Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lay-ed Away

I am wondering whether anyone else out there thinks Ken Lay’s death is a rather astonishing turn of events. I believe we are about to enter one of the most instructive periods of our modern epoch.

Because of twists and turns in the course of due process, despite having ruined countless lives all in the name of building his personal empire, his dirty little soul might be off the hook. Free and clear. The Willie Loman of the natural gas industry.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to hard working people who want to build wealth for their families, and sometimes their communities. On the grandest scale, even Warren Buffett, who could just as easily have chosen to create another monument to himself by creating a new foundation, is turning over his wealth to an existing foundation run by a smart businessman and proven grantmaker, Bill Gates.

But Ken Lay’s not like that. He tricked his way into wealth, built it on the backs of other people’s hard work and worse, trust. His way was not good business but instead to steal, cheat, and lie his way into comfort. There is no more repulsive type of person, to me.

Now, he’s dead. Yep, just about as dead as dead people come. Whatever he planned his contribution to be, whatever additional damage he could have accomplished, whatever redemption we might have witnessed, it’s over.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. Certainly the world will be no worse off for his passing. Were it not for the many careers he destroyed and families he sent into destitution, I would consider it the end of just another sad chapter in the story of corporate America and its seedy downfall. But the truth is, as many lives as he ruined, there are lots of people like him. Greedy cowards are everywhere.

How does one go from being a paperboy in Missouri to the most notorious white collar criminal of all time? How do you hurt as many people as he hurt, and still win the praise of your pastor? How do you singlehandedly cement a nation’s mistrust in public corporations, and still come out whining about how hard it is to “turn off a lifestyle like a spigot” – how?

I’m not trying to moralize. I’m sure it sounds that way. I just really want to understand where the moral center comes from, or why some people have one, and others just don’t. There is nothing in Kenneth Lay’s family background that would lead me to suggest that he should not have learned wrong from right. I’m not sure I see from what I’ve read any big indicators of a madman addicted to pushing the envelope of how much he can get away with.

But that’s what happened. “Kenny Boy” was one of the single largest contributors to our current President, what our Commando in Chief might call a friend among “…the haves and have mores.” Was it power that gave Lay the impression that what he was doing was ok? What was his compass?

We all face temptation. But just because it is laid out in front of us like a Siren does not mean we have to succumb to it. I have plenty of little weaknesses, like music and good books and wine and conversation and flirting and eating ice cream with my kids. But I’ve never stolen anything more than a kiss. I just don’t get what that’s about.

It seems to me that Kenneth Lay must have been a pretty damn unhappy man to have wandered so far off the path, mislead so many people, wreak such enormous economic havoc, all for his own profit. Life is so short, time is so precious, and then it’s up. Whether you believe his act of checking out when he did is extraordinarily ironic or sickeningly transparent in its intention, he’s had his last shot, at anything. And that’s no different from any of the rest of us. At the end of the day, whether we lived honestly or lied our way through every day, we’re all going to be six feet under in the same damn muck, same damn worms wiggling through what’s left of us, same dust to dust to dust that will vaporize when the sun gets too hot and Earth is just a memory, no better, no worse than anybody else. Just gone.

What do you leave behind? There’s a banjo player turned hippie folk hero that I’ve come to miss because of what he left behind. And right now, it would be fun to believe that Ken Lay has to sit and listen to Jerry Garcia sing ballad after ballad.

This is a Mississippi John Hurt song. I’ve heard Hurt’s version, and Jerry’s with David Grisman. Hurt sings the version in the link below. Just seemed appropriate.


Mrs Collins weep, Mrs Collins moan
What made her son Louis leave his home?
Angels laid him away

Angels laid him away
Laid him six feet under the clay
Angels laid him away

Oh kind friends, now ain't it hard
To see poor Louis in a new grave yard
Angels laid him away


Bob shot one and Louis shot two
Shot poor Collins, shot him through and through
Angels have laid him away


When they heard that Louis was dead
All the people they dressed in red
Angels laid him away


Mrs Collins weep, Mrs Collins moan
What made her son Louis leave his home?
Angels laid him away

As irritating and unjust as all this seems, it occurred to me as I drifted off to sleep that Kenneth Lay probably knew little joy in his life. Real, honest to goodness joy should be a part of everyone's day. Maybe a lot of us have that little something that he never had -- that he couldn't have had considering he made such an ethical train wreck of his life. So be grateful for the little things that do work about your life, and how much easier it probably is than for those who have to spend every day lying their way through.

No thanks.



At July 06, 2006 6:26 AM, Blogger ChrisWoznitza said...

Hi ich bin Chriswab aus Bottrop. Viele Grüsse !!

At July 06, 2006 7:14 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Tag, Chris! Sorry, that's all the German I know! Ich Bin Twinsburger.


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