Conversations at Swans Café
(Swans - May 9, 2011) Activist, agitator, author, poet, kick-boxer; the multi-talented Mickey Z is all of these things and more. Known for his wit and sharp analysis, a deep concern for humanity and the environment undergirds all of his work. His is a refreshing and much-needed voice of opposition. Here we discuss his latest books.
[GE] You have two new books out, both quite entertaining. What I found especially interesting about Personal Trainer Diaries was the theme of workplace and commute as microcosm of American society. In your introduction, you write: "An upscale health club is one place where the different classes meet and mingle." How those interactions play out in the stories you relate is not only humorous, but quite revealing. Has there been any noticeable trend over the course of your career in terms of the interactions between wealthy health club members and other members and the staff? And do you see a connection in that pattern in the larger society?
[MZ] In terms of the wealthy, they have often viewed their trainers as they view their drivers, their kids' tutors, etc. However, as training becomes an increasingly specialized field and trainers have more and more education, there's a subtle shift. Subtle. Still, I'm much more comfortable with non-rich clients. Little by little, personal training has become more common and thus, my clients are no longer just the affluent. This creates a new dynamic for me as I can interact with them as a peer rather than just another "helper." That's partially why I've moved my training business almost exclusively to Astoria (my neighborhood) where I get to work with teachers, blue-collar workers, etc.
[GE] I get the impression from your book there has been a shift over the years in your field, which now demands more in the way of qualifications, but offers less in the way of pay, benefits, and security. I see parallels with the job market in the fields I am familiar with.
[MZ] Yeah, it's a good thing they keep better tabs on who calls her/himself a trainer but the rise in popularity in this field has created a glut of personal trainers. The predictable offshoot is as you surmise.
[GE] Why do you think that is? Is it entirely attributable to a glut of workers in the field? Or are other factors at play?
[MZ] Like many (most?) other fields, there is the factor of large chains of gyms dominating the business and setting the standards in terms of pay, benefits, etc.
[GE] In your book you have an interesting story about a client's comment upon seeing on the television people wading through water after Hurricane Katrina. It rather reminded me of a similar story of my own, back in the Reagan era, when I mentioned to a co-worker how the parks in San Francisco were filled with tents of homeless people -- a sight I had never seen in the city before. My co-worker's puzzled response was: "What's the matter with those people? Why don't they get a job?" There is a large segment of the population that is completely disconnected from the reality of what life is like for those who have to struggle. What are your thoughts on that?
[MZ] I'd guess it's the inevitable result of the rise of (so-called) free market libertarianism. You gotta love how those poor oppressed libertarians crave the "individual freedom" to accumulate material goods and private property by absolutely any means necessary -- without any of that nasty "big government" stuff, of course -- but choose to ignore that their entire worldview and lifestyle could not possibly exist if not for massive government intervention, e.g., coast to coast police forces, one million taxpayer dollars per minute spent to sustain the US military, and socialism in the form of corporate welfare to help create all those liberty-loving capitalist heroes.
[GE] It is a process of selective consciousness. Which takes me to your other new book, Darker Shade of Green. It seems to me that one of the main themes of that book is to lead readers to regard the humanity of the homeless. That's not something that people are generally encouraged to consider.
[MZ] I created the lead character, a homeless genius named Allie Romano, back in 1989 for a screenplay so he's grown with me and become close to my heart. Allie has made a cameo in each of my first two novels, CPR for Dummies and Dear Vito, and now he shares top billing in Darker Shade of Green with J.T., the 12-year-old boy to whom he serves as mentor. As you surmise, I wanted to re-humanize the homeless (by the way, my next novel is called Revenge of the Homeless) but I also wanted to show how Allie's holistic worldview was not unlike the pre-jaded perspective of a child. In the beginner's mind, things can be much clearer. The trick is to maintain a beginner's mind in the face of a cultural propaganda onslaught.
[GE] In regard to that cultural propaganda onslaught, your book refers to an analogy William Burroughs made to the bullfight.
[MZ] Indeed, in his role as Internet agitator, Allie posts:
William Burroughs once wrote about how we humans -- like the bull in a bullfight -- tend to focus on the elusive red cape instead of the matador. Indeed, we are all-too-easily distracted from real targets by an attractive image or illusion.
Of course, some bulls see right through the red cape, uh, bullshit...and quite justifiably introduce the matador to the business end of their horns. Before you mistake that for a lesson and/or inspiration, don't forget that such bulls are promptly killed while the matador is mourned as a brave hero.
Here's my question: If every bull in every bullfight were to gore every matador, how long would it be before bullfights were a thing of the past?
[GE] Hope alone isn't enough, is it?
[MZ] For most folks, the verb "hope" is virtually synonymous with "pray," while "hope" the noun is often interchangeable with "faith." We live on a planet brimming with talk of hope yet that same planet is under perpetual assault -- and the hopers are losing. The corporations raping our eco-systems don't hope they can steal more land, exploit it, poison it, and make boatloads of cash. They make a plan and make it happen -- damn the torpedoes. (You might even call it "direct action.")
[GE] Indeed. Corporations are not shy about pursuing their interests -- at our expense. Is there anything else that you would like people to know about your new books?
[MZ] Both books -- in their own way -- illustrate the need for solidarity against the dominant culture. And the need for courage, creativity, and compassion as we choose sides in the war against imagination. Raise your weapons (whatever they may be) because as Allie Romano declares: "It's never too late."
Personal Trainer Diaries
Darker Shade of Green
Visit Mickey Z at http://www.mickeyz.net/
If you find Gregory Elich's work valuable, please consider
Feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Gregory Elich 2011. All rights reserved.
Have your say
Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number (the city, state/country where you reside is paramount information). When/if we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.
About the Author
Gregory Elich is an independent researcher, a journalist, and an activist. (back)