The Most Obnoxious New Yorker Is…Us
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The Most Obnoxious New Yorker Is…Us


You may have heard by now about the drunk NYU student and irrefutable douchebag named Gerry Shalam. For the uninitiated, Shalam unleashed a rant on a comparatively kind videographer who caught Shalam and his pals leaving brunch wasted—not fun wasted but falling-down-in-the-street and, apparently, yelling-insane-things-at-strangers wasted.

Disgust on Display

Shalam, like most of us in Generation Selfie, is more concerned with how he and his friends look to strangers than in (literally) making sure one of those friends is not dying. It’s tough to pick the most obnoxious line from among the spastic ridiculousness that emerges from Shalam’s constantly spewing mouth; is it when he repeatedly claims that his dad “owns half of fucking Manhattan” (and is, according to Shalam’s logic, thus seemingly in charge of all the videographer’s future attempts at employment)? Perhaps it’s when he shouts that he has half of Manhattan’s cops “in his pocket”? Or really it could be a toss-up between when he unconvincingly claims to be an attorney and offers, mid-altercation, to call Bill de Blasio “even though he’s a fucking liberal.” (The truth, as it turns out, is that Shalam’s dad works in the garment industry; Shalam’s relationships with New York’s finest and de Blasio are unknown but we can make our assumptions.)

We All Play a Part

Okay so we’ve established that he’s the worst. But where, really, do we get by pointing our we’re-better-than-you finger at this horrible-seeming human being? Sure, we can comfort ourselves that we don’t randomly yell obnoxious lies at strangers or at least that our lies are more convincing or subscribe to better values. But Gerry Shalam, ugly as he is, is a product of what he’s been fed.

He lives in Manhattan, arguably the most money and power focused city in America. And he’s grown up in a society that feeds us repeated lies. It tells us through everything it places importance on that money and power are going to make us happy, that more money and more power are going to make us even happier and that our worthiness comes not from belief in ourselves but from whatever external things we can inherit from our parents or create. Who could blame us for wanting to get wasted at brunch? Not only are these values horrific—they’re also not exactly true. If they were, why would the powerful and wealthy film director Tony Scott have jumped off a bridge?

The Quest for Balance

Learning the difference between pleasure and happiness and, more importantly, figuring out what actually does make me happy, has helped me to discover that none of that external shit works on its own. But in my experience, all the serenity seeking and none of the external shit can leave you empty, too.

I grew up in a family that worshipped at the altar of money. Or really it was just my dad but his values were the loudest and thus the ones that were pushed onto us. His favorite “joke” when I was growing up was that our family subscribed to the Golden Rule—that the one who made the gold made the rules. I didn’t even know there was another Golden Rule until I got to college.

Happiness for Purchase

From the time I was a little kid, I was hearing about people who made six figures just out of college. I was told that I had to go to Harvard because it would guarantee me that sort of job; alas, Harvard wrote my dad, who was an active alumni, to tell him I didn’t get in before they let me know (though I intercepted the letter). I remember once, in a talk that was as close to a heart-to-heart as I’ve ever had with my dad, asking him about building the business that made him terribly successful for many years.

“Were you happy then?” I asked. Even as a little kid, I was obsessed with happiness.

He looked at me, perplexed, and answered, “I was making money.” He didn’t have to say anything else. To him, making money equaled happiness and I understood then that asking him this was silly.

Predictably Out of Touch

I grew, I think it’s safe to say, into a pretty obnoxious kid. Where I was raised, pretty much everyone had money and I didn’t think anything of partying my way through a far-lesser-than-Harvard college that cost, annually, more than what I made in my first three years of work combined. So clueless was I about financial differences that I remember being shocked when I learned that one of my college friends was on scholarship.

In short, God knows what I said when I got wasted. And, look, I got wasted a lot. Though I told my parents, doctors and whatever other authority figures who asked that I drank “only on weekends,” I failed to mention that weekends to me essentially started on Tuesdays. To my utter gratitude, back then video cameras were enormous contraptions that were a pain in the ass to lug around so nobody managed to immortalize any of my drunken shenanigans. (I also got sober before Facebook, of all miracles.) But I wasn’t above exaggerating my dad’s success, either. I’ll never forget the fact that one day, on the playground at recess, I told a boy I liked that my dad was a millionaire. I have no idea if it was true but I do know that shortly afterwards, my mom drove a bunch of us on a school field trip and this boy casually asked my mom what it was like to be married to a millionaire, innocently adding that Anna had told him about it. (I learned I had been lying when my mom sternly told me later that day to never lie again.) Sure, I was maybe six and Gerry Shalam is older than that but again, who knows what toxic shit might have pummeled from my mouth before I got sober—especially since my focus in the last few years was almost exclusively on cocaine, the most bullshit-spewing drug of all time.

Money, Come Back! I Changed My Mind!

I can only guess that the environment Shalam was raised in was also pretty fucked up about money, though I had a different response to it than he: when I got out into the world, I—just like anyone, I guess, who decides to become a writer—staunchly clung to the idea that I didn’t care about money.

And you know what I realized after years of not caring about money, as my brother started a succession of companies that all went public? I did fucking care about money. Yes, I did. And so I decided, about a year-and-a-half ago, that I was going to focus on getting some, even if it meant not writing anymore. And so I created AfterPartyChat. Though I’m doing less writing than I have since I started working, I’m far more fulfilled being behind the scenes here than I was all those years that I was churning out my own material. But the real reason for my satisfaction may be this: about six months ago, we became profitable.

Finding Reward in the External

The year I spent building this, however, was brutal. (I also happened to be saddled with a lease in a horrific apartment with a piano player a floor above me so it was like living in an off, off, off Broadway musical dress rehearsal space for the worst musical in history—but that’s another story.) I was literally depressed for an entire year. This, at 12 years of sobriety, when I’d learned and re-learned that external things aren’t the key to happiness, that it’s “an inside job,” that all I had to do was go to meetings and pray and sponsor and whatnot. And you know what? None of it worked. I was still miserable and I had stopped believing that the pain was temporary. The best thing I can say about that year is that I thankfully understood that drinking or calling my coke dealer was never going to make anything better.

Then my business started to become financially rewarding, my lease finally ended so I could move into an amazing new place and these external things, as it turned out, made me gloriously happy. True, I got a new sponsor and became actively engaged in doing step work for the first time in a couple years but I’m telling you the external shit has made me giddy. Maybe it’s the external stuff combined with the fact that I’ve stayed sober over a decade and meditate 40 minutes a day. Maybe it’s the new medication I take. Maybe it’s all of those things. I really don’t know but I do now know that anything I declare that’s extreme (“I don’t care about money,” “Things will always be like this,” “I’ll never be able to have this certain kind of success,” et al) tends to be fear and hysteria and not the truth. We’re all liars in some ways. But here’s something I’m not interested in lying about anymore: getting those things I’ve decried as “bad” values can bring fulfillment and happiness—I just don’t think they can without the sort of gratitude that makes us appreciate it.

There Might Be Hope for This Punk

So where does that leave Gerry Shalam? I’m not entirely sure. By all appearances, he really does suck. But honestly, a lot of me sucked when I first got into recovery. Some of me still does. Still, I’ve felt and seen and witnessed incredible, miraculous changes in both myself and other people. I’ve known addicts who were hope-to-die junkies that somehow got sober on their 18th trip to rehab. I’ve seen people walk through abuse and trauma of the highest order and come out stronger. I’ve had sponsees go from wholly unwilling to more committed to recovery than I could have ever imagined.

I’m not saying Shalam should come join us as we skip down the yellow brick road—just that we live in a world that tells us that stuff alone will make us happy. Alas, it seems like the only way to figure out that’s an exaggeration is to have all that and still feel empty or get it and remember what it was like not to have it, the same way we remember what our dark using days were like.

Maybe Shalam’s public humiliation will cause the sort of suffering that will make him shift. Sure, it’s not likely. But was sobriety or living a normal life likely for any of us?

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About Author

Anna David is the founder and former CEO/Editor-in-Chief of After Party. She hosts the Light Hustler podcast, formerly known as the AfterPartyPod. She's also the New York Times-bestselling author of the novels Party Girl and Bought and the non-fiction books Reality Matters, Falling For Me, By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There and True Tales of Lust and Love. She's written for numerous magazines, including Playboy, Cosmo and Details, and appeared repeatedly on the TV shows Attack of the Show, The Today Show and The Talk, among many others.