On Christmas Eve, the one on December 24 not the one on January 6, I was having a beer at JG Mellon’s, an old bar on New York’s Third Avenue. Mellon’s is an institution that’s been around since the 1920’s when it was first a brewery, then a speakeasy. It used to be under the El, the old elevated subway before they tore it down. Back then the trains rumbled by above you, rattling your drink and teeth. Now it is smack dab in the middle of the classy Upper East Side bracketed by two fancy expensive French patisseries.
It’s an appropriate place to have a drink on this consumer driven Christmas for its cash only, no credit cards thank you, living up to the old motto “In God we trust, everyone else pays cash”.
I was with Toma, an old Belgrade friend, who was in town visiting. The bar was decorated with tinsel and lights. The bartenders wore ties made of holly and mistletoe and Christmas songs played softly in the background. It was late afternoon and people were dropping in on the way home, exhausted after shopping, for a quick pick me up before dealing with more festivities.
As Serbs, with our Christmas Eve yet to come, Toma and I were out of place in that bar. After the second, or was it the third beer, our talk turned to politics. Now politics in Serbia and America are all about cash and Mellon’s, with its cash only policy was just the right place for this little talk.
Toma explained the ins and outs of today’s Serbian politics, who was doing what, to whom and why. Seems back in Belgrade political scores were being settled with a tycoon and his son arrested and hauled in for questioning. A number of businessmen with political ties were being investigated for “abuse of office, assets and properties.” Elected officials and administration figures were prominent in his telling of the story.
You can’t have graft and corruption without government. Back in the 1920’s Willie Sutton robed banks because “that’s where the money was”. Now you rob government because that’s where the money is. It all sounded familiar to me, but with a difference. Serbs bribe and make payoffs to politicians in office, in power making it a sure thing. In America we bribe and pay off politicians during elections before they take office, calling them “political contributions”.
It’s betting on who is likely to win the election; it’s like gambling and gambling is legal in the United States.
I brought Toma up to date as to the results of our recent presidential election where at least $2 billion dollars were spent in support of this or that candidate. The $2 billion was made up of voluntary contributions from private and corporate sources. If you believe that those donors expect nothing in return, then I have a bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge for starters, for sale, right here in New York City.
After the election, America is for sale. It will be interesting to see which contributions, let’s call them “bets”, pay off and for whom. But I am sure there will be no criminal investigations like in Serbia. It was all perfectly legal.
Toma and I agreed upon one thing. The Serbian and American voters were equally stupid and to blame. Speaking of voters, they are political prisoners, inmates. Inmates live in prisons and in the State of Georgia prisons were notorious. The inmates owned the asylum with the warden and the guards standing by, supposedly in charge. The problem with the prisons said Lester Maddox, then the governor of Georgia was “the quality of the inmates.” The problem with democracy is the quality of voters.
We walked out of the bar onto festive Third Avenue just as snow flurries started to fall with Bing Crosby singing and dreaming of a “White Christmas just like the ones I used to know.”
Deyan Ranko Brashich, an attorney, Op-Ed columnist, resides in New York City. “Letters from America,” a collection of essays, will be published January, 2013. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com.