Wednesday, November 16, 2011

rat city revealed

So I'm watching Mayor Bloomberg's press conference yesterday.  And as always, he's calm, clear and preternaturally self-possessed with the bulldog face of Ray Kelly glaring at us from behind his left shoulder.

And except for a few patently ridiculous things - (were there really "allegations of people defecating in alleys" in Lower Manhattan?  Let me tell you, Mike, I can guarantee you that people have been shitting in the streets down there, long before the protesters showed up and it's a sure bet that the fecal deposits will continue long after they're gone) - he made his case.

It's an indefensible case, but it's capable of being made.

And it really has very little to do with Brookfield Properties property rights and nothing at all to do with the spurious claim that the occupation was preventing non-protesters from enjoying the "passive recreation" that the park is supposed to provide to the people of New York.

What does that actually mean, I wonder, "passive recreation"?  You can throw a frisbee but you can't chase after it if the wind whips it away?

No, the telling part of the Mayor's speech and the moment when the true twin faces of Rat City appeared floating above the podium was when Mike tried to justify the forced removal and arrest of hundreds of peaceful protesters with the typical New Yorker's unexamined arrogance, pointing out that he didn't do it like "other cities", no squadrons of cops waded into the crowd with billy clubs raised, this ain't Oakland, son.

He did it in the New York way.  Efficient, bloodless and with the elegant legal fig leaf that covers the shame, the defense that says "Our plan was to re-open the park at 8:00 AM.  And the protesters are welcome to come back.  Just without their tents and backpacks and everything else that allows them to occupy the place."

Kind of a key word there, occupy.

And the old, original visage of New Amsterdam twinkled there for a moment, Old Man Knickerbocker himself, a shrewd Dutch merchant with no time for anything but the market.  It's the old truth of the city, no surprise but still cold and heart-stopping each time you hear it plainly stated:

It's about the money.  Finally, simply and always.  Everything else is fine and allowed. Go crazy, it's the Big Town, but if you don't have the dime you don't get to dance, so pack it up and go back to a less serious place.  We mean business here.

Right, so nothing new there.  Power takes care of power and we're all adults here.

It was a little later, when the mayor was answering some softball question pitched lazily from the crowd, that the second face appeared.

The mayor was talking about the homeless, that other and more long-standing contingent of tent-pitchers and property rights violators.  And he dropped the assertion, probably true, that New York has the smallest homeless population of any major American city.

And I saw what at first looked to be Rudy Giuliani staring back at me hard-eyed and victorious.  And then it morphed into a much more benign and friendly face, a face you started seeing all over the place in the 80s and then usually in pairs down in my neighborhood in the 90s, a smooth-cheeked, smiling young face, a young businessman in a nice suit and Italian shoes, standing at the most unlikely of corners, pointing at derelict buildings and laughing easily.

I'd stand on the street smoking a morning cigarette wondering who the hell were these white guys and what the hell were they doing down here?

Like the family dog wondering where we were all going this morning and who's the guy in the white coat and why are you holding me down?

And waking up without his balls.

They cleaned this town up, friends.  It's still Rat City, you're never going to exterminate those brutes, but the town I moved to, the town of CBGBs and Alphabet City and the old Times Square and all the rest of it is a beautiful, doubtful memory.

And every old-timer says the same thing, it's Burt Lancaster in Atlantic City, I know, I know but that doesn't mean it's not true.  

So there was Mike, saying it without having to say it:  we don't let anything actually dangerous happen here anymore.  You can do what you want up to a point, sure, but after that point, we shut you down.

And I'm not going to romanticize crime and poverty and mountains of garbage.  The place used to be a fucking sewer, seriously.  But there was a life beating beneath all of that, something you could feel jumping and something that scared you in a good way, made you sharper and a little braver just by walking through it.

There was a possibility that I think we sold for a few tourist dollars and some empty corporate headquarters.

I'd love to hear from some twenty-year-olds that I'm a cranky old man who's spouting shit.  I'm sure they're out there.  And all I have for a reply is the Old Man's Dodge:

Yeah, but you weren't there.  It was something to see, kid.  It was something to see.


Sanjay said...

(RE: tell me I'm lying)
Got nothing for ya.
My question is, was it better for me to be thrown out of (my) Shire, and given the ring of power, and so now enabled to enjoy any corner of Mannahatta even though there's not much left to enjoy?
I spend my days with the smooth-cheeked boys, and listen to them talk about how it's much better now -- we have Chipotle!

Thing is, they wouldn't have let me stay in the Shire anyway. They'd have evicted me; thrown me out to Arkansas. There's a nice new high-rise and a CVS where old man Baggins' used to be...

John said...

Yeah, I know that CVS.

And it's true, we didn't have Chipotle back in Great and Distant Days. Although I think there was a guy named Chipotle who used to live on the block.

Don't know, Sanj. I try not to answer the better or worse variety of question anymore.

It's all just different and we're all sliding around on some kind of Scale.