Friday, February 1, 2013

Letters to Vogue: 'Come, Come, Nuclear Bombs'

In these times of economic peril—will the Dow crack 14,000 again? Where can I sell my plasma for cash? Can I volunteer for jury duty?—we, the creatives at Et tu, Mr. Destructo?, draw what succor we can from the only financial forecast any human heart needs: the word of the Prince of Peace himself, Jesus Christ. As the First Epistle of Peter tells us, "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble."

Wise words from a former fisherman, but you don't have to have such a broke-ass job to be a paragon of humility. If you're a humble person, flaunt it—say so, loudly and proudly. Telegraph your abiding modesty until your tasteful understatement cannot be ignored. And if you happen to be a scribbler at a glossy fashion magazine like Vogue, set aside your monkish ways just long enough for your multimillion dollar Brooklyn brownstone to be captured in a multipage spread for the February issue.

Thank God that landscape designer and Vogue Contributing Editor Miranda Brooks, as well as her Gallic concubine, the architect Bastien Halard, took my advice, selflessly opening their "four-story Neo-Grec Boerum Hill brownstone" to just such a laudatory write-up and photo shoot, penned by Murphy Brown's very posh daughter. And while the reactions are still pouring in, this whirlwind jaunt through a mansion stuffed to the rafters with Moroccan rugs, ponies and wonderful people has seemed to provoke one common reaction: readers want to smash all the windows out with bricks, throw dynamite in the furnace, and guillotine Miranda and Bastien in Prospect Park.

In the pantheon of repulsive celebrations of New York's most precious resource—the idle rich—Vogue's "American Pastoral" spread is a Mona Lisa snarl, a Gucci jackboot, everything smug, evil and cruel about the one percent, distilled, bottled and sprayed in your eyes. It's not enough anymore to be fabulously rich; the hoi polloi must have some faint awareness that there exist people with rooftop Elizabethan gardens and 40 feet of "unfinished 300-year-old white oak" for a kitchen counter.

Vogue is certainly no stranger to this amoral worship of money and power; just ask Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad, who had some sleazy PR firm buy her the kind of glowing profile usually reserved for a Princess Diana.

Well dammit, we here at Mr. Destructo think Vogue needs to get their priorities straight on who gets the white-glove, soft-focus rubdowns. It's not the well-heeled, graceless, stinking rich who control everything else on the planet. "American Pastoral" inadvertently reveals Brooks and Halard to be deeply insecure, crass noveau riche, lowballing their renovations by hiring desperate, dirt-cheap Chinese laborers, and whining about maids who can't get to work on time, just because Hurricane Sandy knocked out train service. Where's the Vogue-style profiles of those poor souls?

You can meet them below.

Nassau County Pastoral: Maria Reyes-Reynoso's Windswept Home

Trading El Salvador for West Babylon, Long Island, Brooklyn housekeeper/maid Maria Reyes-Reynoso and her seafood processor husband, Raúl, saw Hurricane Sandy transform their rented, two bedroom house into a pile of splinters.

By General Gandhi

“Did you feed the children?” Maria Reyes-Reynoso asks her husband, Raúl, in Spanish, as she searches through a Hefty bag full of everything she owns for a toothbrush. ""—yes, he has. And he’s fished the dog's corpse out of the pool of mud and oil, which Raúl, a foreman at a seafood processing plant in Hampton Bays, nervously waded through, unsure if any live wires might've electrified the water. To his credit, he did so anyway so that none of his four children would see Charro's corpse, though his twelve year-old son Elder noticed the next morning a torn, furry ear caught between the lid and rim of a neighbor's trashcan.

“Last night really made me remember it all,” says Maria, without a hint of nostalgia because she is referring not to her employer's unbelievable find of a genuine etched glass Gerrit Rietveld hanging light fixture in Provincetown last fall, but to 1982's Hurricane Paul, which killed two of Maria's cousins and her grandmother in San Salvador.

True, the plotline was not wholly original—young impoverished couple with two toddlers flees to New York City in 1983, motivated by the murders of thousands of their countrymen by death squads in the Salvadoran Civil War—but the execution couldn’t have been more DIY (Maria and Raúl first lived for eight months in a Honduran refugee camp), a refreshing departure for a couple used to gas cooking and potable water. Indeed, Maria and Raúl completed the emigration with a series of consular bribes that bankrupted the family, a princely sum roughly equivalent to what Maria's employer would pay for an eighteenth-century Swedish carved vanity bench.

The now-demolished 1953 Levitt-style house had first been rented in 2001, in keeping with the growing trend of de facto redlining that has racially segregated Long Island. “It wasn’t about an architectural statement, really. It was more about having a place to live," explains Maria, who is salaried at a cool $23,000 dollars.

The lifestyle the family has created after their badly damaged home caught fire and was knocked down with payloaders onto their water-damaged Dodge Caravan by the fire department further insulates them from the urban bustle. The six Reynoso family members live in one Motel 6 room and rarely venture out except, except for Maria to deliver grass-fed pork confit cassoulet from Brooklyn Kitchen Labs to her employer Miranda Brooks's Tonys viewing party, a vibrant "Old West"-themed affair held on the grounds of her repurposed design-manse. Maria's eight year-old daughter Esperanza toes a lump of drywall in the room she once shared with her siblings, before turning back in the direction of her dead dog's trash can. “You loved your house, didn't you, Charro?” He is in good company.

Little Fuzhou Pastoral: Wei Qu's Barely Inhabitable Home

Trading Fujian Province for 8th Avenue, Brooklyn, Chinese day laborer Wei Qu and his three equally emotionally dead roommates transform their condemned one-room slum housing into an unbearable indignity.

By Big Mark Brendle

Shop the exotic neo-urban look of Wei Qu's squalid apartment HERE.

"Did you feed yourself?" Wei Qu's mother asks her emigrated son in a letter, as he smokes his last cigarette outside the one bedroom apartment he shares with four of his co-workers. Yes, he has. He stopped by McDonalds on his walk home, and could still feel the "food" sitting in the bottom of his stomach like a lead weight. And he's replaced the bandage on his hand where, in a recent accident at his job as a laborer, or contractor as they prefer to call him, he lacerated his right middle finger with a deep cut down to the bone.

To his professional credit, Wei Qu completed his day's work with the injury, because he knew that if he sought immediate medical attention, or indeed even let his employers know of his injury, they would replace him without hesitation. He had withstood the injury, though Wei Qu noticed the next morning that his rapidly aging face did look rather haggard.

And now it's a sleeting Wednesday, he has two more days left to work, and he's bracing for the inevitable loss of income when either this job is finished—or his employers simply decide he isn't needed. "Last night I wanted to kill myself," says Wei Qu, without a hint of nostalgia because he is referring not to the specific events of last night, but to the deep sadness and sense of injustice that permeates his entire life, one he's felt since before moving to America, leaving behind his two daughters, Poppy, six, and Violette Grey, four.

True, the plotline was not wholly original—destitute foreign worker comes to America seeking bottom-rung employment, motivated by a growing desire not to die of starvation or disease in his mid-thirties—but the execution couldn't have been more DIY (Wei Qu found the job by standing for hours in front of a Home Depot, begging the white bosses for work, offering to work for a few cents less an hour than the next guy), a refreshing departure for a human being whose own country has been so ravaged by the US' brutal globalism and its own oppressive government that he was forced to leave behind his family and culture to slave for pompous psychopaths. (Wei Qu, a laborer and thinking, feeling human being, was never in a position to receive an education, because as a young boy, he had to work in a factory producing computer parts to help support his family.) Indeed, Wei Qu worked on this renovation for six months for a White American employer incapable of feeling empathy, and getting paid less in total than the cost of one of his employer's ridiculous outfits.

His apartment had been built as low-income housing sometime in the 1970s. "Even for one person, the apartment is small," Wei Qu wrote to his mother. "But five, sometimes six of us manage here, despite the lack of fresh air, the broken toilet and the ever-increasing rent, which is demanded on the first without leeway by the manager who doesn't trust Chinese to pay on time." But he had nowhere else to go, he had searched desperately for another place to live, unable to find anything that he could afford, so he made the journey back inside the humid apartment and tried to turn inward, detaching his consciousness from his physical surroundings to make it through the night. He walked past the living room, where his friend Huang slept in a Goodwill sleeping bag on the floor, wearing a full ski mask over his head, "not so much for warmth, but to keep the roaches out."

Everything else was cheap plastic, bought or stolen from Wal-Mart. "It wasn't an aesthetic statement, really. It was more about how we couldn’t afford to do anything else," wrote Wei Qu in his letter, surrounded by walls stained yellow from the tobacco of previous residents.

The apartment was Wei Qu's prison. With everything from its windowless bedrooms to its peeling linoleum, the original plan was to live cheaply in order to save up a little bit of money and take advantage of America's touted social mobility. But in the end, the system ground him down to dirt. "I wanted to really have a better life, so my children had room to flourish," he wrote, ending his letter, the last he would write to his mother or anyone else.