“I read this article a while back that said that Microsoft employs more millionaire secretary's that any other company in the world. They took stock options over Christmas bonuses. It was a good move. I remember there was this picture, of one of the groundskeepers next to his Ferrari. Blew my mind. You see shit like that, and it just plants seeds, makes you think it’s possible, even easy. And then you turn on the TV, and there's just more of it. The $87 Million lottery winner, that kid actor that just made 20 million on his last movie, that internet stock that shot through the roof, you could have made millions if you had just gotten in early, and that's exactly what I wanted to do: get in.”
-Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi), Boiler Room
I was planning to write about a different topic this week, but when I saw HBO’s new series “How to Make it in America,” I could not help but express myself (hey hey, hey hey). I don’t know if it's where I stand right now in my life, where I am from, or what I do, but the characters and imagery connected to my nucleus. I often ask myself, and others, why are so many ultra-successful people from New York and its surrounding boroughs... maybe even more the boroughs? I would make a list of the leaders of art and commerce from these areas, but it would be way too long. I am sure one day Malcolm Gladwell will write a book about it, and then talk about it on Oprah: The Borough Effect. I think it's because New York turns the strong into stone-cold Hustlers, and sends the rest back whence they came. As Sinatra says, “if you can make it here you can make it anywhere.” The show’s imagery, wardrobe, dialogue, and emotion struck the essence of Manhattan life, not for all Manhattanites, but the “pleasure-hounding,” ultra-motivated, and surprisingly thoughtful youth who are the subject of my column. The show’s creator and first-time writer, Ian Edelman, is also collaborating with Emmy nominee Rob Weiss on many of the scripts for "Entourage," produced by Mark Wahlberg. The official description of the series is as follows:
"How to Make It in America follows two enterprising Brooklyn twenty-somethings as they hustle their way through New York City, determined to achieve the American Dream. Trying to make a name for themselves in New York's competitive fashion scene, Ben Epstein and his friend and business partner, Cam Calderon, use their street knowledge and connections to bring their ambitions to fruition. With the help of Cam's cousin Rene, who is trying to market his own high-energy drink, and their well-connected friend Domingo, the burgeoning entrepreneurs set out to make it big, encountering obstacles along the way that will require all their ingenuity to overcome.”
This show should be starring everyone I know with a set of balls below the age of 35, literally or figuratively (don’t want to leave out the ladies). See, that is what we all do, we hustle night and day, but not in the way most of our parents did. We go out, we meet people, we get introduced to other people, we dream, some sleep around, we dine and party beyond our means, and sometimes, if we are good and lucky we find success, although luck will only get us so far. Some fall off and get stuck in the dip, unable to climb the hill, while others continue to work, pushing through until they get it right. Ben, the protagonist of the show, took a dive and failed in business and in romance, with his love interest Rachel, played by the beautiful Lake Bell. But by the end of episode one, the hustler’s spirit is back and he is moving toward the next shot. Most people don’t hit it on the first try, and if they do, they are worse off for it years down the road. Hitting it on the first shot is like being born with a trust fund: you have the resources, but lack the humility to respect them. As my old friend, Gordon Gekko says, “Most of these Harvard MBA types – they don't add up to dog shit. Give me guys that are poor, smart, hungry, and no feelings. You win a few, you lose a few, but you keep on fighting.”
The show begins with Ben opening the door for his friend Cam, who is coming home after crushing (aka having sex) with some quasi-lesbian and not sleeping. From that point, I was hooked. Here are some highlights from the show:
• Ben and Cam’s friend Gingi, is a trust-fund baby living downtown who “doesn’t take money from her father.” I know this kind all too well… they have certain special, “Je ne sais quoi.”
• Gingi then tries to set Ben up with Jane, “a girl from Nylon,” played by the lovely Samaire Armstrong, who will “definitely have sex” with him. Can you say lay-up? I heard she once got it next to the amps at SL...
• Ben works at Barney’s, where he runs into his friend David, the rich UES Jewish hedge-funder, shopping for jeans with a girl from eros.com. What’s eros.com?
• Cam returns home to his grandmother, played by Tony Montana’s mother from Scarface. He realizes his gangster cousin, played by Pachanga from Carlito’s Way, is back and going to want to collect the money Cam owes him. Can anyone say, “Tribute to Brian Depalma?”
• Cam is at Gingi’s art opening, speaking with a wealthy Asian man. Memorable quote number one: Cam asks the guy for money, to which he replies, “You keep coming to me with these crazy ideas, and maybe some of them might be good. But everybody’s got ideas, nobody wants to put in the work. Don’t tell me what you’re gonna do, show me what you’ve done, and then maybe finally I will write you that check.”
• Ben bumps into his ex with some guy at the art opening. Cam quickly interrupts Ben to take him to an after party at Jane’s Chinatown loft (Jane is the girl from Nylon). Upon arrival, she is trying to get him to drink absinthe – a little behind the times, but great for TV. Marco, some androgynous painter who just got back from Mexico City, goads Ben by saying he would “tear that ass up,” referring to Jane. I really want to smack the shit out of this Marco so bad. He reminds me of one of those people who name-drop famous people they “know,” are supposedly friends with, or once saw.
• Cam returns with his friend, the immensely talented and street-credible Kid Cudi, and they say they are going to, “get some grub at Blue Ribbon, courtesy of Harold’s Conde Nast expense account.” No expense accounts anymore at Conde Nast, but respect the reference – this shit is fucking awesome. Are they reading our minds? Who writes this shit and where can I meet them?
• Before Cam leaves he drops the best line of the show: “he who hesitates masturbates.”
• The drama continues until we get to the most critical exchange of the episode, setting up the true test of the hustler’s code.
Cam: At least I am still going for it, not working for “The Man” like you.
Ben: What are you, 12? How long are you gonna keep saying “Fuck The Man” for?
Cam: Until we are the man!
•They go to visit David, the Jew hedge-funder, at his house. He says, “I hardly even graduated but anything is possible in America, even for some loud-mouth Jew.” He offers to let them borrow the money to pay off Cam’s cousin, as long as they help him get on doorman at Avenue’s good side. Tepperberg strikes again.
Upon returning the money to Cam’s cousin, the two young hustlers parlay and borrow more money to start a denim company.
You can take everything the hustler has – his woman, his money, his smile – but you can never take his spirit. “How to Make It in America” star, Bryan Greenberg, and creator, Ian Edelman, capture the hustler’s spirit, as movies like Wall Street, Boiler Room, and Goodfellas have in the past.
Don’t miss the chance to be inspired, and whatever you do, don’t knock the hustle.
“How to Make It in America” is on HBO, Sundays at 10 p.m.
See you next time at Cocktail Hour, where more often than not one drink turns into ten and no one knows where and when the night will end.