As a twenty-something corporate employee with a doctor-in-training girlfriend, Livingstone Modicai Ackerman—Liv, to his friends—personifies success. Yet all is not as it seems. His job is tedious and soul-gutting, his girlfriend is a vacuous, image-conscious snob, and, meanwhile, his pathologically narcissistic parents are constant irritants. Add to this the febrile political climate dominated by a reactionary group, the Patriot Posse, led by a mendacious radio personality with outlandish hair and catchy campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again,” is a presidential candidate—and he’s winning!
Overwhelmed and struggling to maintain a sense of dignity and worth, Liv quits his job, breaks up with his girlfriend, and leaves for Spain to explore the existential question: Why live?
Told with humorous charm and wit, Why Liv? examines why modern work is so devoid of purpose and why reactionary politics is so alluring in America. Most of all, it humbly attempts to offer a reason to persevere during difficult times.
New York eateries, like all fashionable commodities, have mysterious life cycles. For no apparent reason, one becomes an overnight sensation while another shutters its doors. What they lack in culinary quality they make up for in lavish explanations for what is on offer, along with garish interior designs.
The cabbie groaned when I mentioned my destination. “Again? You must be the fourth person this week. I’ve never heard of the place before. I’ll bet it won’t be around next year. Always works that way. Here today, gone tomorrow.”
The rain had tapered off by the time we arrived at the restaurant, though not enough to preclude a fight for the cab. Two women in smart business attire shot forward as the vehicle pulled up to the curb. Both jockeyed for a position like basketball for- wards angling for a rebound. When I poked my head out, they elbowed each other, shouting epithets.
“I was here first, bitch.”
“Was not,” the other protested before managing to grab her rival’s handbag and throwing it down on the sidewalk. Then she slid into the taxi and slammed the door as I exited.
A line of well-dressed guests, perhaps twenty in total, stretched down the block, a sea of protective umbrellas in front of Les Parisiennes. Two concierges, outfitted with radios tucked discreetly inside their suits like Secret Service agents, were stationed at the entrance. Occasionally, one would raise his sleeve to his mouth and
mutter into a hidden microphone. It added to the air of exclusivity.
I volunteered my name to the shorter one. “I’m meeting a friend, Alex Cunningham, who has a reservation. He might be here already.”
The concierge motioned me forward. A cacophony of voices and clanging of wine glasses and utensils greeted me as I entered. To my left was a neon-lit bar manned by several beret-wearing bartenders busily pouring drinks. Stylish patrons sat on a line of leather stools; a vacant one was monogrammed with the Eiffel Tower.
“Mr. Ackerman?” asked a pretty brunette wearing a shapely business suit.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Mr. Cunningham is waiting. This way, s’il vous plaît.” She flashed a flirtatious smile and pointed me in the direction of the dining room, a forest of white-linen-adorned tables where dozens of well-heeled guests sat dressed to the nines.
Waiters in black ties carrying trays stacked with silver-dish-covered plates moved about with the practiced precision of theater stagehands. An elaborate chandelier hung from a ceiling deco- rated with a faux fresco. The scene featured a woman in a tunic stretching a beefy arm out to grasp a glass of wine offered up by a male suitor in armor, behind which scores of revelers were en- joying the bacchanal. It was a grotesque counterpoint to the economic malaise gripping the country. Perhaps that was the point.
“Monsieur, did you get struck in the rain?” the maître d’ asked.
“Not really,” I responded.
“Très bien. The city can be very difficult to navigate on days like today. But you’re here, which is all that matters.”
The maître d’ shepherded me through the dining room to a ta- ble in the far corner where Alex was sitting. He was on the phone. Motioning apologetically for me to sit down, he whispered, “I’ll be off in a sec. It’s my boss.”
Alex, blond and blue-eyed, had a button nose, square jaw, and two rows of perfectly aligned teeth. Muscular yet sinewy, he stood six-foot-two and sported two extravagantly long arms that were in perpetual motion. He carried himself with a casual indifference easily mistaken for arrogance.
The son of two left-wing academics, Alex had grown up in Southern California. With the benefit of his massive wingspan for balance, he became such an accomplished surfer that he contemplated delaying college to compete professionally. He was also a math genius. In elementary school, he’d wowed teachers with a complex equation that attempted to explain wave action. By high school, he was taking college-level
classes. NASA recruited him out of high school, but he chose MIT instead and graduated in three years.
Like many graduates of America’s most prestigious schools, Alex had gravitated toward finance, a profession that, at least superficially, was ill-suited for his devil-may-care deportment and liberal pedigree. And he worked for one of the most prominent Wall Street banks, a notoriously crooked practitioner that was a major contributor to the global financial crisis.
A fast climber in the investment banking division, the bank’s heart of darkness, he worked alongside the country’s brightest minds and watched them craft financial instruments designed to confuse government regulators. It worked. The Rube Goldberg- like instruments were so complex that nobody understood them. Nobody cared. Why would they? No reason existed for sec- ond-guessing as long as the economy was humming along. But then the music stopped.
“It’s just a job. That’s all,” Alex had announced with characteristic cheer when we’d first met three years ago at a Midtown party for a mutual friend. “Some people cut hair, others fix cars. I rip off pensions.” It was a joke, of course. Or was it? At the time, I wondered.
“Yeah, I know,” he said into the phone, now speaking loudly over the restaurant’s din, while I took in the gaudy décor. “I’m gonna get on that later. They’re overleveraged and highly geared. They can’t afford additional obligations, much less more risk. Their value horizon is real long. Too long. We’ve got the better hand. It’s not even close. I’m going do a few more go-rounds with different base assumptions, but I think we’re solid. We…right… right. Okay, I’ll do it. Yeah. Okay. Bye.”
I bided my time by scanning the surroundings. The dining room was filled to capacity. The patrons tended to be middle-aged, with a few exceptions, and all were formally attired. I did not see a black face among them. New York was among the world’s most diverse cities, a glorious melting pot. But you wouldn’t have known that here. Les Parisiennes might as well have been in Wyoming.
Thank you, Jon Sebastian Shifrin and RABT Book Tours
About the Author
Jon Sebastian Shifrin is a writer plying his trade in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, The Hill, Reunion: The Dallas Review, The Missing Slate, The Indian Review, and Futures Trading. Jon also is the founder of the popular current events website, The Daily Dissident (www.dailydissident.com). His non-literary career in politics has taken him from the White House to Capitol Hill to think tanks in Washington and Europe. To learn more about Why Liv?, visit http://www.whyliv.com.
5 Physical Copies and 10 eBooks