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I am here to “Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today…” sings the powerful lament from New York, New York, immortalized by the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra.
Except now those words aren’t for someone longing to return to their native New York. Now that line is for the New Yorkers fleeing their city from the ravages of the COVID pandemic, economic turmoil and a systemic breakdown of law and order. Instead of a war on crime to protect the innocent, a war on cops has led to more shootings so far than all of 2019. A teenager set on fire. A tech exec chopped up. A one-year-old shot by random gunfire, although its only random when it misses and always colorblind. Shuttered small businesses. Homeless sex offenders living a block from a school. Junkies shooting up in midtown. A great city teetering again on the edge.
The Truth About New York City and I:
Let me start by telling you what this article is not about.
It is not a partisan attack from an ideological, partisan perspective. I am an independent with a strong populist streak which comes from growing up working class in the Bronx; when the lights flickered, we knew changing the bulb wouldn’t help.
My father, a wallpaper hangar, sometimes wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom when he was on a job. It had nothing to do with him being a Jew. They didn’t want his blue-collar cooties on the towels!
I am a lifelong New Yorker who loves the soul of his city because that is the only way you can live here. New York has circled the drain before. Back in the 1960s into the early 70s, Fun City was in the clutches of the clueless, but charismatic Mayors John Lindsay and machine pol Abe Beame.
Endless strikes. Crime waves. Bankruptcy. Son of Sam. The Burning Bronx. Blackouts. Kept afloat by the magic of the Mets and the Knicks and the Jets, this seemingly ungovernable city regained its footing under Ed Koch, polarizing but effective. Then back into the toilet in the 90s under David Dinkins, a decent man who was as equipped to be Mayor as I am to play point guard for the Knicks.
We survived and thrived under Royal Prince-Mayor Rudy Giuliani followed by Mike “Mommy Dearest” Bloomberg. Even 9/11 couldn’t stop the resurrection of New York. Joe Torre’s Yankees helped.
Now we have Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Curly Joe of American politics. Mindless violence besieges our poorer neighborhoods, the ones most vulnerable. As part of the elitist contempt for the brave men and women of the NYPD (the majority who are diverse) who risk their lives to protect us, the special unit designed to confiscate illegal guns was disbanded. New York has among the strictest gun controls in the country, but criminals always find a way. That’s why they’re criminals. New bail reform laws put accused felons right back on the streets. Guess what happens then?
While our disconnected leaders hop around making speeches in their chauffeured cars, citizens are gunned down like the young man shot in the chest because he flicked his cigarette near a group on a street corner. Why even bother with a sensible reason?
Or the homeless man who pressed his enraged face inches from mine recently on the F train. My only provocation was minding my own business flanked by a couple Trader Joe’s bags.
Between his spit (thank God I wore my mask), he demonstrated how he’d rip my face off unless “my people” stopped stealing his money. Like any good New Yorker, I wouldn’t move away, remaining calmly defiant and preparing to defend myself with a loaf of pumpernickel bread until he stomped off.
Welcome back, Fun City. Yes, the protests and subsequent riots a few months ago have faded. Apparently the Antifa thugs wandered into the wrong Brooklyn neighborhood and word got back to citizens who defended their local Target store. But the violence left a boulevard of boarded-up windows.
National retailers say New York is now the toughest city in which to do business. I’m sorry ‘cause those Wall Street investment bankers will need new fall wardrobes soon, but I care more about the small businesses.
Eviscerated by the coronavirus lockdown and already facing exorbitant rents in the best of times, these family-owned companies feed the heart of New York. Often multi-generational, they were and are the traditional portals for the city’s immigrants. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. These businesses employ many first-generation Americans who, acclimating to the language just like my peeps did around the turn of the Twentieth Century, would have trouble getting jobs elsewhere. Now about 80 percent of those small businesses are having trouble paying rent. Many will never reopen their dreams.
Without tourists, there’s no Broadway. And without Broadway, there are no tourists. Maybe early next year. Maybe the spring. The Nederlanders and Disney can clip coupons, but what about the struggling artists? The independent theaters, the little arts centers, another definition of the city’s soul and character are drying up and dying out.
Where do you think those big Broadway productions got their start except at smaller venues, the laboratories of creativity? From what I’m told, indie theater reps aren’t even on the city’s reopening committees. Mayor Curly Joe & Co. only care about Broadway big bucks. They’re the ones who write out the big campaign contributions.
The exodus of New Yorkers has been going on for a few years, but New York may never fully recover. In 2018, the city registered the highest net population loss in the country. High taxes, inadequate schools and ridiculous rents drove folks in all directions. Now it’s more threatening because it’s increasingly the middle class and working class who are fleeing. The rich can go to their second and third homes in the Hamptons and create their Elysium-like fortresses. Defunding the police doesn’t matter to its elitist proponents because they can afford private security. Do you anticipate looters breaching the walls of Matt Damon’s Brooklyn Heights castle anytime soon?
But what about the people just making it? Despite claims from Mayor de Blasio, the homeless now swarm over parts of the Upper West Side. Encampments flourish in Chelsea. The Lower East Side. Mentally ill, drug addicts, violent offenders and plain ol’ deviants. If you worry about your child in the playground getting molested or shot, what the hell kind of city is it?
Ultimately, you love New York because you love other New Yorker’s who share in confronting and surmounting the madness. It’s the people who make this city great, not our failed leaders who don’t look over their shoulders when they walk home at night or whose hearts don’t skip a beat when a flurry of bills hits the mailbox on the same day.
Conclusions and Former Fond Memories:
Whenever a friend would visit from out-of-town, I would always insist on taking them on the subway to see who rides a typical New York City subway car. A tapestry of diversity diffidently sitting side by side, going to work, coming home, getting through the day. It doesn’t matter what your hyphenation is. You’re a New Yorker.
Now today, beneath the face masks, you see the fear and anxiety as Vanity Fair recently described, a literal Hell on Earth. The sense that this isn’t working, that you wish you weren’t here. When you lose the great cities like New York or anywhere Americans crowd together to put aside their differences in pursuit of their individual dreams, you lose the wondrous flavor of our melting pot. We have no choice in New York. We have to get along. Guess what? So do all of you. You need to be a part of this, too.
Gary Morgenstein is the author of six novels including the highly praised science fiction-baseball book A Mound Over Hell. Hailed as “1984 Meets Shoeless Joe,” the novel is set in 2098 following America’s defeat by Islam in World War 3 as baseball begins its final season ever. A Fastball for Freedom, Book 2 in the series, will be published by BHC Press in the Spring 2021.
An accomplished playwright, Morgenstein’s funny new drama about modern prejudice, A Black and White Cookie, is scheduled to premiere post-coronavirus emergency. In the play, a no-nonsense conservative African-American newsstand owner and an eccentric 1960s Communist must overcome anti-Semitism to form an unlikely friendship and take on the system.
I will leave you now on a positive (musical) note about fond New York City memories from the past that I hope will once again become manifest in the future of the city that I love, New York, New York!
In the meantime, as Reopen America continues to become reality, mostly in the honest hardworking non Communist States before Election 2020, please feel free to share this article with your friends, co-workers and or family.
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