I came to New York as many disaffected 23 year-olds do, to see the New York of lore: the druggy downtown scene of Kids, the squalid teenage hangout/ninja training venues of the first TMNT movie, The GG Allin hardcore shows, the quirky misadventures of Taxi Driver, the upper-crust of Wall Street and various midtown turn-of-the-century establishments of kingpins and robber barons, to see the struggling actors, comedians, artists from all lands, to see one of the epicenters of human civilization in all of its sordid, greedy, brilliant glory. And I’ve found some of that. However it seems the city is actually up-for-grabs for any investor the world over who wishes to cash-in on one of America’s only cities with serious cultural capital (Sorry, Houston). If this means building mammoth eyesores which leave beloved parks in shadows and raping the skyline, to be filled with transient populations (like myself, but far more well-off and better looking) who bring their overvalued foreign currency to spend on ‘charming’ American chains which have supplanted nearly all the mom and pop shops (and overpriced bodegas) who made this city great, if this means demolishing any resemblance of human empathy by converting nearly all homeless shelters and SROs to boutique hotels serving Stumptown coffee, exploiting loopholes in zoning laws to create a new bred of pied-à-terres in the middle of Tribeca, if this means all working-class citizenry of New York City have to commute from Canarsie to work at the place in Murray Hill I buy my soup at because the Mayor feels it’s more important to run the city as a business rather than a city of people, well, it all flies here, and it flies high.
Being raised middle-class, New York has little to offer in the kind of lowbrow attractions we enjoy. Townies do not make enough money to live in the neighborhoods their parents did, to drink or shop where their relatives once did, they’re not catered to, despite all upscale establishments trying to recreate that old middle-class flavor: the speakeasies, the butcher classes, the PBR, the lumberjack fashion, the intermittently-working Buck Hunter. The middle-class transplants that have thrived here are gross exaggerations of their townie brethren, their ambition in tow with all of the off-color flavor of their upbringing. Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey folk bring all of the willful ignorance of the middle class with none of the work ethic and camaraderie to support it, making their legitimate grievances easy to ignore and caricature (well, easier). I like going to other cities and meeting hot waitresses, bus drivers (female), and busty teachers who can afford to live in the neighborhood they work in and interact with.If you’d like to buy a brownstone in one of the prior-working class meccas such as Carroll Gardens or Fort Green, you’re looking at $2.3 million dollars, which is $10k a month in mortgage payments for 30 years, which means you must clear bare-minimum $400k a year if my calculations are correct, which don’t take any kind of taxes or interest into account because I’m not that passionate about making that number any more depressing than it already is. How many heiresses of Mayonnaise empires could there be?
All of the city’s investments lay in global organizations with no interest or stake in the livelihood of the city (Those 8 Jewish Bankers that control the world’s finances are mysteriously MIA). The Bear Stearns collapse revealed at their headquarters in midtown, Saudis owned the land parcel itself, Bear Stearns owned the building, another party owned the air rights, and Goldman Sachs owned the bragging rights. Every square inch of the city, horizontally or vertically, feels as it has been pored over, assessed, auctioned, and sold. This has led to the demise of neighborhood identities, making Manhattan just a congealed mess of the wealthy. The only thing I can deduce from a Chelsea resident from an Upper West Sider is they might be gay, but they’re still rich. Buildings, taller and taller out of the scope of any human mind, are uniform on almost all avenues, creating canyons of shoeboxes stacked high, with no plan for community or discourse other than the standard luxury ‘amenities’ such as a registered FreshDirect address, so you can excise all human interaction if you’d like (and you are encouraged to). These buildings are constructed with sweetheart deals with no community involvement, nor are the impacts they create on density, shadows, and public services. Somehow the city decided dropping a population density rivaled only in the world by Seoul, Korea on top of the already packed Atlantic/Pacific terminal so Jay-Z can create one hundred minimum wage jobs selling hot dogs to Nets fans for his beloved Brooklyn homies was a grand idea. Mass transit will be pushed and pushed until we’re in Tokyo but no upstanding New Yorker would let an MTA official ‘cram’ them in the car, let alone inappropriately touch them.
The subway is an amazing way to get around however. I used to take the F home from 34th st to deep Brooklyn at 3:45 in the morning on a Saturday night without a complaint, and now I will whine to literally who will listen that I am now 5 minutes further away from Atlantic than I used to be, which has a one-shot express train to Canal St over the Manhattan Bridge. You don’t really have to pay attention which is why it’s leaps and bounds above any reason I would ever move to Los Angeles, which it is a 20 minute auto-adventure to get a soda, and you can’t read or sleep while you’re doing that. Plus, I’ve only felt myself to be in physical harm’s way twice in this city, once when I was stoned and a bunch of youths stormed up and down the subway train and I braced myself for certain death, and another time when some don threatened to sic the Columbian mafia on me outside notorious gangster bar Fat Black PussyCat, who ended his threatening monologue with “God Bless You”, to which I replied “Bless you back”, which almost resulted in fisticuffs, which is actually way less altercations than even elementary school. Mean streets, indeed.
I could write a book about all the ways New York has disappointed, of all the wasted talent, resources, and money, of all the ways it gets pushed around by global interests, cow-towing locals and NIMBYs, how the lack of cultural vibrancy isn’t perfectly making up for the unworldliness of the first phases of my life, how the Williamsburg/Bushwick scene is the elitist artist scene it’s always been since high school, how no one warned me of how much class affects career, relationships, and ambition (especially looking up), of the way people transform once the glimmer of success seems in grasp, their insecurities exaggerated and allegiances optioned, of how people toss all sorts of themselves out the window to ensure the money is being made, of how race relations have simmered down to a point of polite conversation, of how this metropolis attracts the only the most extreme worst kind of people with the best intentions, of the constant battle between you’re-going-out-too-much-you’re-not-getting-anything-done and why-are-you-sitting-in-your-apartment-you-loser-why-do-you-even-live-here, and the constant time-constraints that force you to realize what it is you really want to do because there’s no time to do it any other way. But it’s these very disappointments that you don’t think about anywhere else.