Taylor Swift, Global Superstar, Is Our Global New York Brand Ambassador

We Real New Yorkers are lucky to have Taylor Swift as our city’s global brand ambassador.  This seven-time Grammy winner, a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow, Gomer Pyle and Olive Oyl, will now represent us to the global travel and tourism community and entice travelers the world over to come here, buy stuff, stand on line for Grimaldi pizza and Shake Shack burgers, drink Bulleit rye in Williamsburg and, ultimately, move here.

Why not?  Since the days of the Dutch West India Company, New York (formerly New Amsterdam) has always been about making money.  We’re a trading post.  Always have been.  Always will be.  And Tay Tay is hot hot hot, arguably the world’s biggest pop star (for now).  The 25-year old New Yorker (yep, she lives in an eight-figure Tribeca condo) can move the merchandise.

So if she can get more suckers, er, tourists, to come here and part with their sheckels, why should you, or I, care one whit?  I mean, come on, don’t we Real New Yorkers have more important things to worry our pretty little heads about.  Ebola.  Joblessness.  ISIS.  Midterm elections.  Eurozone stability.  Global warming.  Crumbling infrastructure.  God-awful professional sports teams.

Excuse me while I channel my inner Lewis Black.

Taylor Swift is the sugary, artificially colored, maraschino cherry on top of the whipped cream confection that has become our beloved New York City.

Taylor Swift has NOTHING to do with New York, or the life Real New Yorkers live.  Does she take the subway?  Has she ever had to work the system to get a kid a seat in the local school?Or been gentrified out of an apartment? Or lived through a blackout (or two?  or three?) or a sanitation strike?  Or been stopped-and-frisked?  Or been stuck in an ER for 10 hours, waiting for a simple X-Ray?  Has she stepped outside of Manhattan, fer crissakes?

IMHO, she is even too frothy, too lightweight for our new millennium city, which has methodically been transformed into a Disneyfied, shrink-wrapped luxury product, filled with three-quarters empty zombie condos owned by offshore interests, a Broadway laced with jukebox musicals and theaters filled with Velveeta-eating lard butts in cargo shorts and newly-purchased “New York: We’re Not In Kansas Anymore” tank tops and a Brownstone Brooklyn that has become a caricature of what it was just a few short years ago.

It is said that Taylor Swift’s new single, “Welcome to New York,” is infectious.  Less so than ebola, folks.  The tea bag that started with Sinatra’s version of “New York New York,” and that was dunked again with Alicia Keys’ “New York,” has been dunked to death with Swift’s weak tea of a paean to her adopted city.  Question: can a person adopt a city if the city does not want to adopt that person?

Unless…maybe today’s New York City and Taylor Swift actually DESERVE each other. Have we come to the point where the craven commercialism that underlies all we do here finally has hit rock bottom?  Have we really become that bland?  That boring?  Are we such weak tea that even a born-and-bred NY’er such as Lena Dunham (ugh, I shudder to utter the name) is passed over by NYCgo.com?

Taylor Swift, in her nycgo.com video, teaches the world how to properly pronounce Houston Street.  She dutifully and earnestly explains that “bodegas are our friend.”

What pops into my head?  The old Wayans Brothers skit, “mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money.”  Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7AL44keDZw

Because a huckster is a huckster is a huckster, right Tay Tay?  To quote George Orwell, from his classic, “Animal Farm“: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

 

1970: The Year It All Went Wrong

Fall and, in particular, Rosh Hashanah, is a time of quiet contemplation.  As I creakily lurch from middle age to late middle age, to old age, I think about things.  Kind of like Michael Corleone in Godfather III, in his chair, pensive, dead leaves skittering across the yard, thinking about the past.

What do I think about, as I stare at the ceiling, 3 o’clock in the morning?

  • Would the world be better off without the Internet?
  • Who’s better: the Stones or the Beatles?
  • Is there such thing as Unconditional Parental love?
  • When did it all go wrong, here in this country?  When did it REALLY start to metastasize?

Recently, I saw “The Roosevelts” on PBS.  And President Obama was right, although it was not expressed particularly gracefully.  “Messy stuff always happens.”  No matter when you look in history, bad stuff was going on.

So what was the tipping point, for me? I think about it and think about it, determined to find fault, point my finger in blame.  Here’s what I come up with: 1970.

Yeah, 1970 was the real pivot point.

Here’s a snapshot of life in 1970:

  • Air travel was glamorous
  • David Crosby sang “Almost Cut My Hair” — and we took it seriously, with nary a trace of irony
  • Organized labor was a force – and had to be, since the go-go economy of the 60s started to sputter, as the cost of prosecuting the Viet Nam war fueled inflation, which put pressure on buying power
  • Unions came under tremendous pressure, blue-collar buying power began to erode
  • Social mores in the 60s changed.  The so-called greatest generation, and younger blue-collar workers, got their knickers in a twist and their frustration escalated to “acting out.”

Unions wielded great power.  Here is a brief list of labor strikes nationally and right here in New York:

  • NYC Teachers Strike ‘68
  • U.S. Post Office ‘70
  • GM ‘70
  • NYC Police ‘71
  • Longshoremen ‘71
  • UAW Lordstown – Chevy ‘72

That year, 1970:

  • Nixon was president
  • The Viet Nam war dragged on.  It was a war we saw in our living rooms, every night.  Body bags, body bags, body bags, on evening news.
  • Here in NYC, white flight and block-busting took off. White ethnics fled to the first ring suburbs: Long Island, NJ, Westchester.  Blockbusting was rampant, as brokers bought a couple of houses, sold them to blacks, and BAM! It was a race of the whites as to who could get out the fastest. There were moving vans in the area every day.
  • Crime and drugs in the inner city became more prevalent
  • Panic in Needle Park came out in ’71.  Pacino’s second picture.  Where was Needle Park?  Picture 72nd and Broadway – that was “needle park.” An open air smack bazaar.
  • The first draft lottery had just been conducted in December of ‘69
  • Yes, we had a military draft: only for men.  If you were 19 years, 2 months and 1A status, you got a letter from your Uncle Sam.  When you passed your induction physical, you were in, for two years.  Drafted.
    • For some, your country has called.  You go.
    • For others, you worked the system.
      • American Friends on Rutherford Place
      • School draft counselors
      • Canada
      • National Guard
      • Labor was for Nixon’s Viet Nam war, even as Republican support of labor eroded
      • George Meany and his AFL-CIO were vehemently anti-communist and supported US involvement in southeast Asia.
  • Rank and file was split; their sons were the ones going; not those who had student deferments
    • Here, locally, Peter Brennan was president of the Greater NY building and construction trades council.  A strong supporter of the war.  He had been a strong Democratic supporter and fund raiser and now supported Republican candidates, as support for skilled labor unions ebbed.  The deal was, Brennan helps Nixon and, come ’72, he’d become Secretary of Labor
  • U.S. military deaths in Viet Nam
    • 17,000 in ‘68
    • 12,000 in ‘69
  • In 1970, the rift between the left and right exploded
  • May 1: U.S. Troops invade Cambodia
  • May 4: Students at Kent State Protest Incursion into Cambodia – 4 students shot dead by National Guardsmen
  • May 8: New York City Hardhat Riots

The hard hat riots.  Right here in NYC.  “Bloody Friday.”

I was too young for college (16) and had flunked out after two years, and reclassified 1A, from 2S.  My draft lottery number was 86.  Very bad number.  I remember I wanted to buy my first car.  A four year old, ’66 VW Karmann Ghia, $635 dollars.  I saved up the money from working in the Mount Vernon sectional center of the Post Office, from 3  p.m. to 11 p.m. (after classes, which ended at 1:30 p.m.). I was making big money, $170/week, but it was no wonder I flunked out.  I was exhausted and could care less about my studies.

My father, a WWII vet, said, in his typically sensitive way – sensitive as a toilet seat — “Whatta gonna buy the car for?  You’re gonna be drafted.”

He was almost right.  Given my 1A classification, I got a letter to report at 7 a.m. on, you guessed it, May 8th, 1970, for my pre-induction physical  I felt like this was a death warrant.

I also felt quite conflicted.  At 19, my father was fighting in the frozen snow of Belgium, in the Battle of the Bulge.  At 19, I was petrified of getting shot to death in some rice paddy in southeast Asia.  On some level, I wondered: what the fuck was wrong with me?  If my dad could do it, why couldn’t I?

I was at the famous 39 Whitehall Street induction center, a joyless old building in the financial district.  It even looked mean.  The windows on the ground floor had slits, like mean eyes staring at you.  It was designed that way, to prevent attacks from angry mobs.

Being a mature and responsible young adult, I closed the Teepee Inn, a bar on Jerome Avenue and Kingsbridge Road, the night before.  I overslept my 7 a.m. appearance time for my physical and la-dee-daa’d in at around 8:45 a.m.  I figured my goose was cooked so, you know, WTF.

I sat and watched tv in the waiting room.  Cartoons were playing, Looney Tunes.  So there I sat, still totally drunk, awaiting the inevitable, as the Porky Pig “that’s all folks!!” sign-off mocked me.

As instructed by the soldiers there, I stripped down to “shorts, shoes and socks…” and went from station to station, from inspector to inspector.  Imagine lines and lines of draft-age men snaking through an interior of pea green paint, each one at some point being instructed, “Turn your head and cough.” Cough. “Again.”

At some point, later in the morning, I heared loud chanting from outside, screaming and chanting.  It seemed to get louder and louder, even as the southern sergeant drawled, “Mr. Kleinman, I am sorry to inform you that you are unfit for duty in the armed forces of the United states of America.”

I got a 4-F form and two subway tokens.

I went outside, into a maelstrom.  It was a whirlwind.  Like the ending of the novel “Day of the Locusts.” Just frenzy.

These construction workers were US!!!  They were union guys, the little guy!!! How did they get so bamboozled? Why did they want to physically hurt us?

These guys were like the older brothers of friends of mine, in NY’s City College.  We were hardly elites.  We were strivers, trying to get just a bit more up the rung than our parents, who were first generation Americans.  All our grandparents, whether from Italy, Ireland, Greece or, in my case, Lithuania, were non-native English speakers, self-taught, with funny accents.  We all wanted desperately to assimilate fully.  In retrospect, this may have accounted for the passion of our elders to be “American” and embrace the flag.

What I remember most, was the feeling of terror.  The beating given out by the construction workers, as the cops just stood there.  The horses, all in a line.  Sooo big.  The screaming.

The mob headed east, towards Wall Street and the Treasury building.  I actually walked back into 39 Whitehall to wait a while.  Then, I went out again and hopped onto the uptown 1 train, and hoped no one came after me.  The train came, up from South Ferry.  I took it all the way up to 207th street and walked all the way across the bridge, up the steep hill, to my Bronx apartment.

First thing I did was call the cute nurse who was selling the VW and told her I was ready to seal the deal.  Then, that very afternoon, I filed for re-matriculation and registered, late, for two summer school courses.  I aced them both, got my ass in gear, and got re-matriculated and, ultimately, graduated.

I stay up at night, thinking about these things. And more.  To wit:

  • Greatest Generation: were they really?  Discuss…
    • Yes, they survived the Depression
    • They beat Hitler, that bastard
    • And then, any critical thinking skills they may have had seemed to have stopped
      • America, love it or leave it: that’s what they had to offer
      • No flexibility, no desire for change
      • They turned on their own sons and daughters, so easily, so handily
      • And social issues carried the day with them to the point where, to this day, they voted against their own best interests: union guys, rust belters in declining industrial areas, family farmers

So this, for me, was the marking point of where America went off the track: the Hard Hat riots of May 1970.

And what I’m saddest about, on a personal and a macro level, is that I saw upfront and personal, that Unconditional Parental love was not a given.  Not by a longshot.

The good news of all this: I learned the value of respect, kindness and open-mindedness towards opposing points of view and, when I did become a parent 17 years later, I made damn sure that I remembered those 1A days, when generation was pitted against generation, and class warfare ruled the day, fueled by crafty politicians making lucrative backroom deals.
.

What Happened to My Brooklyn?

All politics is local, or so the saying goes.  And all local issues are personal.

Today’s issue of The New York Times, includes a finely observed piece about the changes and similarities of “The Brooklyn Experience”  – comparing the 70s with today.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/travel/my-brooklyn-then-and-now.html?ref=nyregion

About 80 percent of his tale is in congruence with our experience there over 25 years. I lived in Park Slope from ’85 to ’10. When we announced our move to Brooklyn, my grandmother looked at us as if we announced we were moving to a death camp. She was scared for our safety. It was sketchy, but we had stars in our eyes, and we made a family, and built a life.

We moved for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest was that we felt we no longer belonged there; it was time to give the space to a younger family of greater affluence. Departure was bitter sweet. It was a lovely neighborhood, and our hearts still ache for all the good times and friends we had there. But time has passed and I firmly believe that there is a proper place to be, for each stage in life. It is unnerving to consistently be the only person in late-middle age at every restaurant.

We are, still, amazed by the velocity of change, whenever we visit. New York is always about the “change” — but it was the quicksilver movement from “balanced” to “uber-wealthy” and “very young” that told us it was time to decamp. If you want to visit us now, we’ll see you not at Elora’s or The Gate, but at Estrellita Poblana and An Beal Bocht. At ABB, there is — by design — no tv, plenty of free live music and theater, and lots of multi-generational conversation. The drinks are generous and the beers on tap varied and in good shape. In short, balanced — unlike the Park Slope I left.

The Big Game (excerpt)

Do you remember that moment in time when you, as a little kid of 10 or younger, realized the full implication of the fact that your parents were alive and had a life — a real back story — before you entered the world?  That time of life has such poignancy.

It’s what I wrote about in my new story, “The Big Game.”  Here’s an excerpt, which I read at New York’s An Beal Bocht  the other night.  Enjoy and please share and comment as you wish.

THE BIG GAME© – excerpt

By Martin Kleinman

“Good eye, baby, that’s the eye, good eye!” the Rotstein’s team chanted, as Dad, who was batting third, picked up three bats and went to the on-deck circle to warm up.  I heard his knees snap as he bent over to get the bats and again as he straightened up.  He swung the bats tentatively, and I knew he was babying his bad back.

As he slowly moved the practice bats through the hitting zone, I thought for sure I detected more wrinkles on his face and less hair on his head and my heart sank.  With Uncle Max out, the team was counting on Dad and Ducky to win the game.  We simply HAD to win the game.  There was no other way around it, for the outcome of games, along with the health and well-being of our favorite players, were of life and death importance to us, as kids and for years to come.  Just the year before, Stevie burst into tears, out of pure emotional relief, when the Yankees won the World Series.

Just then, we spied Uncle Max, who walked, slowly, back up the drive, a bulky ice pack taped around his right eye.  His left eye had swelled and turned blue-black, but was already partially open.

Joel looked over at Max and smiled, as the Rotstein’s supporters gave him a comfortable seat and patted his back.

Mustache rubbed up the Clincher, looked over at first base, and fired the ball home.  Joel hit it right on the button.  The ball screamed back to the mound with such velocity that it hit Mustache right smack in the forehead before he could raise a glove in self defense.  Myron’s big lead allowed him to scoot all the way around to third base, with Joel easily making it to second base before the pitcher was able to compose himself, find the ball, and check the runner at third.

An angry pulsing knot formed on Mustache’s brow.  He turned to Joel, who idly kicked second base, and pointed his gloved hand.  “You’re a dead man,” he said.  “You watch.  See what happens.  Just watch.”

In the on-deck circle, Dad took his last practice swings, throwing aside one practice bat, and then a second.  He gingerly stepped to the batter’s box.  Second and third, nobody out.

Mustache turned to his outfield, raised his hands over his head and waved them back.  “Keep going, keep going,” he said as his teammates jogged backwards to the outfield perimeter.  “This guy can hit.”

Stevie and I looked at each other, shook our heads and sighed.

“What’s the matter?” asked Butchy.

“I’m afraid,” said Stevie, his head down.  “I think I’m gonna puke.  I can’t look.”

“Me neither,” I said.  In fact, I had never fainted, but the way I felt at that moment, lightheaded and unable to focus, I figured that this MUST be the way you feel right before you faint.

Stevie held his eyes with both hands, peeping through his grubby fingers, like he did watching Vincent Price’s “The Tingler” at the RKO Fordham.  I looked over at Dad.  He tapped his black high-top Keds with the barrel of his bat, loosening clods of dirt, and took a few easy practice swings.  Then I looked over at Mustache.  His face had transformed into the essence of mean.  He turned to his infielders and grimly nodded.  The infielders returned to their normal positions; the shift was off.

“C’mon Bobby baby, c’mon, you can do it,” Uncle Max screamed at the top of his lungs.  As the entire Rotstein’s contingency picked up Max’s chant, Dad tightened his grip on the bat and readied for another blazing fastball from Mustache.  Mustache peered at his catcher, began his now-familiar windmill windup, and let the ball fly.

Only, instead of the usual heat, Mustache used the same fastball motion but uncorked a floater that seemed to take forever to reach the plate.  In his anticipation, Dad swung far too early, and wildly, nearly corkscrewing himself into the Swan’s batter’s box.

The torque of the swing caused him to shout out in pain.

“Dammit!” he screamed, as his brother Max did earlier in the game.  “Dammit to hell,” he shouted, dropping his bat and clutching his back.

Mom bolted from her aluminum folding chair and ran to her husband.  “Honey, your back?  Is it your back?” she cried.

Dad looked at her and cringed.

“I’m OK,” he said, still rubbing his lower back, backing away from the batter’s box.  “I’ll be fine.”

Mom picked up his bat and handed it to him.  He swung it gingerly as the Swan’s team began to razz him.

“C’mon, play ball, ladies,” fat Seymour screamed from right field.

“Cut the crap already,” Mustache said.  “Batter up!”

Dad slowly bent backwards and side to side, testing his back.  Mustache turned to look at his infielders while, on base, Myron and Joel started to chatter as they took aggressive leads.

“You got him, baby,” Myron said.

“C’mon, baby, c’mon, Bobby boy, you can do this,” Joel said.

Dad stepped back into the batter’s box, as Mustache rubbed up the ball, figuring – as we all did – that Dad’s bad back was no match for his heat-seeking missile of a fastball.  Mustache gripped the ball and went into his motion.  His fielders inched forward on the balls of their feet.

***

I have never seen anything like it since.

As expected, Mustache reared back and fired his fastball, intent on causing Dad to scream out in pain, miss badly and strike out, humiliated, after an errant second swing.

But Dad, ready for the heater, swung beautifully and powerfully, lofting a high, deep, arcing shot that caused both teams and their supporters to tilt their heads impossibly upwards, their eyes wide at the majesty of this positively Ruthian blast that easily cleared the ramshackle cabins forming the outfield boundaries.  Myron jogged in to score, followed by Joel, his gangly arms high overhead as he trotted in.  Dad, oblivious to his pain, danced around the bases, tipped his cap provocatively to the opposing players as he rounded the infield, jumped high, and stomped with authority on home plate, greeted by me, Stevie and Butchy, Mom and a good 20 of the Rotstein’s fans, all screaming deliriously.

Predictably, Stevie burst into tears.  “We did it, we did it, we did it, we did it,” he screamed, pogoing up and down, tears streaming down his dirty face.  “Oh man!  Oh man! Oh man! OH MAN! My daddy WON THE GAME!!!!”

       ###

(Note: for more stories of this type, you may wish to check out “Home Front,” my recent collection of New York-centric short fiction, www.sockmonkeypress.org.)

Siding With Scarlett

I’ve been a Scarlett Johansson fan for years, starting with her role in The Horse Whisperer up to her recent stage performances.  And why not?  She’s a local kid made good, a product of local public schools.  Her mom hails from The Bronx, her forebears fromMinsk.  We’re  landsman.

So when, in January 2014, Johansson resigned from her Oxfam position after facing criticism for her promotion of Sodastream, whose main factory is based in Ma’aleh Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, I was puzzled at first.  I didn’t understand the issues around it, and had only just seen the TV ads featuring Johansson.

Oxfam opposes all trade with Israeli settlements. Johansson said she and Oxfam “have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”

Confused, I turned to my rabbi for enlightenment.  And here is what Rabbi Judith Lewis, of Riverdale Temple, Bronx,NY, had to say:

“I love my Sodastream!

“I’ve had one of those Sodastream seltzer machines for about 10 years – I think I bought it right when they started marketing it in the United States.  And yes, part of the reason I bought it was that I liked the idea of supporting an innovative Israeli company.  I did not know that the factory was located in the West Bank.  But it’s been a part of my culinary life too long for me to part with it now.  In fact, I am chagrined to admit that I bought my sister and brother-in-law one this year – just weeks before the Scarlett Johansson flap.

“I didn’t realize the factory was in the West Bank until then.

“But I’ll say it very clearly – I’m glad I bought it.  And I’m glad Scarlett Johansson stuck with ‘us’ instead of Oxfam.  And this is coming from someone who prides herself on being liberal, who avoids the West Bank when she visits Israel, and who would like nothing more than to see a peaceful and secure resolution to the Israeli -Palestinian conflict, even if it means that some of my favorite spots in Israel will once again be difficult, if not impossible to get to.

“I remember riding down the Red Sea coast of the Sinai Desert when it was Israel- while I was in rabbinical school, which means sometime between the fall of 1975 and the spring of 1976.  We explored the Sinai confidently – climbing the peak that was identified as Mt.Sinai (after having slept at the base of it, outside of Santa Katarina Monastery, on the ground, no tents, nothing – in the middle of the desert).  I remember swimming off Dahab, wearing a pair of swim goggles, no fancy mask, and being so overwhelmed by the beauty of the coral reef that I could hardly breathe.  That was, in fact, the beginning of my love affair with scuba diving.  I had never seen anything like it, and now I cannot see enough of it!

“We drove all the way down to Sharm-el-Sheikh, and then I remember being able to see sharks quite clearly, swimming  in swarms through the Straits of Tiran as we stood on the high vantage point of Ras Muhammed.

“Then I remember, about 20 years later, traveling to Nuweiba, on that same Red Sea coast, on a bus with 40 other reform rabbis, so that we could take an overnight ferry to Aqaba.  Yes, you can walk to Aqaba from Eilat now.  They are contiguous.  You just have to have patience while you navigate the red tape of both sides of the customs authorities.  Back then, one could not leave Israel for an Arab country and return through the same location.  Nor could one go back and forth between Jordan and Israel.  You could go one way, but not both.  The peace treaty with Jordan was brand new.

“As we schlepped down to Nuweiba to catch the ferry, I asked our tour guide – actually the owner of a fantastic tour company in Israel called ‘Da’at’ — how it felt to be in the Sinai now that it was no longer Israel.  He said something like, ‘it wasn’t ours before, then it was, and now it’s not again – but we have peace.  I’d rather have peace if I have to make a choice.’

“Now, about 20 years after that trip, I think about Israel and her neighbors.  You can still walk across the Jordanian border and the Egyptian border, but the Egyptian border isn’t recommended these days.  Certain Israeli orthodox leaders are saying that Reform Judaism isn’t really Judaism.  Certain women are still struggling to liberate the Western Wall from the Haredim.  Certain vice presidents are warningIsraelabout what the public relations effect will be if she remains recalcitrant on the settlements.  And certain American academics are boycotting any products made in the West Bank, or inIsrael– it’s not always clear.  Three cheers for Scarlett Johansson.

“I am not a fan of the settlements.  Never have been.  I am a fan of certain neighborhoods in Jerusalem that were once Jordan.   Heck, I’ve even lived in some of them.  I am a fan of Israel- the IsraelI dream of, but also the Israel that exists today, even though I hate some of the things that go on there.  But if I’m not ready to vote with my feet, I have to focus on the things I do like.

“Lately we have begun to hear more and more about the technological innovations that consistently come out of Israel- even snow making for the Sochi Olympics – how profoundly ironic can you get? Israel helping Russia make snow!

“But Israeli innovations also spring from every aspect of the digital world, medicine, agriculture, and even yogurt, as I learned from Ari Shavit’s book, “My Promised Land.”

“I don’t think the greatest threat to Israelis from its neighbors, notwithstanding the possibility of a nuclear bomb in Iran.  I think Israel’s greatest threat is from herself; from a failure to nurture what makes her great, and a willingness to turn a blind eye to the things that make her not so great.

Yes,Israel hassles Palestinians when they try to get from one place to another.  Ever heard of stop and frisk?  Yes,Israel continues to build settlements where public opinion would indicate that she should not.  Have you ever heard of misuse of eminent domain?  Redlining?  Yes, Israeli Palestinians do not really enjoy the same benefits of citizenship Jewish Israelis do.  Have we overcome the effects of slavery in this country?  Do all minority citizens of the United States really enjoy the same benefits of citizenship that white, Anglo-Saxon Christians do?

“I wish that Israel could live up to the standards and ideals that created the state.  I also wish that the United States could live up to the standards and ideals that created it.  And so, surprising myself a bit, I have finally come down squarely on the side of those who say that criticism of Israel– when done in isolation and not in the context of criticizing all nations who fail to respect human rights, justice, fairness, etc. — is outright, blatant anti-Semitism.  There, I said it.

“Now I think I’ll go make myself a bottle of seltzer.”

I’m still sorting out what Rabbi Lewis told me, but I guess I’d say: “Yeah, what SHE said.”  And, for Oxfam, the net takeaway?  Scarlett — New York City-kid-made-good — is “just not that into you.”

She Brings the Bronx to You

Anna Ortiz-Irving brings today’s Bronx to the thousands of ex-pats who long ago left the Borough of Universities for other pastures, greener and otherwise.

Every day, no matter the weather, the 63-year old single mother of five walks the streets of the Bronx’s Fordham and Kingsbridge neighborhoods, in the 52nd, 46th and 50th police precincts, and takes pictures of apartment buildings, private houses, stores, alleys, step-streets and more – all on behalf of former Bronx residents eager to see what their old haunts look like.

She then takes cell phone photos and posts them on her Facebook group “Fordham Road Yesterday & Today” https://www.facebook.com/groups/410381689001622/.

As an added plus, she posts the occasional photo essay, such as the timely “New York Blizzards, Then & Now,” or a look at early ’60s Bronx bars.

“They see their old homes, and it takes them back, yet they are so surprised,” Ortiz-Irving said.  “They’re surprised at how GOOD it looks.  It’s like a shock to them.  They’re expecting burned out buildings, like a scene out of ‘Escape From New York’ or ‘Fort Apache, The Bronx.’”

The former Verizon service technician is comfortable walking anywhere in the area, day or night.  And she is comfortable dealing with building supers, allowing easy access to the back alleys that connect many Bronx apartment buildings.

Ex-pat Bronx people seem to be everywhere, based on a visit to the Facebook affinity groups that abound, with names such as “Grew Up in the Bronx in the 1960s,” “Bronx People Who Have Moved Elsewhere,” “Born, Raised & Schooled on Da Streets of Da Bronx,” “You Grew Up in the Bronx When…,” “Bronxites Now Living in Southern California,” and “Fordham Area Bronxites.”

Many long-time residents left in the era of high crime and economic collapse, and headed for first-ring New York City suburbs, as well as Florida,Arizona and California.

And then there is Ortiz-Irving, born in Morningside Heights and a Bronx resident since she was a baby.  She has never left the Bronx’s Kingsbridge area, except to take an infrequent, domestic, vacation.

“Why should I?” she said.  “People are surprised that I didn’t run.  I tell them, ‘This is my home, my neighborhood – it’s where I belong.  Why should I run?’”  Her mother, on the other hand, was sometimes terrified for Anna’s safety back in the day, as her teen-aged daughter would leave for parties around the city late at night.

Anna was unfazed.

“I never got in trouble,” Ortiz-Irving said, referring to dangerous situations.  “The Bronx was, and is, beautiful.  And I’m comfortable everywhere I go.”

Many of the former Bronxites who regularly post on Bronx-related Facebook groups have a lot invested in maintaining their image of theBronxof their youth.  “It used to be so nice,” is the phrase Ortiz-Irving commonly hears from ex-Bronxites before seeing the current photos of their birthplace.

In fact, NYPD Compstat Unit statistics show that felonies are down 75.67 percent from 1990 in the 52nd Precinct, 81.13 percent in the 50th Precinct, and 80.70 percent in the 46th Precinct. http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/crime_prevention/crime_statistics.shtml

The gentrification that has changed vast parts of Brooklyn and northern Manhattan is still nascent, at best, in isolated sections of the south Bronx, as reported in cool blogs such as Ed Garcia Conde’s Welcome2TheBronx show www.welcome2thebronx.com/wordpress/.  And, according to many longtime residents, a wholesale revamp of the borough may not be desirable.

Nevertheless, recent newspaper articles, such as this one in The New York Times, point out the aesthetic and financial appeal of Ortiz-Irving’s neighborhood http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/realestate/attention-priced-out-shoppers.html.

“I show them their old apartment buildings, the lobbies, the parks, schools and they’re amazed,” Ortiz-Irving said.  “They can’t believe how nice it looks, how elegant the buildings are, how blue the sky is.  They marvel at the green grass in St. James Park.  Yes, we have grass in the Bronx!

“They’ve left and they’re older now – they won’t come back.  So I bring their Bronx to them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Deaths

“They” say this is the “most wonderful time of the year.”

For the most part, “they” are correct.  Our lives leave what is routine, and we focus upon holiday magic, and doing for others, and enjoying the company of friends and family.

Sometimes, however, “they” can be wrong.

This post is a tribute to two Real New Yorkers who met untimely deaths.  They did not know each other.  Their common bond is that each lost his life during the holiday season.

Dr. S was the best physician I ever had.  He was raised in the South and his Upper East Side practice was run a bit like a country doctor’s.  He was practical, hands-on and listened. Barely middle-aged, he was athletic and fit.  He rode a motorcycle to work.

When he and his wife came to New York, years ago, they started a healthcare clinic for the poor on the Lower East Side.  They ministered to the sick and needy, and Dr. S also did his work at Lenox Hill and tended the garden of his private practice, steps from the Guggenheim.

Last year, Dr. S and his wife went on a much-needed vacation in Costa Rica.  One day, he went for a swim, while his wife stayed on the wild, unspoiled and uninhabited beach.  Dr. S got caught in a rip current and, try as he might, he could not make it to shore.

Last holiday season, Dr. S drowned.

I can still picture him in his office, sleeves rolled up, keying my test results into his laptop and admonishing me about my weight.

He was a Real New Yorker because he came here determined to make a life and to make his mark upon the world.  He worked hard, played hard and gave a helping hand.

The second remembrance of a Real New Yorker is — I mean, was — a good 20 years Dr. S’s junior.  He was born in Manhattan and was raised in Brooklyn, a Real New Yorker by birth.  I knew his parents well. They were neighbors in the Park Slope co-op we lived in for 17 years.

N. was a preternaturally gifted writer.  He endured the competitive pressure-cooker of Stuyvesant High School and was barely out of his teens when his first book was published.  He was hailed as the voice of a generation and beloved by legions of YA fans, kids who swore that the emotions he captured were their’s.  This gifted artist tapped into the mainline of today’s teen angst. There were books, screenplays, films and, now, TV scripts.  N. moved to Los Angeles.

But his talent had a price tag: he suffered from depression for years.  Last week, he killed himself in a most gruesome way.  I simply cannot imagine what demons it takes to cause one to deliberately head to the roof of a 13 story apartment building, your parents’ home, look down at the concrete below, and let yourself fall those dizzying seconds.

Two lives, connected only by the time of year of their deaths.  Of course, the game of life is that we all know that, someday and somehow, we will die. Which is why it is so hard for me to waste time — “it’s like throwing money in the gutter,” as my grandmother would have said.

Dr. S and N. are gone from this earth, but not from my memory.  I am left here to ponder their promise, now unfulfilled, and to remember not to waste a single moment.

One man is gone, doing what he loved best, living his passion.  The other, a young man, is also gone, lost traversing the foothills of his life, and tortured by an inner pain so severe that just one more day on earth was an unbearable, impossible, burden.

Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba.

B’alma di v’ra chirutei,
v’yamlich malchutei,
b’chayeichon uv’yomeichon
uv’chayei d’chol beit Yisrael,
baagala uviz’man kariv. V’im’ru: Amen.

Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach
l’alam ul’almei almaya.

Yitbarach v’yishtabach v’yitpaar
v’yitromam v’yitnasei,
v’yit’hadar v’yitaleh v’yit’halal
sh’mei d’kud’sha b’rich hu,
l’eila min kol birchata v’shirata,
tushb’chata v’nechemata,
daamiran b’alma. V’imru: Amen.

Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya,
v’chayim aleinu v’al kol Yisrael.
V’imru: Amen.

Oseh shalom bimromav,
Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu,
v’al kol Yisrael. V’imru: Amen.

A New Mayor, A New Day

The Real New Yorkers welcomes Bill de Blasio and his family to the NYC mayoralty.

Bill comes from my former neighborhood, Park Slope, and has lived there since well before tykes carelessly tossed $850 Burberry jackets to the floor of the playground at PS 321, and left them there, without a care.

To me, this is a story about the incremental change needed — now — to improve our city.  Real New Yorkers know that, once upon a time, it was the East Side and a few other enclaves where the uber-rich could be found.

Now?  NYC is largely a richy-rich world.  The non-rich are getting pushed out.  No, strike that.  Steamrolled out.  The prevailing attitude has been:”hey, if you can’t afford to live here, get the eff out.  And stay out!”

Real New Yorkers need to be able to live in their own city. Young adults from around the country, and energetic go-getters from all over the world need to be able to make New York their home.

Mayors can do only so much.  This is understood.  But by changing the dialogue, by recalibrating the tonality, many disinfranchised NY’ers can again feel like they at least have a fighting chance.

The ongoing decrease of crime in this city continues to impress, especially when marked against other cities such as Chicago, LA, Houston, DC, Detroit and Baltimore.  Kudos to the NYPD and the community policing approach first started many years ago under David Dinkins, who initially hired Ray Kelly.  A tweaking of stop and frisk will not ruin the quality of life in this city.  Instead, it will improve it, since the numbers show that the policy does nothing but clog up the system with unnecessary collars.

For all of Bloomberg’s vaunted managerial and entrepreneurial expertise, he kicked the contract can down the road and left a blow-out-the-doors, $2 billion deficit ahead.  What’s more, his tin ear got the goat of Real New Yorkers.  Kathy Black as school chancellor? Seriously?

And yes, let’s talk about schools, since Bloomberg said, way back when, that his mayoralty would ultimately be judged on the state of the schools when he left.  After upping the budgets and getting metric-centric, the kids are still flailing.  They were taught to pass tests, not “learn.”  There’s plenty of work to be done to improve the education level of our kids in our public schools, and if it takes an incremental increase on top earners’ income taxes, so be it.

Bloomberg, Bermuda awaits. Mayor Bill de Blasio: welcome.

THE REAL NEW YORKERS SPEAK #2

Today’s question, from Brooklyn:

Dear Real New Yorkers,

What tips can you provide on how to celebrate Labor Day?

Best Regards,

Perplexed in Park Slope

Dear Perplexed,

No need for confusion.  There’s no reason to buy petrochemicals and drive in heavy traffic, or go to crowded beaches or noisy parades.

All you have to do is think — about two words: Labor Movement.

Society is built upon the back of labor.  Yours.  Mine.  His.  Hers.  Real New Yorkers understand that, as a key portal for immigration to the U.S., our city was, is and always will be instrumental in providing the physical and intellectual strength needed to keep this country humming.  And, as we know — or should know — the U.S. consumer economy is a key driver of the world’s economy.

The bravery of the labor movement, born on our streets, resulted in a powerful middle class that created an unparalleled standard of living.  Now, today, many politicians believe there is currency in denigrating labor.  They claim that the modest remuneration of civil service workers is the cause of broken budgets.  They claim that teachers — TEACHERS, FOR GOD’S SAKE!!! — make too much money and have caused the collapse of our once-enviable public school system.

And many citizens believe the noise.  ”Yeah,” they say, “who do these unionized people think they are, with their Cadillac medical plans, and pensions, and raises.  Where do they come shining off?”

Instead, a considered comment might be: “Hey, we deserve that type of package too — we’re holding down the fort for three fired co-workers, and now they cut my hours so I’m not entitled to healthcare benefits anymore!”

For the reality is, when the middle class makes more money, people buy more goods and services and pay more taxes.  And that, Perplexed, floats everyone’s boat.

Even the one-percenters howling at the moon over the (stagnated) minimum wage and the need for a few measly sick days a year.

I am reminded that Woody Guthrie lived in Coney Island for a time.  He came from Oklahoma, but he ended up a Real New Yorker.  His song, Tom Joad (based upon Steinbeck’s epic The Grapes of Wrath) tells a story worth noting and noting well on Labor Day.  http://www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/Tom_Joad.htm

Now, Perplexed, if you really want to get your dander up, about today’s labor inequities, give a listen to this performance by Springsteen and Tom Morello, on Springsteen’s homage to Guthrie’s song, The Ghost of Tom Joad. Consider Bruce’s opening remarks as he intros this song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JChuUgio_8g

After watching it, I think you’ll know better what you should be doing and thinking this Labor Day.

Best,

The Real New Yorkers Speak

 

THE REAL NEW YORKERS SPEAK #1

Welcome to The Real New Yorkers Speak.  This will be a regular feature on topics of the day.  No holds barred.  Any New York-centric topic is fair game.

Today’s question:

Dear The Real New Yorkers Speak:

I am a registered Democrat and the mayoral primaries are coming up tout de suite.  Who should I vote for?

The Real New Yorkers Answers:

Good question.  Here’s how I look at it:

  • Weiner: Anthony, Anthony, Anthony…what are we going to do with you? I had thought you were on the right side of the issues, I had thought you were a contender but, alas, you have serious emotional problems.  These days, the NYC mayor has to deal with both pothole issues and be an international ambassador and be a big-picture guy.  Do you really want this, this person representing Real New Yorkers on the global stage?  Once you’ve become the butt of the late night comedians’ jokes, you’re no longer viable.  Next….
  • Quinn: Ah, the mighty Quinn.  All the media training and soft, cuddly feature stories can’t whitewash who you really are, what you really did, and what you’re likely to do if elected.  If you would have voted for a fourth Bloomberg term, she’s definitely your candidate. But if you’re a Real New Yorker, move on…
  • Thompson: Four years ago, Thompson nearly toppled mini-Mike, despite sleepwalking through his campaign and being outspent by Bloomberg about a gazillion to one.  I think I like the guy, I really do.  But in the first debate, he came off so…so…so…dull.  If he’s capable of amping it up, he better start soon.  So far, I give him a grade of ZZZZZ.
  • De Blasio: Ok, I’m trying hard to ignore the fact that the PC patrol, such as Susan Sarandon, is coming out for Bill. I heard great things about him, from people who I respect and who are in the know.  But I wasn’t sure.  Then, I saw him in action at the first debate.  Hmmm.  He impressed.  He was the only adult on the stage, the only one with his lights on.  Weiner flailed.  Thompson failed.  Quinn parroted the key message points her handlers drilled into her big doughy head.  But De Blasio?  I think he’s a player, I think he’s a mensch and I think he can make a difference after 12 years of megalomania.  Now, does he have a chance against, say, a Joe Llohta?  Stay tuned.

Over to you, Real New Yorkers.  What do you think?