September 14, 2014

Why There May be Hope for New York Yet


While in the East Village last week, I encountered an angry, half-naked man swinging a pipe at passers-by, and it filled my heart with joy. You know how long itís been since Iíve run into a street crazy in New York? A long damn time, thatís how long. I donít know where the crazies, the homeless, the subway beggars and the buskers were sent (for some reason I suspect Giants Stadium), but for awhile there they were nowhere to be found.

††††††††††† Over the past twenty-five years, the cityís luster has become smudged and scratched up, its once-proud grimy sleaziness and danger replaced with clean and well-secured streets, swinging shopping bags and dead-eyed stares. Corporate slugs, half-wit tourists and jackanape college students, all mesmerized by machines, have usurped the pimps and street hoods and skanks. Under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg New York became a simulacrum of a simulacrum, a safer and slicker version of the New York, New York hotel casino in Vegas, swarming with the same loathsome and useless types youíd find in a Vegas theme casino.

††††††††††† Bloated, hapless, oblivious, contemptuous, and perfectly comfortable with themselves and their lack of ideas, straining always for the familiar and the safe, because those are the things that are good.

††††††††††† So the cityís become a mall under a bulletproof glass dome where only the wealthy and those who ache to be wealthy are welcome, and they all eat at chain restaurants and order whatever the hep drink of the moment is. Itís spotless, itís locked-down, there is no more to fear here than at any typical Six Flags theme park, and the people are awful in ways that would never be recognized as awful anywhere else.

††††††††††† Thatís why the nut job with the pipe gave me such a tickle. Only later did I see him to be a glimmer of hope for the future, and I think I can thank Mayor DeBlasio for this, smug bumbling fool that he is.

††††††††††† Not being one of those voting sheep, I was nevertheless happy to hear DeBlasio had won the election last November, simply because heís a Democrat. Itís not that I consider myself a Democrat (lord no), that I hate Democrats any less than I hate Republicans, or even that I can generally tell the two apart. Itís more a question of history.

††††††††††† Since the early nineties Republicans and Republicans in disguise have ruled the city, and their agenda was simple. They wanted New York to be a law and order town in order to attract more tourists and multinationals. That meant cleansing it of porn, graffiti, jaywalkers, lowlifes, and panhandlers. That also meant they wanted to get rid of smokers, ugly people, the overweight, the poor and the elderly. Those crummy little mom and pop corner shops would have to go, too, and the city should be blanketed with security cameras just to make sure none of these unsavory types try to sneak back in. Any hint of history was to be eliminated, as the people they wanted to attract wouldnít be interested in such dusty old crap. New York was to be a gleaming city of the future where there is no crime, no unpleasantness, nothing at all that might make the tourists or the CEOs uncomfortable. In short, they wanted New York to become Toronto.

††††††††††† It may have taken a few years and a few bought elections, but bless them, they succeeded. Nobody laughs, nobody cries, nothing at all happens. Itís a City of the Dead. Itís perfection.

††††††††††† Now go back to the two decades prior to Giulianiís election, when historically Democratic New York had Democratic mayors like Abe Beame, Ed Koch, and David Dinkins. The city went bankrupt as the rest of the country chortled, the crime rate spiked, we had blackouts and riots and the Son of Sam. Punk rock was born. Times Square was a sprawling, grandiose amusement park for the depraved. Central Park and the subways both were to be avoided whenever possible. And Coney had become an apocalyptic wasteland, a perfect getaway for whenever the depraved had a day off. Even the swank neighborhoods of upper Manhattan had to contend with wandering lunatics with a tendency to shriek. Park Slope had its share of hookers, dealers, and numbers joints. Neighbors watched as people were murdered, and they werenít even shooting cell phone videos to post on YouTube. In other words, New York was FUN. It was earning itís carefully protected reputation. It was still very much alive.

††††††††††† Iím not making any kind of political comment here. I still canít tell Democrats and Republicans apart, but it seems whenever New York gets a Democrat in the mayorís office, things become much more entertaining.

††††††††††† Which is why this DeBlasio character has my hopes up. The signs are already beginning to crop up, and heís barely gotten started. Not just the kook with the pipe, either. There are more homeless passed out on the street and asking for change on the subway. The crime rate is starting to climb, as are accusations of police brutality. More and more swank shops in swank neighborhoods are boarding up their windows, and it seems those corn-fed college students in the East Village are rediscovering heroin. All in just a few months! Glory Hallelujah, I say! Praise be!

††††††††††† If things continue this way, by the end of his first term we might even see the peep shows, titty bars, and the whole sick, venal crowd returning to Times Square to replace the Nike and Warner Brothers box stores. And when that happens, maybe Iíll finally dare set foot there again, cigarette and forty proudly in hand.


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