as young adults often do. And this intimacy resulted in an unplanned pregnancy.

The news was quite a shock to Zach, but after it sunk in, he saw his golden ticket. He knew he wasn’t likely to find a woman this attractive, or compatible with his work schedule, ever, so he went out on a limb and proposed. He never imagined himself getting married so young, but if Rebecca was actually going to go through with having his baby, he figured that this was meant to be the time and the place to settle down. Might as well take the plunge.

And Rebecca…well, she liked Zach, but this was way more than she had bargained for. Life was throwing one hell of a curve with this one. Then she looked at her situation. She didn’t believe in abortions, that wasn’t even an option; and she didn’t want to become a single mother, especially with her degree within so short a reach. She couldn’t let all her hard work become undone simply because she got planted. Nothing about this was ideal, but she figured if Zach was going to strive to be a good father and husband, she might as well accept her fate and see how things turn out. So she went ahead and said yes.

Rebecca moved in with Zach and his parents, and she continued going to Berkley College without interruption. But the Whites were still highly upset by it all. They had already invested tens of thousands of dollars into their daughter’s education for her to live a good prosperous life, and marry a man on the same level, and now she was being whisked away by some “underachieving pizza guy.” Their attitude towards Zach was icy at best. But eventually, they realized it was better to have a son-in-law of some sort than to have an estranged baby daddy. So grudgingly they went along. They joined Zach’s parents in raising enough money for a down payment on a house. The young couple moved into a three bedroom home on Hoover Avenue a week after their wedding on 4-4-94. Rebecca went on to graduate from college later that summer, and the couple gave birth to a healthy baby boy of seven pounds. My father, Andrew Ronald McArthur, was born on July 3, 1994.

Four years later, Zach was still employed at Izzo’s Pizza and Pasta. Rebecca was now a professional graphic designer, and she commuted to New York City to work at a firm in Soho on Varick Street. Both parents had to work long hours, they barely had any time to spend with each other or their son, and they could hardly keep their heads above the financial waters. The young family was swamped with credit card debt, student loan debt, and backed up bills and property taxes.  The only saving grace was Rebecca’s parents picked up young Andrew, or as he was called during his childhood, Ronnie, from day school to fill in the time gap in the evenings.

So that was the everyday cycle. Not poor, but certainly not getting ahead. It was very frustrating for Zach, it was frustrating for his wife, it was frustrating for their parents, and it was certainly frustrating for the bill collectors. I remember my grandfather telling me about this period in his life, and I remember hearing the emotion in his voice as he relived the stress. He used to say that it wasn’t always this hard for his predecessors. And even when it was, they found a way out more easily. Something had changed from his father’s generation to his, and this change was as clear as day. To him, this new status quo was unsustainable. He was desperate to alter this course.

His opportunity came when his favorite auntie died of a heart attack.

Marilyn Heath, baby sister of Leslie McArthur, was the black sheep of her family. She was vulgar, she was a drunk, she chain-smoked, and she always wore perfume that one could smell from a hundred feet away. She had ghastly tattoos covering most of her body, she was a big believer in plastic surgery, and she used to be a porn star, then a stripper. After her looks and career in the adult industry petered out, she opened a sex-themed shop over in Cliffside Park. She ran the shop with a skinny mixed lesbian named Evelyn Ne. It was rumored that Marilyn and Evelyn were lovers, but this was never confirmed.

What this has to do with Zach was he and his mother were the only two family members who had any type of decent relationship with this woman. Leslie couldn’t cut her baby sister off like everyone else. To her, their bond ran deeper than a perceived wrong turn in adult lifestyle. Now that didn’t mean she’d let Marilyn anywhere near her precious Sarah, but Leslie did tolerate Zach hanging around when they got together. Eventually, as Zach got older, he elected to hang out with his auntie on his own, especially after she moved back to New Jersey in 1990 to live in a condo in Fort Lee. It wasn’t too often, but it was often enough, that he would visit her when their schedules allowed it.

Sadly, Marilyn had really let herself go in her later years. Towards the end, she had ballooned up to 230lbs, and all of her vices had caught up with her. She died alone in her favorite Lazy-Z Boy recliner while watching television. She was discovered the next day by Evelyn, slumped over with a bowl of hot sauce stained Lay’s Potato chips spilled on the floor.

Zach and his mother, the sole ambassadors of Marilyn’s kin, attended the funeral, and they were surrounded by all kinds of characters, people who were “veterans of the industry.” It was an experience Zach would never forget. Everyone had a story to tell about his auntie. Stories like the time she was a mistress of a California Senator in the seventies, or the time she dated a drug dealer in Detroit in 1984, or the time she tried hooking in Iowa before deciding she didn’t like it. That Marilyn lived a very colorful life.

A couple of weeks after the funeral, it paid off for Zach to be a part of this very colorful life. He received a check by hand from Evelyn for $25,000 from his auntie’s will.

So now, Zach was finally blessed with a little extra money, and he had a crucial decision to make. His mother, who received a check of the same amount, urged him to take the money and go to college. She told her son that this was a second opportunity for him to get an education and finally build a decent future. Sarah, the jewel of the family, had not too long ago graduated from Essex County College; she then landed a job teaching English in Morristown. The proud mother wanted her other child to finally get on the same path to a respectable career. She felt with strong conviction that a college degree was the only way to do this.  

Zach’s wife, however, wanted him to use the money to pay off some debt and give the household some breathing room. To her, it was a matter of common sense, a practical way for a family man to use a sudden windfall for a direct benefit. She knew her husband wasn’t cut out for college, and she didn’t see any reason for him to pretend. She had already made a list of bills that they could eliminate or at least diminish.

But Zach didn’t like either option.

The money, even if every single cent was used, would only serve as a down payment towards the ultimate cost of a bachelor’s degree. It would require a whole lot more debt when it was all said and done, and there was no guarantee that it would land him a decent career. He knew a few friends from high school who had degrees, and it didn’t really help them worth a damn because they were still working as bartenders and taxi drivers. And on top of that, Zach knew he’d still have to work at the pizza shop full time to pay the bills. The realist inside him wasn’t buying it. He concluded that college, at his age, was simply unfeasible for someone who wasn’t a natural student in the first place.

On the surface, spending the money to alleviate his family’s debt problems, it seemed like the noble thing to do, but then Zach looked at the big picture. The money would have provided some relief without doing anything to solve the fundamental problems. He knew that in time, new debt would simply replace old debt, and he and his wife would still have to work long hours in order to maintain their feeble standard of living. Basically, it would have been fighting a house fire with a pitcher of water. To Zach, there had to be a better way.

Searching for that better way, he was home watching television one morning. There were these two talking heads on one of the financial news channels, and they were debating the pros and cons of discount brokerages. One man claimed that it was the wave of the future. The other man claimed that it would lead millions to ruins. Both men made a good argument, but Zach was inspired by the debater in favor.

The man said, “No doubt, there will be winners and there will be losers, just as there are with anything in life. But at the end of the day, who would you rather have to blame? Yourself, or some guy making a six-figure salary, who’s going to party at his Tribecca loft when his workday is over? The man in the mirror will always have your best interest at heart. Put your money in his hands. If he wins, you win. And if he loses? Well, at least you’ll know he won’t be attending any parties.”

After hearing this Zach was sold. He decided to open a trading account.

Sadly, he didn’t have the courage to tell everyone the truth about this decision. His mother called him later on that day to make yet another push for him to go to college. She worked up a head of steam to convince her son that he should at least enroll in a local college to take some brush-up courses, at least give it a try. And for reasons Zach could never explain, he went ahead and agreed. He said that he would do it. He would finally give in to what she had been lobbying for for so long. He listened to his mother squeal with joy, knowing damn well he had no intention of keeping his word.

Zach lied to his mother, but he couldn’t do the same to his wife. Later that night, he explained his true intentions to her. And of course, Rebecca was furious! She said he was being selfish and a damn fool. She asked how he could forsake his family by squandering such a precious gift in a time of need. This intense disappointment was a devastating blow to both. It was a turning point. A line crossed. Unfortunately, from this mark, their relationship was poised for decline.

Zach was undeterred. Using his dial-up internet, he stumbled across a website. It was called MrTeadorTrades.com. To open an account, he had to send a check or money order of at least $5,000 to the company’s main office in Union Square of New York City. $100 had to remain in reserve cash at all times and each trade was $24 to execute. Zach sent a check for $16,000 and was ready to trade after five business days.

Zach finally started on June 22, 1998. He woke up that first morning and he went right to it. He didn’t even change out of his pajamas. With the excitement of a child on Christmas, he bought 225 shares of a company called MIVO for $600. He did no research of any kind. He never even heard of the company before that day. It was simply the first stock that he liked off of a random list. The name was cool and the price was low. It was listed at $2.25 and its 52-week high was $6.85. That was good enough for him.

Well, as soon as he bought his shares and the purchase was confirmed, the price of MIVO began to tumble. It dipped to $2.00, then $1.50, and by the end of the day, it was trading at $1.20. Zach received a $326 dollar shaving from his account by closing.

And that was just the beginning. Zach invested in random company after random company, usually before leaving for work in the afternoon. He made each purchase with the passion and optimism of a consummate gambler. Every dip in the account balance was simply a minor setback. When he finally deemed one of his picks a lost cause, he sold out and moved on to the next great hope. As his losses deepened, he stopped making conventional picks and focused exclusively on penny stocks. He was trying to hit a home run, trying to get back to even in one true shot, but this only accelerated his losses. Incredibly, this spiral was happening during the bull run of the 1990’s. Fortunes were being made left and right, but the market was leaving Zach behind, taking him for his shirt. By the middle of August, this rut had carried him to his lowest point. His balance fell all the way to $485!

By then, things were pretty toxic at home. Rebecca was growing more resentful by the day. And to make matters worse, she found out her husband was lying to his own mother. She had overheard a conversation he was having over the phone one night. Zach had the nerve to tell his mother that he was taking remedial classes at Union County Community College early Saturday mornings. He claimed that it was so difficult to wake up and drive over there, that things were slowly progressing, and that he was looking forward to enrolling in the fall. He said he hoped to make her proud one day. Rebecca was just out of sight behind the kitchen doorway, listening to these fraudulent claims.

When Zach hung up and his wife emerged with that look on her face, he knew he had lost all remaining respect with her. He told me many years later that that was one of the hardest moments of his life.  From that point on, Rebecca could hardly stand to look at the man she had married. They started sleeping in separate bedrooms most nights. They were becoming strangers, little more than uneasy roommates who happened to share a child.

Zach reflected on all of this, and he knew he had fucked up. He was a liar to his own mother, and the truth was going to come to the light one way or another, and with devastating consequences. He was an irredeemable loser inside his own home, and he was still stuck with a dead-end job, still on that treadmill, still paying never-ending bills and falling further behind. He couldn’t let it end like this. He just couldn’t. So he decided to double down.

During one of his off days, Zach went to visit his old weed dealer, Earl, who lived across from Pulaski Park. He asked Earl if he could borrow $10,000, and Earl told him that he could only lend $500. However, there was a guy in Newark.

Later that same day, Earl took Zach to the infamous Brick Tower Houses. There they met Patrick Smith. He was Earl’s supply man and he also did some loan sharking on the side.

My grandfather told me he was scared nearly to death, and that he was very close to being shot to death, the first time he met this Patrick. Patrick was suspicious of Zach from the moment he saw him; he suspected that he was some kind of undercover cop. He pulled out a Glock and threatened to shoot the stranger in the head and demanded that he lift his shirt. It was a very tense minute and a half, and Zach did everything he could not to pee on himself. Earl finally stepped in to intervene and assure Patrick that Zach was cool. He vouched that Zach had been a good customer for years, and he swore on his very own life that this was not a set up. Thankfully, Patrick calmed down and he let his target go. Then they got down to business like the whole thing never happened.

They worked out a pretty good deal. Zach would get the $10,000 immediately and have to pay back $16,000 by the end of the year. For collateral, he had to put up the title of his 1997 Toyota Camry, the one thing in the household that was paid for, thanks to a little money he had received from his grandmother’s will in Georgia.

This was a very ballsy move. Zach knew that if he lost that car, his marriage was over. But the way he saw it, Rebecca was probably going to leave him any damn way. What difference would one more lost make? Hell. Losing the car would pretty much equal shooting a dying horse in the head. So he said screw it. He took the money and deposited it in the bank. And the funds were available for trading after three business days.

With someone else’s money on the line, Zach wisely decided to do some research this time. He went to the Bloomfield Library on his day off, and while browsing through the Williams Street Chronicle, he ran across an article. The article featured a company called Translation Now in Motion, or TNIM; they were a software developer that was creating a program to translate speech into different languages. The initial public offering for the company started off well. The stock went from an opening price of $10 to $18.98. But the good times were very short-lived. A couple of patent deals fell through, and this caused a chain reaction with the financiers. This chain reaction savaged the price. The stock dropped from $18.98 to $8.74 in one day. The next day, more stockholders abandoned ship, and the stock dropped to $2.47. From there it went lower and lower. By the time Zach read the article that day in the library, TNIM was buried in penny status. It was trading at only .08 a share.

The founders of the company, Larry Penny and Blake Cano, swore up and down that everyone who abandoned their company was going to be sorry. They claimed that it was a matter of time before they worked out a new patent deal, and that they were negotiating with a secret backer for the project, a backer with very deep pockets. They said that things were in place for the stock to come roaring back, because, at the end of the day, they had a revolutionary product.

After taking all of this in, Zach agreed.

He went home and logged onto his AOL account. He felt excitement in his blood as the dial-up music finally gave way to the internet. He quickly logged on to his account, found the stock, and he bought all the shares that his balance could afford: 130,750. Before, his account had died by a thousand cuts. This time, he was planning to either win big or face a quick and decisive end. He was ready to accept his fate one way or the other.

Zach reloaded the page every two minutes to see if there was any change. This was the greatest show on earth as far as he was concerned. After about twenty minutes, someone else had made a trade, and this trade dropped the price two cents. That drop equaled a loss of 25%, or $2,615, in one devastating move. And that was where the price remained for the rest of the day.

Zach couldn’t believe it. He finally confessed in his heart that he was cursed, truly cursed, and this brought on a deep cloud of depression. He called his parents-in-law and asked them to pick up Ronnie from day school. Next, he went to the nearest liquor store on Broughton Avenue and he bought a 750ml bottle of E&J Brandy, then he swiftly returned home with it. In his house he sat alone at the kitchen table, and in less than ten minutes, he downed that entire bottle of brandy shot after bitter shot. He chain-smoked cigarettes as he took his shots, and listened to whatever was playing on the FM radio. News blended in with commercials and commercials blended in with music. He couldn't distinguish either from either, he was just that lost. He also smoked a blunt for good measure.

But Zach wasn’t built to handle all of that at one time.

Suddenly, he threw up on himself where he sat, and when he realized what he had done, he laughed. Without realizing his consciousness was slipping away, he fell out on the kitchen floor. He was done for after that. He was practically in a coma.

Rebecca came home with Ronnie in tow later that night, and when she walked into the kitchen, she found her husband on the floor still passed out. The empty brandy bottle and countless butts of cigarettes were splattered all over. After seeing this Rebecca was disgusted. She wasn’t shocked, she wasn’t angry, she was just flat-out disgusted. She turned around and walked out of the house with tight grip on her son. She was in such a hurry she forgot to pack any clothes. She and little Ronnie went back to the Whites to spend the night, and fortunately, they had an extra change for both mother and son in the bottom of a drawer in the guest bedroom. 

Meanwhile, Zach slept all through that night and he only woke up in short spurts next day, unable to move from the floor. He finally woke up with some function around 3:50pm, almost twenty-two hours after he had passed out. As he gathered his senses, it crossed his mind that he was supposed to be at work 10am that morning. Quickly, he checked the caller ID, and he saw nine missed calls from Lewis Izzola. Shit!

Zach zombie walked to the bathroom and took a quick shower and brushed his teeth, then he returned to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. As he sat at the kitchen table to await the brew, he lit a smoke and tried to imagine what his life was going to be like as a single man again. He was convinced this was where he was headed. Was he going to have to move out of town? Was staying with his parents even an option now? How the hell was he going to pay the child support? The defeat was pressing down on him.

After three cups of coffee, he was ready to face the world. Before calling the restaurant and dealing with the issues there, he decided to log onto his trading account to see what he had missed. Might as well take a look at the tragedy, he thought. It took him two minutes to connect, find the site, and log on to his account. And when Zach finally laid eyes on that stock price, he dropped his cup of coffee and the cup shattered in a fantastic explosion of ceramic and dark liquid.

The price of TNIM was .34. His new balance was $44,455! 

Still in shock, Zach finally called Lewis ten minutes later, and Lewis promptly informed him that he was fired. But Zach wasn’t about to let that ruin his moment. He laughed in Lewis’s face and hung up. This was one of the happiest days of his life. Fuck the job. Fuck the job! His moment of salvation was finally here.

It turned out that TNIM had found some new backers, alright. News hit that the company had finally cleared their patent issues, and as a result, a contingent deal with the Argentinean government was green-lighted. Argentina had agreed to pour over two billion dollars into the company for exclusive rights to the software. Once Wall Street got wind of this, the scramble was on. Zach’s timing was absolutely perfect. He truly did hit that home run.

Powered by the heyday of the internet boom, the stock rallied big time. Zach collected unemployment checks with a smile as his account balance exploded with each arriving week. He did some token, half-ass searching for a new job, but he knew full well he had no intention of working so soon if ever again.

After three months, he had finally had enough of the magic. He sold every single share of TNIM at a price of $28.75. His cash balance stood at $3,759,062. It was the beginning of a brand new life.




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The Last Statesman
by
Christopher Hunter
Copyright © 2013 Christopher Hunter



Origins

August 10, 2068

4:13pm

 

Hello. I’m back inside the house now, and I’m feeling better, if only a little, since I’ve had a shower and eaten some food. Fortunately, this home has its own well water system, so tap water isn’t a concern. Thank God for that. Out of all the horrible things I’ve had to deal with over these past few weeks, it’s great to know lack of clean running water won’t be added to the list. However, I do wish that the food selection was better. The kitchen has four huge cabinets, and when my wife and I first arrived, they were filled with dozens of cans of soup, bags of rice and packs of pasta. The refrigerator had a few containers of fruit punch, a block of substitute butter, and a carton of spoiled milk that had to be thrown out immediately. The freezer had a couple of 750ml bottles of vodka and a gallon container of vanilla ice-cream half consumed. And that was it. We finished the fruit punch, ice cream and vodka in three days. There are five kinds of soup, and I’ve been rotating them with each meal. Beef stew, rabbit stew, Cajun chicken, New England clam chowder and mixed vegetables—that’s the only variety in here. But the good news is the supply should easily last the week or two I have left to live.

I also took a shot of Hydro-caffeine, a very powerful stimulant. Nelly Winters, my late, great Chief of Staff and the former owner of this house, had a stash in his bedroom, right inside the left drawer of his desk. I always wondered how he had such boundless energy without ever drinking a cup of coffee. Now his secret is out.

This is my first time trying the “jolt juice” as they called it. It’s doing very strange things to my body. It’s like I’m high on coke. Everything is amplified. Everything! My hearing, my sense of smell, my thoughts…they’ve all been multiplied by at least three. And my blood feels hot. I can feel the heat radiating off my skin. I’m a living furnace right now. I’d still prefer a cup of coffee over any type of drug, but it’s undeniable that this is an excellent alternative. I’m likely to write my fingers into a jam tonight. 

Damn. It just hit me. I’ll never drink another cup of coffee again. How surreal is that? I’ve been a coffee drinker since I was nineteen years old, and it never occurred to me that one day it would be something I’d miss. Even a month ago from this writing, it never would’ve crossed my mind in a million years to say, ‘Umm…let me savor this welcoming heat, this rich aroma and this milk-mixed goodness in my cup, because one day I just might get caught up in the goddamn apocalypse.’ Coffee is just one of the countless things we took for granted as members of civilization. We had no idea how good things were. And I can’t help but wonder what will take the place of the world we knew. What type of hell will people go through to get back to some sort of order? How many years, how many wars, and how many lives will it take? Perhaps you know the answer, you on the other side of this. What have you been through? What stories could you tell me? It’s a damn shame this is only a one-way conversation. Your life is bound to be just as interesting, if not more interesting, than mine.

Where are my manners? Let me give you a tour. I come to you from inside a lovely final home, here in Fenwick, Connecticut.  This is the house of my before mentioned Chief of Staff. Nelly was fortunate enough to be born into a rich family. His parents owned a shipping fleet that transported goods across the world from the ports of the Mediterranean. For his fortieth birthday, they gifted their only son this beautiful, green-painted Victorian in a private community. The interior has a nice country feel to it. The hardwood floors and hardwood walls are primed over to a dark, pristine shine. The walls are lined with huge pictures, all in antique silver frames. The pictures are of family members from both sides, and a few date back to the 1950’s. You can tell most of the pictures were taken in Egypt. In the background of one there are some pyramids, and in the background of another there’s the UN building in Alexandria.

The couch and loveseat in the living room are surfaced with smooth horsehide, and they are very comfortable, like falling into a dream. The tables and chairs throughout the house are made from hardened glass, and the seats are lined with Durasilk cushions, better known in my time as ass huggers. And immortal flowers have been placed in most of the rooms. They give the place a sweet smell, like honey sickles and roses in springtime. But the best feature by far is the central air-conditioning.  

The house is within walking distance of the beach I was just on. The neighborhood is intertwined with a golf course, even though no one is playing recreational games these days. Also, tall, stately oak trees provide plenty of shade and tranquility. It’s very beautiful and low-key here. And best of all for Nelly’s career, it was within a day’s drive of the capitol. I’m sure Nelly found this to be a nice retreat from the hustle and bustle when he could get away for a day or two.

My friend, Nelly. He was a good man. A very good man. I saw the life go out in his eyes after he gave me the keys to this place. He looked out for me to the very end.   

Okay, enough about the present. Let’s get down to business. I have so many things to cover and not a lot of time, so I’ll be breaking this down into segments, or rather, chapters. I have a list of the most crucial topics I can think of to discuss right next to me on this desk. I’ll be working hard to provide as accurate a story as possible. Remember, there will be no aides or editors or fact-checkers for this. So if you run across something a little off, I hope you understand. And if you don’t understand, well, what the hell can we do? I’ll be dead by the time you read this.

I have read plenty of autobiographies in my time, and they usually start with the birth. ‘I was born on a rainy day at such and such hospital to mom Lucy and dad Pete at ABC hospital in XYZ, ZZ. Well, I’m not about to start this off that way. To do so would be a little too…cliché for my taste. Also, I’m standing at the edge of my family’s history. This is the end of the line and I have to acknowledge this line in my own way. If I don’t, it would be an affront to every generation that came before me. This is a personal thing. However, I understand that some of you will not have the patience for such a tribute. Perhaps you only want to read about my life and the politics. Perhaps you are only looking to find out what happened to the world that came before the one you’re currently living in. If this is you, then by all means, go on and skip ahead. I haven’t written that part yet, but eventually I’ll get to it, fate willing. See you then.

The following is for the ones who see things as I do. The following is for the ones who understand that a man’s story is so much more than his actual lifespan. The lifespan, when you think about it, is like the surface of an island. It receives much fanfare. It’s the part that sticks out from the surrounding waters; the part people actually see and walk around on. But that island wouldn’t exist without a broad mass of earth underneath. In other words, that island isn’t a result upon itself. It’s a culmination.

Fortunately, I have knowledge of my family’s history dating to the middle of the 19th century. One of the benefits of being a president was there was no shortage of people interested in digging up my background. Thanks to the Historical Society of East American Heritage, a fine collection of scholars and researchers based out of Cambridge, MA, I was presented with a lovely book, filled with diary entries, public records, old pictures, personal letters, e-mails, and a detailed timeline chronicling my family’s journey from Scotland to America and throughout. That book is locked in a drawer somewhere in my house in New Jersey, never to be seen by me again. But I do remember a lot of details.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus on my paternal side of the family for now. And a good starting point would be in 1862 with my 4x great-grandfather, John MacArthur, of Glasgow. He was twenty-one years old at the time, and he was the primary breadwinner for his widowed mother, four younger brothers, and three younger sisters. He inherited this position due to a tragedy. His father, William MacArthur, was killed during a bar brawl when John was seventeen. William had gotten into an argument over a bet, and the argument escalated, and ultimately it ended with a knife in his gut. The family didn’t have life insurance in those days. There was no lump sum payment to keep the dependents afloat. It was either find someone else to pick up the slack, or starve.

So John worked at the Ebenezer Smith Cotton Company, a gritty little factory in a gritty part of the old town, right on Robertson Street. He operated a spinning mule, and he worked six days a week for twelve hours each day. This was back when labor was dirt cheap and workers were practically fodder. I can imagine that it was a hellish but noble life. There he was, a young man in his prime, caught in a vicious cycle, working a tedious job, providing for so many mouths to feed and backs to clothe. It’s incredible to imagine a time when an individual like him could be so selfless.

Anyways, he took care of his family. And you know what? He probably didn’t have any intention of coming to America. Most likely his primary ambition was to become a manager, get a little bump in pay, maybe find some lassie to marry and start his own family in his native land. He was very well on his way to doing other things with his life, and I was very well on my way to never being born. But fate intervened. There was a conflict on the other side of the Atlantic that altered his course.

The American Civil War was hitting its stride by that point, and the flow of cotton from overseas came to a halt. Ebenezer Smith had exclusive contracts with exporters, and these exporters received supply directly from the fields of South Carolina. Suddenly, the South needed their own cotton, and the Union was standing in the way of any lingering trading routes. Ebenezer didn’t have a backup plan and the company paid dearly. Once the supply dried up, they went out of business, and poor John was out of a job by August.

The family struggled for the next few years. The vicious cycle of a young man with a steady job was gone; it was replaced with the vicious cycle of a young man scrapping by however he could. John was able to find a few odd jobs here and there: shoveling a road, digging a sewer, bricklaying a building or two, serving as an overnight watchman; but for the most part, it was very difficult for him to provide. The family suffered plenty of hungry nights.

Finally, in 1865, John had had enough. He decided that it was time for a change. He decided that it would be best to move to America. The Civil War was over by that point and the country was on the mend. So John worked even harder over the course of a year and a half. He took jobs that he wouldn’t have dreamed of taking before. He buried the dead. He cleaned out cesspools. He cleaned fish and clams until his hands were raw. He did all of these jobs and more for six to seven days a week and sometimes up to eighteen hours a day, all to save some surplus money. When John finally had a sufficient amount, he used most of that money to tide his family over, and he used almost all of the rest to purchase a couple of tickets to a young nation thousands of miles away.

With his brother, Jimmy, who was seventeen, John arrived in New York on November 18, 1866, aboard the steamship, The Fat Treader. Shortly after arriving in New York, the brothers settled across the Hudson River in Hoboken, NJ. And it didn’t take long for the brothers to find work. A fellow Scotsman named Mr. Black took the two under his wings. Mr. Black was the owner of a factory that manufactured brooms and mops, but he wasn’t looking for workers there. Instead, he hired the brothers as coachmen/stable hands.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t very pleasant work. But it was an honest living. And with this humble job, the two were able to survive and send money back to Glasgow.

It went on like this for a year and a half; then the other siblings back home came of age and the family grew less dependent. This was the beginning of the divide. The brothers were free to set out on their own paths, and Jimmy took advantage immediately. New Jersey, and a life of dealing with horseshit day in and day out, didn’t quite agree with him. So he parted ways with John and moved to Columbus, Ohio. He met an Irish woman named Betty, he married her within a year, and he started a separate branch of our family. Meanwhile, John continued working for Mr. Black on his own.

John carried on by himself for a couple of more years. Then on one fateful Sunday, he happened to have the day off. And on this Sunday off, he decided to try something new. He went to a church.

That random decision changed the course of his life in more ways than he could’ve imagined. I cannot tell you what happened during that service, but before he left, John had met a young lady. Her name was April Brees. April was a beautiful, thin Dutch woman with soft brown hair and sparkling gray eyes. She had a thick accent and she carried a Bible on her person at all times. She attended service every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday without fail. Worshiping the Lord was her life, everything else was secondary. 

Now John was never a particularly religious man before this encounter. He always thought of church as simply a theater for “pastor blather.” But after his encounter with Miss. Brees he saw things in a different light. He found salvation in April’s eyes and he wanted to become a good Christian. It took him little effort to gain consent to private Bible lessons. They met two nights a week in the lobby of the River Street Hotel, and John attended service at the church whenever his job allowed it. After a few months of this, a full romance blossomed. Then April formally introduced John to her father.

Aaron Brees, or Mr. Aaron, as he was called, took an instant liking to the “handsome young Scot.” He insisted that April bring him over as often as possible for dinner. He even offered John a job as a manager at his new department store on Washington Street. John, knowing a good opportunity when he saw one, eagerly accepted. So that was the end of the horse business for my family.

John and April married on December 24, 1872, at their church, Second Reformed through Christ on Monroe Street. And the two wasted no time in starting a family. Within a year, their first daughter, Dorothy, was born. Dorothy was followed by three brothers. The first was my 3x great-grandfather, Peter, on November 1, 1874.

That was how my paternal family’s journey began in America, according to the writings of April Brees. She took it upon herself to record her husband’s story along with her own, and it served as a hard-to-read capsule that ended up in the hands of the HSEAH nearly two hundred years later, thanks to the donation of a long lost cousin in Spokane, Washington. So now that we have the headwaters, let’s continue our ride down the River McArthur.

 

Peter, John’s oldest son, grew up working at the department store, Brees Department Co., alongside his parents and siblings. His education was very rudimentary. He learned some basic reading, writing and arithmetic, but most of his youth was spent stocking shelves and sweeping floors.  Child labor was in vogue back then, and as a kid, Peter dutifully did what he was told. But the older he got, the more confined he felt with the same routine. Through this confinement he developed a desire to see the world, to experience life beyond Washington Street. He was thirsting for adventure. And to quench this thirst, he joined the US Army as soon as he turned 18.

For most of his army career he was stationed throughout the country at different posts. First, he was sent to Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington D.C. for a year. Next, he was sent all the way to Fort Baker in California for eighteen months. Then he spent a year helping with the construction of Fort Columbia up in Washington State. But Peter wasn’t content with peaceful stateside service. He wanted to see some action.

Eventually he got his wish. He was sent across the Pacific, and he fought in the Philippine-American War for thirteen months. It wasn’t the glorious adventure he had sought. In fact, it was hell on earth. The war was bloody and brutal. There was no clear good or bad. There was no black and white. Everything was simply monochrome and blood red. Everyday was a fight to survive. Peter witnessed death left and right. He breathed it, he stepped over it, he waddled through waters infested with it.  He dodged countless bullets, avoided countless traps, and he almost died of dysentery twice. Humanity was devalued in wholesale as natives were slaughtered without impunity. One time, Peter was ordered to shoot a teenage boy at point-blank range, and he didn’t know whether he was killing the enemy or simply ending the misery of a victim. It was the type of war that could make the most patriotic soldier question the honor of his flag. The longer he fought, the more he asked himself what was wrong with mankind. Why do men throw away their lives so easily for such abstract causes? For thirteen months Peter had to endure this nightmare. It came to an end when he lost his left foot in an ambush by guerrilla fighters.

Peter was honorably discharged and he returned to Hoboken in September of 1900.  By this time John MacArthur had inherited the store from Mr. Brees, and he had grown the business from a simple family-run operation to a behemoth that took up half a block. He welcomed his son back with open arms and promptly offered him a job.

Peter was heartbroken. He had successfully escaped the trap that was department store living, only to have the world chew him up and spit him back out where he had started. Humbled, and not seeing any other options for a mangled war veteran, he went ahead and accepted.

At first it was just a token job, something to give a melancholy man a purpose. Peter spent most of those early days back at the store hobbling around on his wooden stump of a foot, ordering workers around in a nasty tone. He was very unapproachable, he drank whiskey from a canteen in front of everyone, and he smoked horrible smelling tobacco from a pipe almost non-stop. The workers despised him. But it didn’t matter because he was the boss’s son.

Then John MacArthur died in January of 1904. He had caught pneumonia, he didn’t take it seriously, and it cost him his life at only sixty-two years old. That meant Peter had to take over. And Peter faced a new reality once the store was his. The competition was stifling. A multitude of similar department stores had sprung up along the same street. His workers, fearing the worse now that the son was in charge, were on the verge of mutiny. They were threatening to walk out and shut the place down. This would’ve been catastrophic. Customers could walk forty feet to a neighboring store selling the same merchandise. That meant the new boss had to straighten up his act, and quickly.

He gave his workers raises across the board, he rotated the off days of the ones who requested it, and he gave everyone an hour lunch. He hired a charismatic fellow from Michigan named Mr. Timber, and Mr. Timber, as a manager, bridged the communication gap between owner and workers. Peter did all of this within a couple of weeks. And they turned out to be very savvy moves. The transition went smooth and the store continued doing sound business.  

So Peter did what he had to in order for the store to survive. Now, let’s talk about his personal life. He was a content single man until his mother passed away in June of 1909—she had succumbed to kidney disease. Peter never was that much of a pursuer of ladies, even during his days of service in the army. When he returned to New Jersey, he used his mother as an excuse to avoid courtship all together. His sister, Dorothy, and two brothers, Charles and Dick, had families of their own, and they had already scattered across the country to different states. That meant Peter and his parents were isolated, and whatever energy he could have channeled into finding a wife, he channeled into visiting April and taking her to church on Sundays, especially after she became a widow. If I had to guess, the missing foot damaged his confidence.

After April’s death, however, the pressure of being alone finally got to Peter. He had his personal hang-ups, but he didn’t want to remain a bachelor for the rest of his days. So after a few months of grieving, he resolved to change. He started to flirt more with the women inside the store. He cut down on his drinking. He cut down on smoking from his beloved tobacco pipe. He started wearing better quality clothes. And eventually the modifications paid off. In the fall of that year, he met a German immigrant named Resi Peters.

Resi was a pretty woman with curly blonde hair, rich eyebrows and a great smile. I remember looking at a black and white photo of her. That smile was simply one of the best I had ever seen. But smile and pretty face aside, Resi was huge. She weighed well north of two hundred pounds her entire adult life. All the same, Peter grew fond of her. She was twelve years younger and charming. She could tell a joke as well as she could take one, and she could drink Peter under the table if she wanted. In fact, she was famous in her neighborhood for her home-brewed beer. Her father was a brew master back in Germany, and he passed this skill down to his only child. And Resi adored Peter. She had no problem with Peter’s missing foot or his occasional bouts of withdrawal. She was a woman of sturdy character, not fair-weather at all, and whenever Peter went through his bitter moments she guided him through. Simply put, they were a great fit. The two married after nine months, then they moved into a small house on Madison Street. They had four children together. Their first born was my great great grandfather, Jason, in 1910.

 

Now, on to Jason. He didn’t get along with Hoboken at all. He was a half German kid during the decade of World War I, and that wasn’t an ideal scenario. Anti-German sentiment was on the rise like water temperature in a boiling pot. It was fueled by a steady barrage of provocative books and films illustrating American invasions from foreign forces, namely European forces. Unrestricted submarine warfare terrorized US citizens and interests across the seas in real life. The nation’s great strength of immigration was increasingly viewed as vulnerability, and a suspicious and hostile light was cast on all perceived enemies.   

From as early as six years old, Jason had to fight little assholes on a regular basis. Other kids would attack his younger brothers and sisters and he had to come to their defense. Other kids would call his mother a “fat stinking spy”, and no one likes to have his mother called names. Other kids would call his father a traitor for marrying that “fat stinking spy”, and no one likes to have his father labeled something he was not. Jason wasn’t a very good fighter. He won some battles and he lost plenty more. But he wasn’t going to take it from anybody when it came to disrespect.

Turmoil among other kids was only part of a larger problem. Business at the department store slowed as rumors and paranoia swirled around Washington Street. Plenty of Jason’s relatives from his maternal side were rounded up and sent to Ellis Island. Others had to flee to the West Coast or wherever they could to escape the persecution. To a kid this left a lasting and negative impression. His hometown was anything but home. Jason didn’t know who he could trust, and he didn’t make many friends because he feared his family would have to move away at any moment. He evolved into a very introverted young man and he stayed inside his house as much as possible. It was a very turbulent time.

Mercifully, the war ended in 1918, and the hostilities slowly evaporated. But for Hoboken the damage was done. German immigrants and descendents continued fleeing town, and they took a lot of capital and business with them. Peter’s department store survived the war hysteria intact, mostly by outlasting German owned rivals, but the glory days of 15 to 20 years ago were not coming back. The city became more Italian and more Irish by the day, and the economy and spending habits of the populace shifted with the change.

In contrast to much of the nation, The Roaring Twenties were just one long struggle for Jason’s family to stay afloat. Gradually, Peter had to parcel off space in the department store to other retailers and lay off workers. By the middle of 1922, Brees Department Co. had returned to its original size. And it affected everyone in the house. Peter was irritated and depressed most of the time, and he continued drinking right through prohibition. Resi was anything but cheerful. She told no jokes, dark circles had formed under her eyes, and her weight fluctuated with the stress of holding the family together. Jason’s brother, Eric, was very bright academically, and he was perpetually bitter because he couldn’t get into the school he had wanted since his parents couldn’t afford the fee. Peter Jr. was sickly with chronic bronchitis. He was depressed most of the time just like his father, and he was insufferable to be around, especially when he talked of dying. He constantly talked of dying. And then there was Ines, the youngest child. She was crazy. She had behavioral issues that discipline and reasoning couldn’t remedy. She was only eleven when she almost killed a neighborhood friend. The unlucky girl had spilled some soda on Ines's favorite blouse, and Ines attacked the girl with a random brick she had found on a curb. After that the wild child was sent to a state house for troubled girls in Ocean County.  

Jason endured this dysfunctional household until his seventeenth birthday. Then he finally resolved to leave. He escaped the Mile Square City in the middle of a July night on foot, and he didn’t tell his folks a thing.

But he didn’t go very far. Not very far at all. He only moved roughly ten miles to Newark.

Sweet 1920’s Newark, New Jersey. It was just like New York across the Hudson River, but without the flaw of being New York. When Jason arrived and walked along Market Street for the very first time, he knew he had found his new home. Droves of people were moving in every direction, going about their business like ants in a colony. Countless businesses populated the streets selling everything short of a soul. The smells of cooked food, tobacco smoke, and vehicle exhaust filled the air. The road crawled with broad cars of assorted color, big delivery trucks, small delivery vans, and trolleys. Painted signs hung off of buildings like giant framed paintings. The noise of it all was crackling, electric. Jason walked among all of this and he felt connected. He felt like a blood cell coursing through the veins of a great organism.

He arrived with only thirty dollars to his name. He used half of that money to rent a room for a month at the Franklin Street boarding house, and he budgeted the rest for food until he could find a job.

It didn’t take that long. Within three days he landed a gig as a short-order cook at the Eight O’clock Diner on Broad Street.  

From the beginning, Jason was a very hard worker. There was hardly a day he didn’t put in a twelve hour shift on the job. He was also flexible, and he displayed a freakish level of maturity and intelligence for his age. Within two weeks as a cook he figured out a system to speed up serving time twice as fast by pre-preparing food with a priority on popular items. He successfully lobbied to have unpopular items eliminated from the menu to prevent waste, thus saving the diner money. When he wasn’t cooking, he covered for waitresses, covered for the cashier, covered for the busboy, and covered for the host. He befriended regular customers and brought in new ones with the zeal of a Christian disciple. He was a natural born leader, a young man on fire, and all the mistrust and conflict and struggle of Hoboken faded away like a stain attacked by bleach.

After only one year, the owner of the establishment, Charles Dewey, couldn’t help himself. He offered Jason the manager position at the diner. Charles had opened a new, larger restaurant on the other side of town, and he was confident Jason could handle things at the original business. It was extremely unprecedented to give a teenager such responsibility, but Charles banked on the talent and drive of the young phenom.

So by the end of the decade, Jason was living the good life. He had found a new city and a new dream job. He rented a large two bedroom apartment on Washington Street and furnished it to his liking with secondhand Art Nouveau. He hosted dinner parties at his place whenever he had the free time, usually once or twice a month, and he invited customers, co-workers, and people from his neighborhood without discretion. He was extremely popular, an important member of his community. For a young man not yet twenty-one, he had come a long way. And all within a day’s walk from where he was raised.

At one of these parties, on a cool May evening in 1928, he met a young lady by the name of Nancy Down. Nancy was a classic flapper—a feisty redhead with deep blue eyes, a passion for fashion, and abnormally large breasts. She had moved to town not too long ago, and she worked at a clothing store on Broad Street. Her male cousin, Edwin, who was a friend and neighbor of Jason, introduced the two, and an epic conversation followed. The party faded to background and the other guest left unnoticed as the two talked into the hours of morning. At first Jason was mesmerized by Nancy’s generous endowment, but as time went on, her unique personality won him over. She was cynical but not off-putting. She was insulting but entertaining. She was ignorant but far from dumb. Jason was curious. He was drawn, addicted, and determined to enjoy her ride for all that it was worth.

They met a few days after the party and went to a vaudeville show at the Palace Theatre. And things moved quickly from there. Nancy became a regular at the diner, showing up after work almost every night with her cousin. After three months Nancy moved into Jason’s apartment. After seven months Jason proposed. And in March of 1929, the two married at a small church in North Ironbound.

Things were going so well that Jason invited his estranged family. His parents and all of his siblings came to the wedding. And instead of harboring ill feelings, they were happy for the young man who had finally done so well.

But prosperity didn’t last. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 ushered in the beginning of the Great Depression, and within a few months Newark’s economy fell under hard times. In January of 1930, Charles Dewey had to close one of his restaurants, and Eight O’clock Diner didn’t make the cut. That meant Jason, and all his talent and drive, was out of a job. The rising star crashed to earth, and the timing was terrible.

Nancy had just given birth to their daughter, Jackie, and the new mother was panicky and bothersome. She was no longer the free spirit Jason had fallen for. In fact, she was a complete pain in the ass. She was always mad over something. She yelled at him as he left out the door. She yelled at him when he came home. She yelled at him when they were at the dinner table. She yelled at him through the closed bathroom door when he was taking a dump. If Jason brought in seven dollars for the day, she’d ask why couldn’t it have been ten. If he came in at nine in the night, she’d ask what took him so damn long. If he came in during daylight, she’d scream why the hell wasn’t he out trying to make more money. There was absolutely no satisfying that red headed, hot tempered woman. And Jason lost his cool, too. He called her worthless, he called her a psycho, and he said that if it wasn’t for Jackie, he would curse the day he ever met her. Every single day in that apartment was a battle. Hard times were bringing families together during this tough period in history, but this family was falling apart.  

Throughout this hell storm, Jason provided as best he could. He had a brief job delivering illegal alcohol to speakeasies throughout central New Jersey until he lost his nerve for fear of going to jail. Then he sold scrap metal from dilapidated buildings along the Passaic River. After that he sold sodas to construction workers as they were building Penn Station. Then he switched from selling sodas to selling fruit on Ferry Street. But in the end, his efforts were simply not enough to save his first marriage. He and Nancy divorced in September of 1936, and Nancy took Jackie to Lowell, Massachusetts, her hometown. After that, Jason had to abandon the apartment and rent a room. Another part of his life was over. Jason only saw his daughter two times after this split. And that was many years later when she was an adult.

After the divorce, Jason finally found steady employment again. This was thanks to a friend named Maury. The two met when Jason was selling sodas outside of Penn Station during its construction. They talked everyday during Maury’s lunch break and the two stayed in touch long after the station was complete. This friendship paid off when Maury helped Jason land a job building Roosevelt Stadium over in Jersey City. The metro area received lots of funds for public projects through the Works Progress Administration, a Federal program designed to spur employment throughout the country. Jason used this opportunity to build a new life. He learned a new trade to center his passion and intelligence around. From the stadium he went on to other projects helping to build houses throughout the area. He never looked back.

And while Jason finally found his way again, his family in Hoboken, every single member, moved out to California. The Great Depression had wiped out the department store in 1930, and Peter quickly opened a thrift store specializing in selling dirt cheap goods. Miraculously, that store lasted seven years, but it folded as well. After that it was over. They all decided to escape the East Coast for a brand new start in Napa Valley. And get this. They only informed Jason by letter after arriving on the West Coast. They left the son that ran away from home completely out of the loop. A kind of poetic justice. And Jason didn’t take it all that well. Despite the fact that he had abandoned first, he felt abandoned to a deeper degree. This inspired him to change his last name from MacArthur to McArthur in 1939.

In 1942, Jason finally met a new love interest. Her name was Jessica Taylor. Jessica was a skinny brunette with rosy cheeks, big doe eyes and a cute button nose. She always wore her hair in bangs, whether it was in style or not, and she was a kind but mostly quiet woman to everyone who knew her. She was from St. Simons, Georgia, and she had moved to New Jersey on her own, an exile from her previous life.  Her fiancé, a man named Tom, was killed during the early stages of World War II, and the heartbroken young woman left everything behind for a change of scenery and a chance at sanity. She was from a well-to-do family, so she had some money to spend. She had bought a new three bedroom house along Valsburg Park. Jason was hired to renovate the place.

Jason had always tried to keep things professional with his clients, but when it came to this vulnerable young beauty, he couldn’t help himself. He fell hard. He took special care to fix that house, working over thirteen hours every day except for Sunday. His costs were overrun, but he didn’t dare pass the expense along. When he wasn’t deep into his work, he spent hours talking to Jessica, trying to make a connection, trying to help her heal. He made progress week after week. When the renovations were complete, he asked her out. They went for country drives to the Poconos in Pennsylvania. They visited the boardwalks of the Jersey coast. They made excursions into New York City to watch Broadway plays. And slowly but surely, Jason won her over. He moved in within a year and the two married January 1, 1944. By July, my great grandfather, Damon was born. 

 

Now, on to the last subject of this chapter: Damon. He was the only child in his household, and he was practically his father’s partner from when he was seven years old. He opted to go with his dad to work sites on Saturdays over playing with neighborhood kids almost without fail. He started out only passing a hammer from the toolkit or fetching a glass of water from the client’s kitchen, but he became more helpful as he grew up. Like most of the men in his family before him, Damon didn’t have much interest in school; but he was very adept at practical learning. He went from passing hammers to using hammers. He learned to cut wood with precision, to lay brick like a natural born mason, to build entire rooms from skeletons frames, and to install a hardwood floor by himself in only one day. By the time he was seventeen, he was essentially a veteran contractor—and he had a lot more money than the average teenager. To him, school was simply in the way. He dropped out in the middle of the 11th grade and he didn’t look back. 

From my knowledge, he was the only McArthur to know his calling from childhood. Well, that is, if you could call it a childhood. But really, he was one of those rare kids who didn’t need one. Being around his father and working with a true purpose, that was his key to happiness. Despite being a dropout, he was a gift of a son and a symbol of stability. However, things around him were anything but stable.

Damon’s hometown was changing, and it was changing drastically. The Newark his father had moved to a generation ago was dying. All over town people were leaving, and they were being replaced by waves of black migrants from the South. They came to Newark for industrial jobs and a better standard of living like countless immigrants and migrants before them, but they were late to the party. They simply inherited used neighborhoods and a used way of life. The jobs that had lured them were in their death throws—they were being strangled by a changing economy.

It’s easy to see how it happened. The U.S.A. finished fighting World War II in 1945. The victorious soldiers came home, the war machine was turned down, and all of that sweet wartime spending, spending that had propped up the economy, fell off a cliff. So, if you are a government, what do you do? How do you create jobs for millions of able-bodied men looking for work? The answer is common sense. You find a new stimulant; invent a new stimulant. You initiate programs that will motivate investors to invest and hire people. You give banks a reason to loan, and give them the tools to administer this capital effectively. You give consumers money to spend and a reason to spend it. You build things.

Put yourself in the place of a typical soldier returning home to the slums of Newark. Imagine someone having a candid conversation with you. Imagine them asking you some tough questions. Questions like: Aren’t you tired of living in that cramped tenement? Do you really want to continue dealing with that landlord? Do you really want to continue living in that small house that’s falling apart? How do you stand breathing that city air? Are you really okay with all the smells and all the noise? Doesn’t it drive you crazy? Wouldn’t you like to have a car someday? You do? Well, where the hell are you going to park the thing? And are you absolutely sure you want to work in some cramped riverside factory like your father and grandfather? Is that how you want to raise your children? Where is your ambition?

Tell you what. I have a plan for you. And I believe you are going to love it. We’re going to get you out of that filthy city. How would you like to own your own home? Yes! That’s right. It’ll be yours. Look, you fought the war. You defended our freedom. You deserve it. So here’s how we’ll help you out. We’ll give you a loan. It’ll be cheap. Super cheap. Your payment will be about the same as what you fork over to that lousy slumlord who can’t even provide you with proper heat in the winter. You can say so long to funding that bastard’s dream and say hello to funding your own. And don’t you worry about those pesky Negros moving into your new neighborhood, destroying your property value. We’ll make sure they remain in the city, or at least away from you. And don’t you worry about getting around. We’re going to build highways, interstate highways that will get you wherever you need to go. We’ll move heaven and earth, and certainly old neighborhoods, so that you can ride through the city from one end to the other, without stopping anywhere except for where you want. And if you’d like to get away for a while, you can ride from coast to coast, enjoy all the beauty that this land has to offer. It’ll be just like riding a train—your own personal train.  And don’t you worry about a job. We’ll help to pay for your education through the G.I. Bill so that you can enter the white-collar work force and leave those shitty urban gigs of the old days behind. Or if you wish to remain blue collar, you can opt for a good union job. And don’t you worry about the necessities. There will be gas stations, and shopping malls and big box grocery stores. And don’t you worry about leisure. There will be bowling alleys, and movie theaters and spacious restaurants. This is the great land of opportunity and your opportunity is right before you now. On this I will guarantee. The grass will be greener on the other side.

And the grass was certainly greener on the other side for contractors. Damon and his father had more work than they could dream of. They bounced from project to project all across the state. They worked on houses in Essex County, houses in Bergen County, houses in Hudson County, houses in Passaic County, in Union County, in Middlesex and Somerset and Hunterdon and Monmouth and Ocean. The two, and a rotating cast of random workers, would travel in a Black 1959 Ford Styleside, and they would stay gone for days at a time. The sixties were very good years.

Eventually, Jason reasoned that it made no sense to stay in Newark at all, especially since he was locked into making his living outside the declining city. So the family moved into a four bedroom house on Linden Avenue in Bloomfield, NJ, in July of 1964. The new home was twice the size of their old one, and it had tan panel siding, a tall, red brick chimney, and a two-door garage. The property was two solid acres, and the backyard featured an oval, above-ground pool. Damon loved that house and neighborhood so much that he opted to live with his parents instead of on his own. He was a regular at cookouts and block parties throughout the summers. This lifestyle was an incredible contrast to the misery that was taking place a mere five miles to his south, which culminated in the Newark Riots of July 1967.

In 1970, Jason had finally had enough and earned enough, so he and his wife, Jennifer, moved to St. Simons to live out the rest of their years in blissful Southern retirement. And with his father gone, Damon took over the business, he inherited the house, and he finally focused on finding a wife.

It took him three months to run into someone special. Damon was shopping one Sunday for some much needed clothes at Garden State Plaza, a mall in Paramus, NJ. He was walking down an aisle of a department store, minding his own business, when a young lady approached him. This young lady was a cute brunette in Tessa eyeglasses, and she was short and thick in all the right places. Leslie Maynard was determined to ask the first male she ran across if she was making a good selection in shoes. They were red pumps and she was buying them for a date. Well, I don’t have the details of that conversation, but obviously Damon played his cards right. Leslie ended up not buying the shoes, she also canceled the date with the man and went out with my GGF instead. It’s amazing how a life-altering moment can happen when you least expect it. A relationship, and ultimately a child, and ultimately a future president sparked from a simple question asked to a random stranger.

The two were polar opposites in a lot of ways. Leslie was a bookish school teacher in Nutley, and Damon didn’t care for reading at all. Leslie liked to stay inside the house, and Damon always looked for an excuse to go out. Leslie never touched a cigarette or  sipped a swallow of alcohol in her life, and Damon smoked and drank on a regular basis. But the two couldn’t stand being apart. Both found the other exotic, a puzzle that couldn’t be figured out or let go. By Christmas of 1970 they were living together, then they married in 1972 at the Essex County Courthouse.

And there you have it. A piece of my family history to within a hundred years of this writing. Nothing that signals the arising of a future Statesman, I’m sure. But things are just getting warmed up. The McArthur story reaches a pivot with the next generation.



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The Last Statesman
by

Christopher Hunter
Copyright © 2013 Christopher Hunter



First Entry

August 10, 2068

3:17pm

Out of all the responsibilities I have ever had, out of all the duties ever imposed of me, self-imposed or not, in my life, this has to be the hardest and the easiest at the same time. The very words you are reading are a crossroad unlike any other. On one hand, it would be so simple for me to say forget it. It would be so simple to go back into the house and lie on that horsehide couch and do nothing. To simply wait for this damned cancer to take hold and send me into the next existence, like it will do to so many others, like it did to the love of my life, whom I just buried not even fifteen minutes ago by my bare hands. It would be so simple for me to let go of everything since everything is already lost. It would be so simple for me to say fuck the world because the world has said fuck me. But on the other hand, it would be a horrible waste for me to not attempt to tell my story. There is just something deep within my heart that tells me it would be a sin, an act of ultimate selfishness, to let all of this inside me perish without a fight. I owe it to the countless faces, the countless places that have meant so much, not just to me, but to everyone who was around me. Though there is no guarantee that these words will reach a single soul other than myself, this is still the most righteous of quests I could ever take up.

So how do we start? Well, first off, let me start by thanking you. If this is indeed being read right now, then it means I am not alone. It means I am in your company. And let me tell you, your company means everything to me right now. For you see, I am facing a darkness men are not designed to face. This writing is the last testimony of a refugee. A refugee who has lost his job, his home, his worldly possessions, his nation and his very family. Without your witness, I have nothing at all, I am nothing at all. So let me pay homage to you, dear reader, for you are the Northern Star, guiding me through this one last journey. And since you are giving me this most precious and noble gift, your audience, let me make this vow to you. I am going to tell you the truth, the absolute truth. You will see as I see, you will know as I know. For the following words we will become one. We will enter a sacred covenant that stretches across the time and space between us.

And now that we have this connection, my new friend, allow me to introduce myself. Depending on when you read this, you may be very familiar with who I am. My name is Joseph Andrew McArthur. I am the third and the final president of the Republic of East America.

It may be hard to believe, but it is true. Even as I write this with my own fingers, the absurdity of this turnaround, of living in this harsh but temporary reality, it is amazing to digest. Only one week ago—less than one hundred and seventy five hours ago—I was in the presidential residence in Hartford, Connecticut, right at the corner of Park Street and Main Street. It was a fortress under attack by that time, but even as everything was crumbling around that building, I still had hope. The people inside with me still had hope. Our nation still existed, with a fledgling pulse, a struggling beat of the heart. We were like victims of a biblical flood, huddled at the top of an attic with relentless doom climbing the length of our legs; but even in those trying moments, we believed that the danger would recede, that there would be a miracle. But fate doesn’t give a damn about miracles except for when it is supposed to. I am the lone survivor from that attic, but still, I am a drowned man. This is the tale of a ghost.

Speaking of, it is such a surreal experience to be the last leader of a country. To live with the fact, even if only briefly, that it all expired under my watch. From the northernmost villages of Maine to the far reaches of southern North Carolina, this glorious land had a population of over two hundred and nineteen million souls; most of them will be lost by the end of this month. That’s millions of children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, the rich and the poor, the good and the not so good—and they all had one thing in common. They trusted that their government would protect them. They trusted that their nation would not topple over and dissipate like dew retreating from the new day; that it would not leave them defenseless, leave so many of them to perish. And in this government they turned to one man above all others to have the answers. They turned to one man above all others to prevent the unthinkable. And it must have been so disappointing for them to realize that that one man couldn't help them. Couldn’t even come close. Couldn’t even help himself or the ones he loved.

That is the burden that I carry with me into the abyss. It will not be easy to share this, however, share this I must. But do not worry, my friend. I am not going to inundate you with only the horrors I have seen or the torture that I have felt and continue to feel. As with all things that are of the real world—that are of humanity—there is beauty along with the ugly, there is righteousness along with the evil. My life was a ride with as many ups as there were downs. There were smiles that countered the tears, there were victories that countered the defeats, and there was life that countered the death. Even though there will be no happy ending for me, let us look at this as a celebration. Even though I march into death’s valley, let me rejoice for my words live through you. Thank you. Thank you for accompanying me on this final task. The final task of the Last Statesman.




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