“I believe in America. America has made my fortune.” The introductory line of Godfather set the stage for so many who wished to tell the story of the real America, the land of opportunity, the place where some make it while many do not. Compromises of time and energy are bound to lead to a false sense of achievement. High risk does not guarantee high reward as one of the possibilities is always no reward and even loss. However, low risk hardly leads to anything and if it does, usually only to menial success. And that may not be such a bad thing. When someone mentions economics, think less of dollars and cents and more of the general system of production, consumption, and the transfer of wealth. Extend that system to include time and then begin calculation of risks and rewards. For the most part, there are only so many years to enjoy certain aspects of life to the fullest, but without money and access, some of that is not possible.
Cleveland opened a casino with a motto of risk being its own reward. Advertising aside, the act of gambling is an easy specific example to what many hope to achieve within the modern economic system. Walking through the spiffed up Higbee building adjacent to the Terminal Tower, the first telltale sign of financial desperation was that purified air smell, the fan which filter in new oxygen to the multi-storied grand rooms of slot machines, poker tables, and roulette. A man in the elevator said all odds improved after playing the same numbers, 5 and 10, over and over. “It’s just like life,” I said as we walked our separate ways. Like the oranges as omens of death in Godfather, the scent of brisk comfort could make you forget to bury your wallet deep in your pocket away from the small hands of the grifters. The place never closed although the bartender stated at five after two in the morning that they were no longer serving, but would be back open in the morning. They were handing out ten ounce bottles of water for two or three dollars apiece. Usually they start at five o’clock in the afternoon, but since it was early Sunday, the peak gambling hours, they would open back up to the gamblers at ten thirty or so in the morning.
Earlier that day, wandering through the cordoned off public square, people we already withdrawing as much as they could from ten dollar fee ATMs and pulling the slot lever in hopes of doubling their investment. Politicians said it would bring much needed dollars to Ohio and more specifically, Cleveland. Only a few weeks since opening, the Horseshoe Casino hums with high heeled gangsters, sightseers, wannabe rounders, day drinking rationalizers, and a slew of other people who bounce from one label to the other. Maybe a handful of them walk across the street to purchase cheaper cigarettes, but it is unlikely they will venture much further. A contingent of the 750 U.S. Marines who were coming to Cleveland for a circus performance explored the city during the day and found it to be mostly sunkissed desolate streets and blocks of unoccupied buildings.
First Lieutenant Marcus had recently returned from his second tour in Afghanistan and thought he was in for a treat with this public relations group which had been occupying various cities in the Union for the past couple years, spending a few million dollars on demonstrating their expensive toys and hopefully recruiting some unsuspecting young patriots. All that did not matter to Marcus though. He had seen the reality of a dozen or so young men driving their self-improved “high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles” around the mountainous roads through backwards-type of villages for weeks on end. His second tour had been fairly uneventful as he was assigned a detail of new recruits fresh out of Quantico who called Marcus, at least in private, Hollywood POG, referring to the Marine Corp Recruit Depot in San Diego. He learned a lot from his first tour and did not like to talk about it. Knowing what the second tour entailed, Marcus did not challenge his subordinates beyond the safety of the mission and let them assume he had not seen or experienced much. They were assigned a series of roads outside of Behsud, an area in the Wardok province, just west of Kabul. The French had an NGO in the area and one of Marcus’ responsibilities was to come to their assistance whenever they appeared to be in a binde. The French and other volunteers of the group were not afraid to show their disdain for America, even though some of the volunteers were American.
All that did not matter though. Marcus was back in stateside after the MADERA incident which was really only a small scuffle, but had resulted in a chain of command perception of a crisis and Marcus’ dismissal from his small rifle platoon. It was more a slap on the wrist and in private the colonel had told Marcus that if he gave it a year or two, he would be back in the running for captain and MEU, the highly regarded Marine expeditionary unit. Instead of heading in for an office position, Marcus had been taken on in advisory capacity to the Cleveland public relations group which was responsible for planning BLE, the Burke Lakefront Exercise, a land from water assault of the fairly empty piece of land on the shoreline of Cleveland near the end of the 750 Marine-strong Triumph. Marcus had some free-time that Saturday afternoon and while walking through some empty streets and the Arcade, I met Marcus. He did not look obvious as a Marine, whatever that is.
On the rooftop of an apartment building, which used to be a swanky Cleveland hotel, three law students sat talking of their first year and how it is meant to weed out the weak and then the following year be worked to death before enjoying a third year of broken promises. Like any job in the world these days, success is not guaranteed. Getting by is difficult enough. Professions that pay high are not easy to procure with those in the upper ten percent of the graduating law class receiving the best and the remainder fighting for the limited entry-level jobs. They knew the game and played it well, but while talking of unorthodox paths and thinking, an alternative way of moving forward, they came to an agreement on things seen and unseen. Before coming to a cohesive point, a fire in the distance near the law school became visible from the rooftop. There were no sirens in the air. Foolhardy fellow youngsters hopped over the railings, risking their lives to get a Facebook photo.
Talking of unorthodoxy, welfare came up fairly quickly due to one of the law student’s experience working in a supermarket. People with food stamps would attempt to purchase items which were either forbidden under the list of qualifying foods and drink. Alcohol of course could not be bought with food stamps.
“Some guy the other day tried to sell me food stamps,” said one of the law students. “I looked at him and just was like, you know that’s illegal man.” The down on his luck entrepreneur did not realize he was trying to make a quick ten dollar cash exchange for twenty dollar food stamp credit from a future lawyer. He was right not to make the exchange though. The investigating board which did what they could to prevent food stamp fraud very often did not go after those who perpetrated the fraud, but instead went after the employees of the store or owners. This meant the burden was entirely upon those who checked identification and ensured people weren’t getting away with buying superfluous items.
“Why spend time worrying about those people though?” asked Marcus. “Such small potatoes when it comes to the big picture.” One of the military’s chief responsibilities is that of the economic welfare, a continuance of orthodoxy and the safeguard of American interests abroad. Politicians squabbled over the tiny percentage of waste in welfare spending, in respect to the entire federal budget. “They ignore the big pieces of the pie, Social Security, Medicare, the Military, and bloody interest on each year’s deficit.” They continue to replace the wheels on a vehicle which is too heavy and inefficient, instead of a major overhaul in order to lighten the load and even invent a new type of wheel that does not need to be expensively replaced every four years.
Everyone was relatively good to each other, which is all a reasonable person can ask of society. Even though most were distracted by the flashy casino lights and glimpse upon financial gain or sexual conquest, the people in Cleveland at three in the morning were in solid form. Most of the Marines were obvious to pinpoint with their dates, who were shipped in on luxurious party buses from various local universities. These types of public relations activities always required happy Marines, so they would send out a few clean cut recon officers to wander around sorority houses, make Facebook connections, and then match make them with their counterparts the following weekend for a night out on the town. They had figured out the system to a perfect rhythm and aside from a few incidents of too much drink, were usually decent to the women and had them back to their respective sororities the following afternoon. The CO had planned a noon briefing which was more than enough time to sleep in, say goodbye to the girl in good form, and enjoy some complimentary breakfast provided by the Holiday Inn Express. Unlike the Army, which would have probably brought their own food with them, the Marines had to sustain themselves on the fly wherever they were stationed. Marcus had these experiences on too many occasion to remember, but found the stateside obligations amusing, especially in the context of their mission, which was to show-off the best of their equipment that they would unlikely have access to, at least in Marcus’ experience.
All that did not matter though. Cleveland turned out to be a nice place to have this extravaganza, according to Marcus’ CO. The size and availability of space at low cost allowed the CO to disperse more party expenses. There were strict orders on keeping people in line and were able to finagle a seat with the casino surveillance who were also providing $56 per Marine to wet their gambling whistles. Several MPs, younger football types, were walking amongst the rest of the Marines and would text to a central MP point whenever someone had too much to drink or was getting aggressive. They would then convince those around the Marine in question to return to the Holiday Inn for a cold shower. The formula worked like no other and aside from a few of the younger Marines who normally would be allowed to drink, but were unable to in many domestic taverns, so would booze up in their hotel rooms before heading out on the town.
The casino continued to hum with activity and would likely go through the dawn. The law students retired for the evening and the streets became deserted. Driving off, away and out of the city, there was an accident. Detouring around the traffic and into some residential area south of the highway, there were youngsters walking up and down the street looking like they did not wish to be found. I soon rejoined the highway and managed to run down a raccoon and rabbit. They, not sure who to be exact, recommend that you never swerve to avoid hitting animals. The commute to the suburbs of Cleveland is no more than twenty minutes and even during rush hour is not that big of a deal. The sprawl, as it is often called, spread Cleveland out to the point in which people may say they live in Cleveland without ever being within the city limits of Cleveland. When it comes to traffic and commutes, Cleveland is in the better echelon, but that is just a matter of timing in economics. The overt optimists believe that one of these days Cleveland will become a super high demand to be in city with property values tripling with the rise. Is that the reason the Key Tower, the tallest skyscraper, has remained at half capacity for so many years? Are landlords throughout the city keeping things artificially grim so they may profit off the eventual day of Cleveland’s rise? All that doesn’t really matter though. Would a modern day Hemingway spend anytime in Paris? At the time of his rambling around Gay Parie, Paris was one of the cheaper places to live and experience life with fellow writers. Kerouac said he could make any city in the world be like Paris. Could Cleveland be a bit like that? It’s probably Istanbul.
TOM: You were around the old timers — and meeting up on how the family should be organized. How they based them on the old Roman legions and called them regimes — the capos and the soldiers. And I worked.
PENTANGELI: Yea, it worked. Those were the great old days you know. And one was like to Roman Empire. The Corleone Family was like the Roman Empire.
TOM: It was once. Frankie — when a plot against the Emperor failed — the planners were always given a chance to let their families keep their fortunes.
PENTANGELI: Yea — but only the rich guys Tom. The little guys — they got knocked off and all their estates went to the Emperors. Unless they went home and uh, killed themselves — then nothing happened. And their families — their families were taken care of Tom.
TOM: That was a good break — nice funeral.