Ask a New Yorker vs. Ask A Native New Yorker

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New York City generates billions of dollars in tourist revenue every year. Seeing and experiencing New York City should be on everyone’s to-do list and if you haven’t been here, you’re missing out.

Arguing about New York City is also its own industry. There are books and websites dedicated to letting you know what you should know about our city and all vie for authority and authenticity. People want to eat a real New York bagel and have a quintessential New York slice of pizza when they are here. People who live here want to keep things real as well. No one who lives in Manhattan dares dine in the tourist trap chain restaurants of Times Square if they can help it—that’s not the New York thing to do.

I was born in New York City, so I am a native New Yorker. I happen to have lived a good bit of time outside of the city though. I’ve been back a long time – almost 20 years now. But between the ages of 11 and 25 I lived outside of the New York City area. I drove back to New York in November of 1997 and have lived within the five boroughs since March of 1998.

While I’m proud to be have been born here and being a native New Yorker is a source of pride, I’d be kidding myself if I thought that being born here made you more of a real New Yorker than not. Our current and most recent former mayor are not native New Yorkers. In fact both Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio are originally from the Boston area (yuck!). But if you can get elected mayor of New York, no one can deny you are a real New Yorker.

For the record, the mayor who most embodied New York City during his tenure and beyond is the late Ed Koch. It’s a personal prejudice because I grew up during his time in office, but if there is one single person who embodied our city over the last half century it is Koch. Koch was a native New Yorker, but his definition of being a New Yorker was six months. He noted that more than half the people who live in the city are from somewhere else, so if you move here and at the end of your first six months here you find yourself walking, talking and thinking a little faster, you’re a New Yorker.

People have been arguing over what makes someone a real New Yorker since our metropolis became New York in 1664 (anyone calling our city New Amsterdam is a poseur). It’s something that will always be argued and debated. Like all debates about culture it will rage on forever and never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

But having lived in New York your whole life certainly gives you a good perspective. The Gothamist Web site has a column called Ask A Native New Yorker written by its publisher and cofounder Jake Dobkin. People write in anonymously with questions like: Is It OK To Smoke Weed With Other Parents During A Playdate?  and Is It Wrong To Scream At Ivanka Trump If We See Her In Public? While the title of the column gives credence to the fraudulent idea that those born here are somehow more authentically New York, the column’s advice is very sound.

There are unconfirmed rumors that Gothamist is working to trademark the phrase “Ask a Native New Yorker” and that this goliath media entity will turn its legal hounds upon the modest upstart Ask A New Yorker. We say: bring it. We have no issue with what Gothamist is doing, but we were here before that column. Gothamist even interviewed our chief, Kennedy Moore.

Being an underdog and an upstart is also a very New York move. We don’t think anyone would ever mistake Ask A New Yorker for Gothamist. We couldn’t care less what overpriced food festivals are going to take hipsters to the cleaners this weekend or what shady faux dive bar “Still Got It.”

And bring on the debate over who gets to speak for New York City. I am proud to have been born within the five boroughs, but that’s not what makes me a real New Yorker. Enjoying the life of the city despite its many difficulties and compromises, embracing the chaos and the bustle that simultaneously energizes and exhausts you, and loving to share this city with others makes you a real New Yorker.

Nazi trolls and fascists in black

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Last week, a mob descended on New York University and effectively cut short a talk by Gavin McInnes, an author and commentator who was a co-founder of VICE. The day before, rioters caused a talk by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California at Berkeley to be canceled.

Around the same time, a series of photos made the rounds of social media showing subway riders getting together to wash swastika graffiti from their subway car that some sad troll had scribbled there. It’s an example of the true New York. Some real Nazi thought they would get a rise out of someone and instead people rolled up their sleeves and did the right thing. People getting together to clean up some nasty vandalism makes New York, and America, a little bit greater.

There’s a reason Nazis are bad, and it’s not just because they sometimes graffito the subways. Nazis are awful because they believe they are entitled to step on the rights of others, to use political violence to silence their critics, and that they are self-righteous enough to sanction murder to further their ideas.

Censorship by mob violence is something we thought we had taken out of American life, and that in large, self-proclaimed “progressive” cities like Berkeley, California and New York would be treated as a sacred part of the social fabric. Indeed most New Yorkers who can read above a 12th grade level abide by the maxim often attributed to Voltaire: I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.

But many factions of the progressive left do not see the threat to free speech when street thugs, or the spoiled Trustafarian versions most likely to join the “black block,” decide to be arbiters of who gets to exercise the universal human right of free expression. To them, the speakers at Berkeley and N.Y.U. were “Nazis” who lost their human rights when they embraced the dark side of the ideological divide.

Neither of these people being touted as Nazis really are. Milo Yiannopoulos is gay and part Jewish; he would have been made into a lampshade during the Third Reich. Gavin McInnes is a libertarian whose views would have gotten him thrown in the nearest labor camp in post-1933 Deutschland as well (full disclosure: I have had articles published on McInnes’ Web site Street Carnage and once met him at a party).

What the Milo Yiannopoulos’ of the world are is a threat to the tired identity politics that has become the Gospel of a detached and sanctimonious activist left. If the “alt right” is an evil empire of straight white males that will shove everyone who voted for Hillary into a new Auschwitz, then a gay Jewish immigrant as their poster boy belies all the boogeyman hype.

The people burning things and rioting to stop Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin McInnes from speaking are bigger fascists than any real “alt right” figure could ever dream of being.

There are real Nazis in America today. Most of them are keyboard commandos who like to dress in ridiculous uniforms. Some of them are dangerous criminals, but most couldn’t putsch their way out of their mother’s basement. These people feel emboldened, thinking that the breakdown of political orthodoxy signaled by Donald Trump’s victory means there is a market for extreme ideas. There isn’t.

New Yorkers have always reveled in their ability to get along with others despite the tribal nature of human life. If we’ve made a go of it here in New York, we figure, we’re a cut above the normal social mores that are taken for granted elsewhere. We put them aside though we know they are never completely gone. With millions of people crammed into the five boroughs like rats, we have a lot of hate for each other, but we’re pragmatic enough to get through our days frustrated but not hell-bent on murder.

“Hate speech” or “Free speech is not consequence-free speech” are calling card phrases of a dogmatic and intolerant left. This faction isn’t new but is newly. It is neither progressive nor just. When you judge them by their actions “antifa” is pretty damn “fa.”

New Yorkers aren’t fooled by self-proclaimed saviors who see a Nazi under every rock. Our city respects free speech, it is part of what makes us the most American of cities. The next time Gavin McInnes or Milo Yiannopoulos makes a public appearance in our Gotham, I plan to go see them.

Presidential stupidity and the need for patriotic immigration reform

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When I moved back to New York City as an adult in the late 1990s, the job that got me here was as an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Services. I worked at J.F.K. airport stamping passports and processing immigrants, refugees, tourists, celebrities, and anyone else that came through my line.

In some cases the job could be very humbling and inspiring. For a short time I worked at the federal building in downtown Manhattan interviewing refugees and asylees who were applying for green cards. I met people who would rather be fry cooks in America than engineers in their native country. I met a woman who had seen her family murdered, a man who did time in jail for being gay, and young guy who faced prison time for simply protesting for his rights.

I also saw first-hand how our system is completely broken and is largely not at all in keeping with the traditions of what we consider our great American heritage of immigration. Our immigration laws and policies are a patchwork of corporate influence and ethnic lobbying. There is no comprehensive consideration of the national interest in how immigration is handled in the U.S. and it’s been that way for decades.

In New York City, you know something crazy is going on when people are voluntarily going to JFK Airport when they don’t have to. This past weekend thousands of people flocked there to protest the detention of a handful of travelers by order of a hastily drawn up Presidential executive order travel ban that affected a handful of Muslim-majority countries.

Travel bans like the one issued are done at times when there is a potential immediate terrorist threat. Others that have been cited have been President Carter’s restriction on Iranian travel during the hostage crisis at the time and President Obama’s temporary ban on processing Iraqi refugees in 2011. But those were limited and in response to events happening at the time. There aren’t corresponding crises that would equate to the recent Trump travel ban.

President Trump’s ham-handed executive order is like everything else he has done: a dramatic show without any planning or thought and with no understanding of the issues. He managed to make life difficult for those border and airport inspectors on the front lines of our national defense and energize the opposition. He’s helped open-border advocates position their agenda as more mainstream than it is.

Trump won the election based largely on the strength of his opposition to illegal immigration and within the first week of his administration he’s undermined his greatest political asset.

And the biggest tragedy is that now real patriotic immigration reform is going to be even more difficult to achieve, because any attempt to enact a common-sense agenda is going to be linked to Trump’s bone-headed travel ban.

This weekend’s move also hurt the fight against Islamic terrorism. Keep in mind that our best allies in the fight against Muslim extremists are Muslims from those afflicted countries. Trump’s attempt at a show-business presidency punishes some of the people who worked alongside our military in Iraq and Afghanistan, truly deserving refugees that risked their lives for our servicemen and women.

The decay of our immigration system began in 1965 and it’s had more than 50 years to morph into the mess it is today. It will take years to pass the laws needed to make sensible immigration policy stick. If Donald Trump is serious about really making a lasting change, he would stop his senseless showboating and start drafting legislation with Congressional leaders. That would require time away from TV cameras and social media. That requires real work. Start now!

Hockey is for girls (and that’s awesome)

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My wife was one of the many thousands to participate in the New York Women’s March this past weekend. My social media feeds were dominated with friends and family participating in these marches in New York, Washington D.C. Oakland, New Haven, Atlanta and elsewhere. There was even a march in Antarctica. It turns out women don’t like being insulted by lecherous politicians who count the Miss Universe pageant as foreign policy experience; who knew?

But these marches are not the only route to empowerment. And the Women’s Marches of this past weekend adhere to a strict political agenda that is not for everyone.

But no matter what your politics, you want the women of your tribe to be treated fairly and to be strong. Sports are good for young girls on many levels.

I tried taking my twin daughters to a women’s hockey game earlier this month but the game was canceled due to the weather. This weekend we were able to see the New York Riveters take on the Boston Pride at the Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark, New Jersey. I am pleased to report that the game did not disappoint and that women’s professional hockey is a great place to take young girls to foster their interest in sports.

I want sports to be something my girls know that women do and that is not out of the ordinary. I want women’s pro hockey to be a fact of life and not a novelty and for women’s sports to be appreciated beyond their value to the mostly male sports audience. The National Women’s Hockey League is doing just that. It was great to be a part of the game and to show my girls that female athletes are the rightful center of our attention.

There is parking for only $5 a few blocks from the game. I got my new tickets for the current game with no problem and there is not a bad seat in the house. The Barnabas Health Hockey House is the New Jersey Devils practice facility and it’s attached to the Prudential Center. There are fancy bleachers on one side of the ice so no matter where you sit you are close to the action. We took seats close to the side of the ice because it allowed me to make a quick dash to the restroom with toddlers still getting adjusted to regular toilet use.

Hockey is a fast-paced and exciting game and hockey is the best game for watching with young people. There are two intermissions – great for frequent bathroom and refreshment breaks, and the people working the Riveters games keep it very family friendly.

The games seem to attract a lot of lesbians. There were a lot of rainbow scarves and jerseys at the game and I got the impression that it wasn’t just because there was a special You Can Play promotion going on (favorite t-shirt of the night: a large Best Buy logo that read ‘Best Bi.’). This is a good sign in my view and shows that the league is about quality hockey and not trying to be a cute offshoot of a men’s team. Women’s professional basketball has a large lesbian following also (a lesbian friend once posted a video of a WNBA game online and called it “lesbian porn”) and it’s going strong. Women’s hockey deserves the same level of recognition and I look forward to taking my girls to see the Riveters play at Madison Square Garden someday.

So if you like hockey, go see the New York Riveters play – it makes visiting New Jersey worthwhile.

Happiness on 23rd Street

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The Flatiron district is an interesting place to work. It has a much more mixed milieu than working in midtown or the financial district. Most of the people you see on the street are not office workers involved in the capital markets. While there are financial people from Credit Suisse and the other firms that inhabit the old Metropolitan Life Tower Building, you also have college students from Baruch College, shady characters from the St. Francis Residence on 24th Street, hopeful comedians in the evening performing at the People’s Improv Theater, and a host of well-off residents who live in the area. You’ll find rock starts getting ready to play at the Gramercy Theatre. One evening my coworkers and I were at Black Barn on 26th Street across the street from Madison Square Park when we saw Hilary Clinton come and go with her Secret Service escort (her daughter Chelsea Clinton lives in the building above, as does Jennifer Lopez, a waitress told us).

I try to make it a point to go for a short walk at lunch time, going to Madison Square Park. There is always an unusual art project in the park, and when the weather is nice there are musicians there. There’s a jazz trio that often busks there and I once saw a visiting Algerian theater group Istijmam that was singing in front of the statue of Admiral Farragut.

One day this past week there were few visitors in the park on account of the cold. That didn’t stop people from lining up at the original Shake Shack to pay for the honor of eating over-hyped food outside in the bad weather.

I exited the park on the Southwest by the statue of Roscoe Conkling and headed East on 23rd to get lunch and head back to the office.

On the corner of 23rd Street and Park Avenue was a person in a giant costume, yellow with a big happy face head. The giant happy face was waving and giving the thumbs up to passersby. At first I thought this was one of the costumed people from Times Square that take photos with tourists for tips and have become increasingly aggressive and competitive. Did this person decide to branch out from Times Square? The Flatiron district is not as tourist-heavy as Times Square but may be touristy enough to support one person in a costume? I didn’t see anyone taking a photo with the big happy face, which seemed exceedingly jovial despite not having any commerce.

I thought perhaps this was a promotion for something. A few months ago a parade of Yeti made its way down the sidewalks of 23rd Street to promote a television show about looking for the elusive creature. But I saw no sign that indicated what this might be for and no overt promotion was evident.

As I walked by, I noticed a few young men positioned discreetly near the smiley face watching people pass by. Each held a small stack of business cards in their hands.

I stopped by one of the men and asked if he was with the happy face and if he knew what it was for.

“Yes, we’re here promoting this service,” he said, discreetly handing me one of his business cards. The sleek black card had a smiley face on one side. On the other side was a phone number for a marijuana delivery service “For Major Connoisseurs & Enthusiasts” that is available “For Residents In Manhattan And Select Brooklyn Locations.” “Listen to greeting for instructions.”

I’m not a fan of marijuana. The last thing I need is to be paranoid and compelled to eat more. But I think it should be 100% legal in all states in America and it’s a national shame that anyone is in jail for simply possessing or selling it.

The happy face gave me a thumbs up. Part of me is glad that this was not some group of religious zealots or other do-gooders trying to make everyone happy for the sake of it, and I am happy that industrious New Yorkers are flouting an unfair law and making a profit on it. I wish this business success and thank them for bringing some additional happiness to our corner of the Flatiron district.

A Welcome Night in the (New Jersey) Devils’ Lair

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Like any parent, I want my girls to grow up to be strong and full of confidence. We’re going to teach them martial arts and as soon as they are old enough to go hunting, they’ll be spending some quality time in the woods with Dad. I want them to be exposed to strong women outside of family members, and to take an interest in sports.

My daughters have taken a liking to hockey thanks to a small video I took of a goal celebration at a recent New York Rangers game. And luckily, there is a local professional women’s hockey team, the New York Riveters. I made up my mind to introduce them to the sport of hockey and purchased tickets for a Riveters game against the Boston Pride.  The Riveters play in Newark, New Jersey at the Barnaby’s Health Hockey House, which is attached to the Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils.

Despite a snowstorm that made the roads treacherous, I was determined to get my girls to this game and make hockey fans of them while providing them positive female role models outside of the pop culture poison that’s being shoveled at women most of the time. I kept on checking the Riveters’ web site as well as on social media. I even called the Barnabas Health Hockey House (no one answered). Because I knew a long drive was ahead, I left home two hours before the game was supposed to start.

When I made it through the metal detectors and handed my tickets to the ushers, there was a problem. She told me that I needed to go to a different window to have my tickets reprinted.

Just then a man in a suit approached me and informed me that the New York Riveters game had been canceled. “But you’re in luck,” he said. “How would you like to go to the Devils’ game?”

I said I was up for that and he gave me three tickets to the game that was about to start against the Edmonton Oilers. He gave me the tickets despite the fact that I was wearing a New York Rangers hat and scarf.

This was an amazing stroke of luck. These seats were amazing—the second row behind the penalty box in the club section of the arena that came with free food and drinks. It was a very rare treat indeed. Each of these sets had a face-value ticket price that was more than four times what I spent on three tickets to the Riveters game. It was an amazing up-close view of the action from right along the center line of the ice.

The ushers were incredibly helpful and helped us get to our seats – not easy when you’re juggling concession stand food and two toddlers.

It was a great way to introduce the girls to hockey, though since they are three years old the game did not hold their attention as well as the ice cream and the M&Ms. It was a struggle to keep up with the game and try to stop the girls from climbing all over the seats. People around us were very understanding and it paid off that they are cute and adorable in every way.

The New Jersey Devils have a tradition of chanting “Rangers suck!” at random times during the game, even though they were not facing either New York team. Rangers fans have a tradition of chanting “Potvin sucks,” referencing retired N.Y. Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin.

While I can’t betray the Rangers, it was certainly a nice time at the Devils game and I can’t express enough gratitude to the executive who was so kind and generous and the people working there who were so helpful.

I made hockey fans of my girls, and while that may change next week, I remain a proud and lucky Dad.

Deep shame in the Queens bus game

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I am convinced that living in areas not immediately within walking distance from a subway may save them from gentrification and cultural death. I am fortunate enough to live in one of those thankfully un-hip areas of the five boroughs. But while my neighborhood is still overpriced and overcrowded, it still retains some of its old-world New York charm and character.

But I rely on buses to get me to the 7 train that gets me to the 6 train that gets me to work. The 7 train and the 4-5-6 line in Manhattan are two of the most miserable and overcrowded subway lines in the entire system, which is quite an accomplishment.

But I’m lucky. I’m lucky I have a job that I can safely commute to. I’ve also learned some of the tricks of the trade that can at least alleviate my daily aggravation somewhat. One of them is catching a ride on the Q34 bus when I can.

The Q34 is my preferred bus. I can get on early enough to have a place to sit in the morning and if I take it home in the evening I can usually get a set as well. Because it’s a smaller line and its riders are usually from a middle-and-working class part of Queens, there is a greater degree of civility than on the other buses I could take. The Q44 goes from the Bronx all the way to Jamaica, Queens and is almost always crowded. The Q20 is a local version of the Q44 when it passes by my home, so it picks up all the angry people who couldn’t fit or who would otherwise be miserably stewing on the Q44. After you’ve been on the Q44, the Q34 feels like a VIP lounge with diesel fumes; it’s the Rolls Royce of regular-fare bus rides when it’s working properly.

But here is the catch: the Q34 is a rogue ghost ship during the evening commute. Somewhere in a dark alleyway in downtown Flushing there must be a gaggle of Q34 drivers spending their evenings gambling or drinking themselves into a stupor while what seems like one lone bus drives the entire route by itself, and slowly. If you get to Main Street and see no line for the Q34, forget it. Then again, I’ve done that only to see a near-empty one drive by minutes later.

Normally I know to jump on the line for the Q34 when I see that there is one at Main Street. If there are people waiting in any significant numbers, it means enough time has elapsed since the last bus arrived that the next one cannot be too far off. This bus stop is at the corner of Roosevelt Ave. and Main St. in Flushing, Queens, which makes it one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the city if not the world. It’s also right outside a busy Duane Reade convenience store. The stop is on a stretch of street that hosts several other bus stops.

The line for the Q34 got so long that it doubles up upon itself like a large snake folding itself in half. Pedestrians bump into people waiting on line even when they try not to. Multitudes of buses roll down that section of Main Street, very few of them are Q34s.

And last week I achieved something that is rare even in the miserable world of Queens bus transit: I stood on line for the Q34 longer than it would normally take to drive the entire length of the Q34 route.

One reaches a point oftentimes of waiting for public transit that you want to give up in disgust and find another means to get going to where you have to be, but you’ve invested so much time in waiting that you refuse to budge. Damn it, I’m going to get my money’s worth and the MTA isn’t going to win this round! I found myself standing in the cold among the other miserable people waiting for the Q34 with this same mentality. I would enjoy a seat on the Q34 this evening if it was the last thing I ever did.

I have no right to complain, as I have other options for getting home in the evening. But many of the people who ride the Q34 do not have that option, and the underserved but route is all that stands between them and a pricy cab ride or a long walk home.

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