Archive | January 2014

Making Babies for Fun and Posterity

121It’s always been my philosophy to engage in any and all adventure within reason. I have gone skydiving, hiked mountain trails, traveled to foreign lands, acted in a play, started a punk rock band and even had a bit part in a movie.

The one adventure that still terrified the shit out of me was having kids, but I could put it off no longer.

I once held the idea that having kids was a disastrous act reserved for spoiled suburbanites, entitled ghetto-dwellers, or saps too stupid to use birth control. I thought the human race was a doomed enterprise and the sooner the planet was turned back over to the hump-backed whales, baboons, tapirs and sloths, the better.

But circumstances blessed me in semi-adulthood with much younger siblings and I found my tolerance for dealing with children. When I was an underemployed bum living in my father and stepmother’s basement at the age of 24, playing with my stepbrothers and dancing to Johnny Cash songs with my young sister were among life’s few joys.

Over the years many of my friends have married and had children and I have watched people I once saw launch fireworks indoors or drink a jug of Southern Comfort at 10 in the morning suddenly in charge of small human lives and doing a good job of it.

Plenty of people with experience told me never to get married, but everyone I know who has had kids, no matter what misery has befallen them since, recommends having kids with the highest of praise and encouragement.  

It’s a natural instinct. Everyone with a soul has the need to leave something behind in this world as a monument to the fact that they have lived. Few of us will wield the influence that will make our names live after for many years. History only has room for so many Caesars, Michaelangelos and Einsteins. But if we have kids, we’ve guaranteed at least a small piece of us will live on. We have made our mark in the world in some small way and shown we are secure enough in our personal survival to make more of our own kind. Of course part of this is ego-driven. I happen to think I’m a good person and that the world could use more people like my wife and me.

So it was with gusto and success that my wife and I set about to conceive. We soon learned that we were having twins and that they would both be girls. We debated names and set about preparing for their arrival.

Nine months passed by quickly, and it was soon time to deliver the goods to a phalanx of family and friends. With great patience and perseverance, my wife brought two beautiful baby girls into the world. They are perfect and destined for great things. If they are anything like me and my brother, they will fight like hell spawn for the first eighteen years of their lives.

So far my brief foray into the adventure of fatherhood has been all it was promised. I have a deep and abiding love for many of my family and friends, but if any of them crapped their pants while they were visiting me, they would be taking that all with them. True parental love is getting human feces on your hands and somehow not minding.

Living in New York City, raising children will be a difficult task. The cost of living is very high, waiting lists for good schools are long; there are dangers everywhere. The city is not designed for the modern conveniences of child-rearing. The streets, sidewalks and shops are too narrow for double-wide strollers, car seats, and screaming toddlers.

We have vowed not to become the worst of what I have seen in child-bearing among the many strangers I encounter in the Big Apple. A lot of people think that because they have reproduced that their lives are somehow more thrilling or important than others. The parents who have thrived in some of the “upwardly mobile” areas of the city have made their neighborhoods by-words for some the worst kind of overindulgent rot the human race has seen since the fall of Rome. I promise on my life and on the blood of my children that I will not become such an effete, self-satisfied, latte-breathed snob that are overrunning parts of Brooklyn and even Queens now. If that happens, I hope someone runs me down with a hijacked city bus.

There are many scary events on the horizon. These kids will get sick; they will say embarrassing things in public. They will refuse to eat their vegetables and maybe set fire to the cat. Eventually they will start dating, go to college and ask us to pay.

I don’t want to think about these terrifying things. I’ll save some money and make all the preparations I can, but this is the greatest and most consequential endeavor of all. There is little one can really coherently do but embrace parenthood as another great adventure. It’s the adventure where the stakes are the absolute highest and that you will never feel really prepared for.

Wish us luck. 

The Nightmare That’s Become of King’s Dream

MLK middle fingerMartin Luther King Jr. came to New York in 1958 and was stabbed by a crazy person. He almost died. The legacy of judging people by the content of their character has been treated no more respectfully in the intervening years.

For the sake of argument, let’s agree that the history of the civil rights movement as presented by admirers of Dr. King’s is accurate. (For the most part it is accurate, though with some glaring omissions and assumptions about the proper role of government in society that may not hold up to constitutional scrutiny, but nonetheless.) The state of American society today does not resemble that of 1953 or 1968.

Anyone who thinks we’re all going to join hands in some hip multicultural cuddle party is sorely mistaken. There is plenty of racial strife and an even wider disparity in the fortunes of the wealthy and the poor, both of which we can safely assume King would deplore.

Dr. King’s ultimate legacy is his success in making the moral case to America that racial prejudice is wrong and that every person should be judged as an individual and given a fair chance. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this country who honestly disagrees with that. But what we’re being asked to do today in Dr. King’s name does not ring true to that argument and in fact runs counter to it.

            Activists of today clamor for the days of yore and view any white face that complains about racial preferences or disproportionate violent crime as another George Wallace in the making. People, and whites in particular, have got to stop living by the Ken Burns documentaries that are running in their heads. You’ve been sold a narrative that no longer applies to American society.

            Whereas blacks and a shamefully large segment of whites view today’s civil rights activism as a continuation of Dr. King’s work, most whites view today’s activism as a malicious betrayal of that legacy. It’s telling that many of the people asked to play the Jim Crow villain today are people arguing against government rules based on race. Race-based rules and regulations were the crux of the vilified Jim Crow South. And race-based rules and regulations are the go-to tools of the trade for bringing “social justice” to bear in today’s world.

 One of the most stunning examples of this was here in New York City recently with the New York Fire Fighters. An activist judge forced the Fire Department of New York to throw out the results of the test because it thought that the composition of people who did well on the test was too white. The courts forcibly created a class of fire fighter cadets based on a racial calculus it thought was more representative of the city rather than who did well on the test. So far the results have been negative with a higher drop-out rate than a typical Fire Academy class.

Examples like these have been continuously generated over the last several decades. The American people in general and whites in particular are being asked to tolerate racial injustice as a way to redress grievances by people who claim to have been injured by racial injustice.

It’s time for people who claim to honor Dr. King’s work to stop using his legacy to promote prejudice and discrimination, and it’s long past time for whites to stop running for cover out of fear of being branded “racist” and speak up for themselves. 

Legalize It, Then Criticize It…

marijuana leafNew York State may soon embrace medical marijuana. We’d be better off if the government legalized it outright. Why talk half-steps when other states have already made cannabis legal?

It was Tommy Chong who put it to New York via social media, saying that we were behind the high times. New York used to be the place that this kind of progress was launched, Chong mourned, now we’re catching up with Colorado and Washington.

Tommy Chong is right. Marijuana should be legal in all 50 states. It’s ludicrous that people are in jail for growing it or smoking it or having a big wad of it rolled into a cigar leaf or in a brownie or anal suppository or however else people are getting it into their bodies today. Legalize it.

The people have spoken. In times that it’s been put to a vote, voters support legalization of marijuana. Whether it’s medical marijuana, which is more widespread, or the outright legalization that we’ve seen recently in Washington and Colorado. But beyond that, even in places that still enforce draconian laws against the weed, marijuana use is very high (pun intended).

We are not far from the prohibition of marijuana being as antiquated and ridiculous as the prohibition against alcohol that started almost 100 years ago. That prohibition is rightfully considered a joke today, and our grandchildren will look down their noses at the outlawing of marijuana in the 20th Century. Rightly so.

So let us join our voices to the millions that already call for legalizing electric lettuce in New York. Let the City lead the way and hopefully the state will follow. Let the fifty states tax and regulate cannabis like they do tobacco and alcohol. The government can’t stop people from smoking it, so it might as well make a few bucks to help keep the roads paved.

But where there is support for legalization, let’s also support some healthy distrust of the marijuana industry. Wanting to legalize it shouldn’t stop us from criticizing it. Marijuana does not belong on a list of outlawed substances (if any do is another matter), but that doesn’t mean it belongs in our bodies.

There is a lot of awareness and opposition to genetically modified foods and the potential dangers they pose to people’s health. There’s a greater demand now for natural and organic foods made free from the use of dangerous chemicals or genetic manipulation. Yet none of this scrutiny is being applied to marijuana cultivation.

If you’re not willing to eat a plant that was grown with a genetically modified seed, then don’t smoke something that’s named for a Star Trek character. I’ll do what I can to avoid food made possible by Monsanto, but I’m also not going to smoke something named “Vulcan Mind Meld No. 6.” Do we really need to be a lazier, slower-witted country that eats even more junk food at two o’clock in the morning?

Let’s definitely legalize the chronic, but let’s also approach it with the same skepticism as we would any other element of big agribusiness. And that’s what marijuana is: big business. No one is selling weed out the kindness of their heart. Tobacco and alcohol companies are rightly treated with suspicion. The people hawking ganja are no more saintly.

Medical marijuana is great, but the overwhelming majority of people using weed are using it to get high for its own sake. They have every right to do that. But unless you have a serious medical condition, marijuana isn’t good for you. I want to live in a world where people are not persecuted for smoking a plant. But I also know that the world does not need more pot heads.

Let’s increase the sanity of the conversation. Marijuana legalization is the right thing to do. But let us embrace legalization of marijuana without having to embrace marijuana itself.

The Greatest Borough – a poem for the hearty literary types

Whitestone Bridge from Francis Lewis ParkThe first poem of the year has been posted on the Impolite Literature blog. The poem is entitled “The Greatest Borough” and it’s an homage to Queens, which I contend is the city’s greatest borough. You may disagree.

A Mayoral Lack of Horse Sense

Horse_and_carriage_in_Central_Park._Fifth_Avenue_side,_NYSeveral years ago, while visiting the tourist sites in Manhattan around the holidays with some family, we were walking on Central Park South after a stop at The Plaza. As we passed by the line of hansom cabs, my Grandmother remarked that she had never taken a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. My father set about rectifying that at once, and a few minutes later they were on their way in a horse-drawn hansom cab.

My dad’s spontaneity and love for our grandmother was admirable and made the day more memorable. If he visits New York next Christmastime, he may not be able to take a hansom cab ride.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged, days before his recent inauguration, to do away with the hansom cabs.

Animal rights activists, including the predictable coterie of celebrity actors, have long denounced the horse-drawn carriages as manifestly cruel. They’ve been aiming to have the carriage rides outlawed for a long time.

De Blasio was inaugurated with much fanfare from his liberal supporters who are happy to see a Democrat in office once again.

But doing away with the horse-drawn carriages is foolish pandering to a lobby polluted with fringe players and the loss of a fine tradition and lots of jobs. Cruelty to animals is terrible, but animal rights activists are never too far away from taking a hard left turn to crazy town, and outlawing horse-drawn carriages is a fringe activist power-grab that a mayor is supposed to be wide enough to sidestep.

The New York City Police use horses regularly, and there are a few stables that offer horseback riding within the five boroughs. Space for horses is hard to come by in most of New York, but so is space for anything.

Being generous and assuming for the sake of argument that conditions for the horses are bad, the solution is not to outlaw an industry but to improve and regulate the care of the horses. It’s not wrong to use horses to pull carts. It’s OK to ride horseback and it’s OK to ride an elephant and a camel. There are lots of animals that are not suitable for riding, but horses are alright. This is actually common knowledge and the fact that there’s a serious debate over banning the industry shows how a more extremist animal rights community has been successful in framing the debate. Luckily the carriages won’t go without a fight.

What’s more, de Blasio is potentially putting hundreds of working-class New Yorkers, whose Teamsters Union endorsed him, out of work. For a politician who came into office on a platform of fighting for middle and working class New Yorkers with the nebulous pledge of ending “inequality,” putting hansom cab drivers out of work is the political equivalent of crapping in an inaugural ball punch bowl. Mayor de Blasio likely knows this, so hence the announcement during the holidays and before the hullaballoo of his inauguration.

There have definitely been drivers who overworked or abused their horses. One driver was even arrested for animal abuse when found to be working a horse that had an infected hoof. But the carriages are regulated and inspected and have been under significant scrutiny for years.

If we let animal rights activists start calling the shots, we’ll start on a slippery slope to becoming a city of pathetic vegetarian tree-huggers.

New York Things to Watch in 2014

Happy New Year 2014A New Year is almost upon us, and New York City will have lots of things going on, per usual. Here are some things to watch for, look forward to or get ready to hate in 2014.    

            New Mayor: Bill de Blasio is the first Democrat elected mayor in New York in more than 20 years. He managed to unite New York Democrats and ran a very smart campaign. He’s inheriting a shit show from outgoing Mayor Bloomberg in the form of multiple city worker contracts that have expired. Thousands of city workers have been working without a contract for years and they expect their liberal Democratic mayor to pay up and fast. De Blasio knows he can’t give his many supporters everything they want. He’s got to walk the tightrope of trying to hold together a liberal coalition that wants to increase taxes on the wealthy without scaring away the rich New Yorkers who provide the city’s much-needed tax base.

Super Bowl: The Super Bowl will bring more money to New York City, even though the game is being played in New Jersey at Giants Stadium or MetLife Stadium or whatever corporate behemoth blows a wad of cash to put its name on it by next year. Of course, the powers that be are hard at work making sure that the game will be expensive and less fun than your average Jets or Giants routing that normally takes place there. They have banned tailgating at the game, which is like banning praying in church.

            Extended 7 Subway Line: The No. 7 subway line is scheduled to open in June 2014, but the authorities ran a special train just so outgoing mayor Bloomberg could ride it before he left office. It currently runs from Flushing, Queens to Times Square in Manhattan. The extension will run to 11th Avenue and 34th Street, near the Javits Convention Center. As a commuter who takes the 7 train every day to work, I loath this upcoming extension. The 7 train is a crowded clusterfuck of a subway line. Unless the MTA has a magic train fairy ready to plop massive double-decker trains on the line right before the extension opens, they are about to make a bad situation much worse. The silver lining is that it will make it easier for people to get to the Javits Center for conventions. But really, slow-moving tourists who don’t know where they’re going is not what we really need more of on our subways.

            Fulton Street Transit Hub: On the good news end of public transportation grand openings in 2014, the Fulton Street Transit Hub in lower Manhattan may open in 2014. The Fulton Street subway station has been a maze of construction closures for close to a decade now, and some of the improvements are already evident. It has been delayed and scaled down from its original, more elaborate plans, but it will be a vast improvement.

            Real Community Organizing: We’ll see more real community organizing in New York in 2014, and by community organizing, I mean citizens getting together outside of government institutions to do things for themselves. Most people think of community organizing as people getting together to petition for increased benefits or air grievances of one form or another. But as our fractured city and nation find official institutions continually lacking, more New Yorkers will see the wisdom in doing things for themselves. You’ll see more Community Supported Agriculture (not just for hippies anymore), more home schooling (not just for religious fanatics anymore) and the like. New Yorkers are resilient and inventive. That won’t change. 

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