A Vision of My Future

*This interview originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of GQ magazine.

Mellow blues and greens flood the lounge we’re sitting in, typical New York style.  After all, who doesn’t look good in this lighting.  But for the purpose of this evening, the lighting isn’t used to hide anything, no, this hangout is simply preference for the Village Vagabonds.  Eccentric, young Billionaire Lee Tratnyek will never use that name, but he is keenly aware of the image put forth by his myriad acquaintances in this, the hottest of the current lounges in the East Village of New York.  Perhaps he leverages this celebrity to enable himself to sit in the back like the Godfather, watching over all, only being bothered by those he chooses.  This gives us the freedom to conduct an interview at ease.  It’s a life that anyone would envy, but hints of power so grand you might be wondering if you could ever wear it comfortably.  Lee wears it like the sleeves on his Tom Ford blazer.  Effortlessly, but with profound distinction.

His quiet, calm presence never betrays his grandeur, and while he never comes off as over the top, everything about Lee reeks of wealth and grandiose.  Even in New York, a Bugatti Veyron roaring through the streets is a site to behold, since New York doesn’t play home to nearly as many sports cars as London, or Dubai.  But sure enough, it was no issue escorting me through the city for the most powerful stop-and-go traffic experience from his penthouse overlooking  Central Park to the cozy lounge he rules over in the East Village.  He obviously loved the raw power under his fingertips, but constantly remarked of hating to drive (he didn’t have to, he has a full-time chauffeur available.)  One gets the feeling that while the King of New York might be entirely comfortable with who he is, nobody, not even himself really knows who that happens to be.  His entire persona is an elasticized contradiction, constantly testing it’s own level of playfulness.

There is not likely a scale developed to measure his wit.  He had to pick up a new CD earlier in the day, when I first met him almost clandestinely in Washington Square Park (another favorite hangout of his, where everyone recognizes him but gives him more than due space.)  We walked the few blocks to Bleeker Street where he jested and jabbed with the cashier as though their script were rehearsed.  Every word spoken during the $14.99 cash transaction was fair game to be manipulated and bullied into meaning something else.  When the King is in top form, trying to follow him will literally numb your mind.

Maybe he has a secret system of summoning, I don’t know, but his chauffeur was waiting outside for us as we left the record store.  I never saw him remove his iPhone from his pocket until we were in the car, riding to his flat.

He asked me not to describe the trip to his flat in this interview, I will respect these wishes.  When he asks you of something, you feel compelled to obey, as if it will make you happier.  He notices this slight change in me, he has witnessed it time and again.  He explains how he hasn’t always commanded such power.  Just 2 years ago he was sitting in a Starbucks, jobless (going on 4 months), freshly out of a 3 year relationship, all but dropped out of University, and moved back home.  Says that low point was what created his meteoric success.  We continue this thread while relaxing under the multicolored glow of a New York hotspot, secluded at a table in the rear.

LT:  “I wouldn’t say I was utterly hopeless.  I could of course have fallen lower.  I still had a pithy amount of cash to expend, which I used to keep myself afloat, and enjoy time with friends.  But I certainly felt as though I had failed, and worse, I felt as though I wasn’t going to have the strength or the courage to claw myself out of that hole which I myself dug most of.  Every day it got worse and worse, as I accomplished less, and realized just how poorly my life was going.  At some of my weakest moments, I wondered if I had transposed into a 2D existence, no longer having ‘UP’ as an optional direction to travel.”

RA:  “Wow.  Sounds like you had more of a rags to riches story than is usually acknowledged.  What changed?”

LT:  Letting out a bit of a chuckle, he plays the humility card heavy, “No way, I always had a huge support system.  My family was right there to bail me out if necessary, even though they played the game right and acted as though I was on a string with them.  I always want to recount my story as though I have been isolated, but the reality is that I’ve never actually been alone.

“What changed is quite amusing, to me.  I’ve of course, always been a fan of self-improvement.  Maybe because I always wanted to get my life in order.  Up until recently I’ve been a huge slacker with the grandest of ambitions.  Ambition without motivation though, as we know, is like a boat on dry land.  I had a fantastic yacht, but no water to sail it on.   Finally I chanced upon a late chance to buy a New Yorker Desk Diary, a daily planner, for 12 bucks.  I remember being annoyed because it took more than a week to arrive after I had placed the order.  Worst shipping time ever.

I knew exactly what I was going to do with it the minute I placed my order.  My friend actually questioned why I was buying something like it, I had an iPhone, I had a Mac, Google exists, I had a myriad of free, powerful alternatives available through the means of technology.  But I recognized the absolute power of pen and paper, technology was not, is not yet powerful enough to replace it in some regards.  I needed a planner not to plan, but to record.

Everything of importance I did, was marked.  I was astonished, and disgusted with myself as a result.  The records indicated what I already knew, but finally they were on display in front of me, I couldn’t ignore the visual representation of my worthlessness.”

RA:  “You were doing a lot that you didn’t feel proud of?”

LT:  “No, that’s not it exactly.  What I mean is I basically wasn’t doing anything.  After sleeping sometimes as much as 12 hours I would wake up around noon.  So I would mark that.  Then the next event  could mark down came perhaps 2 1/2 hours later, where I had miraculously managed to….finish showering and getting dressed for the day.  Following that was another great lull until the marks of sitting in Starbucks from 4:00 – 6:00 surfing the web.  Maybe one more comment for the evening about going out with friends until 1 AM, and getting back to sleep around 3…  It was pathetic.  I was already feeling old at 23 and wasn’t even taking advantage of the “unique freedom” my predicament was granting me.

“But I used the stark reality as a new form of motivation I had never been able to harness before.  I fiercely monitored any lacks of activity.  I converted every moment into a fulcrum for getting somewhere.  I cemented my exercise regime into my daily schedule.  I worked my way up to about 8 hours a day of activities that were developing myself, I took risks even though I didn’t have money to risk, and began my first business on my rise to success.  I worked at that for 2 to 8 hours a day.  I finally found that reserve of energy I should have been tapping onto long ago, and cut my sleep every night down to 9 hours, then 8, finally 6.  Sure there’s recommend sleeping times, but I was beginning to awake at dawn every day, and felt great until I told myself to sleep at midnight, no exceptions.  The changes were incredible, I felt as though I had gained an entire day for every day that went by.”

RA:  “But you have a look in your eyes that say something happened.”

LT:  “You caught me.  I attribute a lot of my current success to luck.  I was approaching that point at which the relapses occur.  The point where many of our improvements in life begin to wear on us, and we struggle to avoid reverting to our old comforts.  I likely may have regressed, if not for my lottery win.  Money isn’t everything, but it sure enables.

“Randy Pausch spoke of Brick Walls that arise, which allow people to prove how badly they want to achieve something.  Well, my winnings didn’t enable me to merely break through the brick wall, my winnings were a catapult which launched me over and well beyond the wall.  I believe the story from that point on has been well covered.”

Lee leans back, appears to freshly take in the scene all around him.  It is clear the interview is over.  From this point on he’ll be my host, my friend, but I won’t be interviewing him anymore, I’ll merely be enjoying his company.  While he portrayed himself as scatterbrained, I get the feeling afterward that he had planned out the entire evening in advanced, made me ask the questions he wanted to hear, so he could give the answers he wanted to give.  It’s quite mesmerizing, really.  He laughs at his solo title too, but he has more than earned the right to go by, “The King of New York.”  For the President controls Washington, but New York controls the President.

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