I was born in Detroit, lived my formative years in Ohio and Minnesota, and stayed in America long enough to get in the basic rituals: high school, college, and, at 11, a third-place trophy in the local Ford Pass Punt and Kick Contest. If you’re old enough, you may remember that the PPK national championship used to be the Super Bowl’s halftime entertainment, two boys from each age category running up to the tape and heaving or kicking the balls along it as far as they could. When halftime went Hollywood, I left America, which is not all a coincidence.
I settled permanently in Madrid in the 80s and keep my bread buttered by teaching English courses on a freelance basis in Spanish companies. Here on my web page, you’ll see that half is dedicated to my English business.
It’s terrific work. I sit across meeting tables from millionaire executives, harried secretaries, and lonely software techies; discuss everything from company restructuring to survival strategies to the pros and cons of breast implants to rice futures to derivatives to office love affairs to the titanic struggles of the pharmaceutical market. Top managers tell me of their despair with hapless staff; talented workers enumerate the stupidities of their bosses.
Anecdotes? On three occasions I have given lessons to students whom I knew were to be fired before lunchtime. For months, a terrified accountant described the pitiless advances of the company owner-director. In 2001, a disgusted — and pregnant — investment-fund manager told me exactly how hedge funds and derivatives would end up driving the banks over the edge. A deeply conservative, long-married businesssman who doted on his kids spent whole classes showing me galleries of photos of his multitudinous lovers.
I give an hour, maybe two, of class, then pack up my briefcase and leave behind my students clinched to their computer screens; I can never be too grateful to teaching. I usually have just one class in the morning, then sit down to write between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (the Spanish lunch hour), since at that time Spaniards are too busy raising company profits to ponder the mysteries of the verb Get.
Normally I go to a cafeteria — libraries with their clammy, dripping silence drive me nuts — where for the price of tea you may sit calm as a lifeguard for as long as your laptop hums. One tip: the Spanish cafeteria chain VIPS is best, for the plastic seats support your back perfectly.
And so from my perch in Spain I write about America, and try to offer the perspective of one who can see it from both inside and outside, both the trees and the woods. It is an extraordinary time in the nation’s history, especially regarding the growing contempt between rulers and ruled. It will end badly. But in the meantime, what a magnificent spectacle, like one of Tintoretto’s immense canvases boiling with humanity. Damn the falling rates of literacy; it’s a great time to write novels.