David Siegel, Florida’s unloved icon of wretched excess, would seem to make it easy for writers of satirical columns. He writes his own stuff.
Siegel, the Orlando timeshare mogul, just fired off an email to his 7,000 employees telling them who should get their vote, the Orlando Sentinel reported Wednesday. Because if Obama wins, they can kiss their jobs goodbye.
“My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, so will your opportunities,” he wrote. “If that happens, you can find me in the Caribbean sitting on the beach, under a palm tree, retired, and with no employees to worry about.”
What ought to make his edict so delicious is the accompanying recitation of the hardships he’s endured since President Barack Obama took office. “Over the past four years I have had to stop building my dream house, cut back on all of my expenses, and take my kids out of private schools.”
Some dream house. Siegel and his much younger ex-model wife were erecting a 90,000-square foot, $100-million monument to garish pomposity on the shores of Lake Butler, near Orlando, before the timeshare business crashed in 2008. It was to have been the largest single-family home (along with the servant quarters) in America. (Siegel now claims that with his timeshare business back in the black, he’s resuming construction.) The Siegels’ extravagant bad taste and their “struggle” to finish their outlandish home was depicted in a satirical documentary, The Queen of Versailles, released in the summer.
It would all be great fun, lampooning this rich old buffoon who seems to be longing the days of the robber barons. Except for that word “old.”
Siegel — reports of his age range from 75 to 79 — has become another prominent old cuss who’s talked (or emailed or tweeted) his way into the object of public ridicule.
We’ve had old Jack Welch, 77, tweeting a paranoid conspiracy theory about the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Old Clint Eastwood, 82, going off on a bizarre conversation with an empty chair at the Republican National Convention.
In Florida, there’s Congressman C.W. Bill Young, not so young, running for his 22nd term in the House, and complaining that the members of the Occupy Wall Street movement were stalking him and had twice burglarized his house. Except the 81-year-old seemed to confuse a 2010 burglary — he thought it was this summer — and a second incident in July that police investigated and decided that the wind had blown open a garage door and set off an alarm. Police in Indian Shores told the Tampa Bay Times they found no signs of forced entry, no pry marks, no footprints and nothing missing in Young’s condo.
Young has been in a paranoid tizzy since he responded in a not very politic way when some constituent asked him about raising the minimum wage. “Get a job,” the grumpy old congressman responded. And video of the unpleasant exchange was soon flashing around on YouTube.
A lot of old folks seem as competent as ever. Clint still makes great movies. Siegel kept his timeshare business going through the recession. Young seems on his way to defeating his upstart Democratic opponent, despite ads that suggest, “Bill Young is a nice man, but after 42 years in Congress, he’s lost touch.”
But occasionally things just pop out of their dentured mouths, as if the filters inside their heads had atrophied. As if old age brings on a kind of Tourette’s syndrome. They just say whatever the hell they’re thinking.
Helen Thomas, the very senior White House correspondent, with 57 years working for the wire services, was coming up on her 90th birthday when she made those crotchety remarks about Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians that led to her resignation. It was a scandal. But I kept thinking, “She was 90. What will I be mumbling about when I’m 90?”
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright was past retirement age when that crazy stuff started coming out of his unfiltered mouth. The poems that deluged Nobel laureate Günter Grass in controversy and got him declared persona non grata in Israel were written when he was 85.
We’ve got plenty of local politicians getting up there in years, competent public servants, but whose public pronouncements are just generally ignored by the local media. Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Souto, born in 1938, comes up with communist and Muslim conspiracy theories at meetings. Everyone listens politely and goes on to the next topic. Maybe that should be the national model.
It must be that we’re living longer. And working longer. And doddering old powerbrokers and cultural icons stay in the public spotlight, making news for saying what shouldn’t be said.
Time was, that would have been just old grandpa, sitting in his rocker, muttering away about one slight or another, talking rude. We’d just shake our heads, shrug and ignore the old fart. Now we’ve got the same thing, except the whole country’s listening to grandpa’s mutterings.
But they should be reported with an asterisk.
Of course, this is one column, with any luck, that I’ll live to regret.