FOCUS post: “Let’s Make a Deal” on 47th StreetBuckyW Don DeLillo Original Series: "Take a Walk on the Wild Side: 47th St. NYC Photo Diary and Novel Tour
This post relates my personal experience as a pedestrian on the bustling stretch from 5th to 6th Avenue in the Diamond District, and my thoughts on Cosmopolis and Eric’s world.
There were two places on 47th where I really felt a connection with Cosmopolis. One was here, about commerce and the old and new New York. The other was in Hell’s Kitchen where I felt Eric’s connection to his roots as a boy, how far he’d come, and how he reconnected with his humanity there.
The businessman was having a very intense conversation about a deal that they “might be able to pull off.” He said the company was not quite bankrupt, that they thought they could salvage a deal, not a strong equity position, but something. My sense was he was trying to made some lemonade out of a lemon! All I know is I knew he was talking into state of the art technology, to someone, somewhere in the world. He’s talking about a company and money, but it’s talk, I can’t see the commerce. I can’t see who he’s talking to. I can’t even see the device he’s talking into!
|You even see evidence of currency here;
Dunbar armored trucks in the street
In contrast, on 5th Ave. you see everything– the commerce, the transactions all around you, the two parties making the deal. I felt like I was walking into a bazaar. I could just as easily be in a city of 100 years ago, bustling, crowded, dirtier. Men were crowded along the sidewalks, all trying to engage any pedestrian in their midst. This is in spite of signs warning you to not do business with the people who are trying so hard to get you to do just that. It seemed impossible to escape them!
Every other guy on the street was asking me “cash for gold?” or “shop for jewelry today?” I am a polite person, but had to say “no” so often, I dropped the “thanks” after a while. I had tucked my brand new iPad well inside my bag, but someone spied it and tried to offer me money for it. I hid it better.
I did go into one jewelry store to see what it was like. I bought something that got me a visit to the basement of the establishment. It was fascinating. I felt I was going back in time. The wood cabinets, they looked like they were from many decades ago. There was a whole underground teaming with life. Rooms for appraising value, for deal-making, blow torches to heat metal, other things I couldn’t recognize as something to do with making jewelry, people busily walking to and fro. Everyone seemed to have their own specialized job and place to be.
I decided to play “let’s make a deal.” I hemmed and hawed about the suggested price. The saleswoman finally said, what will it take to make you my first customer of the day? I made an offer about 30% less, and she accepted. So, I didn’t get through that block without losing some cash, but I think I did alright on my little piece of gold….
It was striking, how I moved from one very different world of commerce to another in just a few blocks. I felt I understood some of what DeLillo was trying to convey– the difference of Eric’s “white noisy,” high tech, low [human] touch world and the Diamond District’s visually rich, low tech, high [human] touch. I thought, nevermind 100 years ago, the way business is done here can’t be much different than the deal-making done on the “Silk Road” of Asia in ancient times.
Then just this week I read Cronenberg’s explanation for why he changed the Japanese yen in the novel to the Chinese yuan. One reason was the yen had collapsed back of the time of the novel, and the film is set now. But the other reason had me thinking, how interesting, the contrast between the Silk Road commerce so important to building the Chinese civilization, and now we’re reading about currency trading and the future invading the present, and we’re hearing how the Chinese yuan might displace the US dollar as the world currency. The quote from Cronenberg, below (HeyUGuys interview.)
“In DeLillo’s book, it’s the Japanese Yen that Eric Packer is investing in, yet you changed it to the Chinese Yuan for the film – why did you make the change? Cronenberg: That was just my feeble attempt, as a complete ignoramus in terms of the economy, to make it a little futuristic. The Yen, since the book was written, has collapsed, and then you add the tsunami that hit Japan, and suddenly Japan is staggering. But when it was written, it was like the Rising Sun, everyone was terrified of Japan – the Yen was going to be the world currency. But now it’s China. The look to the East was correct, but it’s really China that will be a world power, and by 2015 the Yuan will be a fully convertible currency and might well displace the dollar as the world currency. That’s the Chinese plan, and nobody seems to think that it won’t happen. That was all I did there, I don’t think it really changed the tone of it though.” Source of quote
The moral of my story? I guess it’s don’t be afraid to make your own deal! Onward to Times Square…