My 2012 Wish List


On behalf of all Real New Yorkers, I have a number of wishes for 2012, now, at this point, as we slide to the conclusion of another difficult year.  Here they are:

  • May our political leaders cut the crap, shake hands, agree to disagree on some points, and work to solve our myriad economic, social and medical problems, with compromise, integrity and earnest effort
  • May these same leaders see the light and work towards policies that promote energy independence, which is the sure way to deflate the power of the world’s bad actors and simultaneously grow jobs and, thus, our economy
  • May the metaphorical light bulb go on in homes and in state rooms, and illuminate the fact that a bleeding-edge education is the way for our nation to stay strong enough to help save the great idea that is “democracy” — and to drive the success of the world economy.  Shut the g-d X-boxes off and study, fer crissakes!
  • May U.S. leaders pause their posturing long enough to admit that science has validity and that facts trump fiction
  • May our more religious citizens finally equate the teachings of their religions with actions in daily life and take this knowledge into their interpersonal relationships — and into voting booth come November, to vote for some semblance of compassion for those less fortunate.  I have never read scripture that states: “every man for himself.”
  • May the world’s journalists track News Corp evil all the way up to Rupert, and take Faux News and the entire garbage spewing empire down, once and for all
  • May we all just take it down a notch and be friends — please?  












A Holiday Observation

I felt blessed this morning at the farmer’s market on Isham Street in Inwood. 

The air was sweet and fresh and the folks were in good spirits, up here in the northern tip of Manhattan.

My sense was that, despite the thrum of frustrating news pumped at us from all sides in this 24/7 media vortex — and that is certainly part of being a Real New Yorker — the blessing of the day took precedence. 

The crowd here was reminiscent of Park Slope’s farmer’s market, circa 1988.  I got the sense that these people weren’t particularly rich, but that they lead rich lives.  They are considerate.  They read books.  They love their children, their neighbors, their pets.  Themselves.  They know right from wrong.

No, this was not a sharp-elbows crowd of the self-entitled.  This was a sweet crowd, quietly considering the attributes of one unwaxed apple over another, selecting fresh breads from upstate New York, and fish from the deep green seas off the East End of Long Island.

At every turn, I saw beatific smiles on the faces of these Real New Yorkers.  And why not?  The skies were blue.  The wind was calm.  The air was fresh.  It was chilly but, hey, it’s December.

Maybe times are harder, but here we all were, finding our way, picking healthy vegetables, poultry, honey — nature’s bounty — to make a hearty, nourishing meal for family and friends.

It’s the holidays.  For goodness sakes.  It’s the holidays.  We’re alive.  And that’s more than enough for a small celebration, in my book.

The Fighters 

I urge you to read Corey Kilgannon’s excellent New York Times profile of prize fighter Edwin Viruet, which had an unexpectedly powerful resonance.  Here is a guy who was a top contender, rising to championship bouts against the great Roberto Duran.  He was, in fact, the only fighter to ever cut Duran.  And Duran was, pound-for-pound, one of the best fighters ever.

And here he is now, Edwin Viruet, on public assistance and hustling training gigs at John’s Boxing Club in the South Bronx, the big paydays long gone after a heartbreaking slide to the bottom in the great life game of Chutes and Ladders.

These days, Viruet’s is the situation of all too many Real New Yorkers — no matter if they are white or blue collar workers.  No, fired book editors are not necessarily taping their hands and pounding the heavy bag in a hot, sweaty gym.  But there is an entire generation of careers being bulldozed into oblivion, an entire city of strivers who studied hard, worked long hours, played the game, took a dive when they had to in terms of office politics, and ka-boom.  They’ve been downsized.  TKO.

Some hang on to dead-end, palooka jobs, just for the health care benefits.  And every day, it seems, they are on the bubble.  They hope, they pray, that the boss, sometimes 20 years their junior, doesn’t come in some sunny Friday, to give “the talk.”  As the old-time boxing announcers would scream at ring side, as one fighter would stand, motionless, eyes swollen shut, face bloodied, taking a hurricane of punches on the way to being TKO’d: “Oh, such punishment.  I can’t believe he’s still on his feet.  Won’t they stop this fight?  For God’s sake, stop the fight.”

Who do you know that has an old-time, straight-up job at a company?  It sometimes seems as if everyone is cobbling together a life, holding onto tattered shreds of a career.  Some are part-timers.  Others freelance and do project work.  Still others linger on the periphery of their former professions, holding on by their fingernails, showing up, ghost-like, at association awards dinners, company ex-pat reunions, or lunches with other denizens of the downsized demi-monde.

With wan faces, they relive their glory days, recall the details of old accounts won and lost, revisit the scandalous behavior of trade shows past, and always, it seems, end with “are you still in touch with…?” or “have you heard from…?”

Gone is the experience and the institutional knowledge of an entire generation.  Gone is the glue that holds the workplace fabric together.  The young managers that remain perform yeoman’s work, and strain valiantly to keep the pipes filled with orders and the young’uns trained and motivated, moving forward, ever forward, slogging towards company profitability.

But when the youth sees what happens to those who play by the rules, and gasps at the pittance of a raise they get after their long hours at the salt mines, their future is clear — the only way out is to invent their own jobs, not hustle for someone else.  (Note to management: Free pizza for those who stay after 8 p.m. ceases to cut it, after awhile.)

There is no way that anyone with their lights on will continue to sweat blood for the names on the office door.  The contract of loyalty has been punched to the canvas.

A great army of professional pugs is being hammered to the point where they are unable to even show up at the John’s Boxing Clubs of life, to hustle a gig here, a gig there, like Edwin Viruet.  They simply say, in the immortal words of Roberto Duran, who was himself destined for professional destruction, “No mas.”

Urge For Going

I heard the honk of Canadian geese this morning, and saw them in chevron flight as they crossed my view and headed across the mighty Hudson River and, naturally, the great Joni Mitchell song, Urge For Going, popped into the mental iPod.  Her minor chord mastery sets the tone for our weather here, and the weather that is to come.  Yes, we had a freakish blizzardette that ravaged the northeast and left many without power for weeks, way back in late October.  But November proved viable, with daytime temperatures in the 60s and the air smelling rich and loamy, like the forest’s wormy scent after a summery rainfall, when you’re a little kid, looking for salamanders under ferns, in the woods at camp. 

It was a tease here, these November air inversions, unfairly trapping the last of summer’s warmth close for no reason than to lift the hearts of Real New Yorkers, not letting go until, as we all knew it would, the jet stream shifted, reluctantly, inevitably, and cool Canadian air swept the last of the leaves from our trees.

So now it is finally time to weatherproof our snow shoes, find our gloves, hats, scarves and warm winter apparel from the back of our closets, and face the music.

Winter is nearly upon us.  The sun’s light is thin.  The year is coming to a close and, with the shortness of the days, there is more time to think, to dream, to ponder the possibilities of the New Year, soon upon us.  The year 2011 has the urge for going, and I think it’s time for it to go.