Some of us in New York have the unfortunate burden of being Jets fans. The New York Jets were a great team sometime more than 40 years ago. Like the Knicks and Mets, they have made it their modus operandi to find new ways to break their fans’ hearts. They have been described as more of a media circus than a football team. It is often remarked that J.E.T.S. means “Just End The Season.”
The news this past weekend that the New York Jets have given up quarterback Mark Sanchez for Michael Vick will be sure to continue the Jets’ reputation for making foolish moves. This is the same team and coaching staff that paid handsomely for Tim Tebow, who became the NFL’s most expensive bench warmer.
The Vick hire has already brought shrieks of horror from animal rights activists, moralistic sports haters and even decent human beings. The Jets made the announcement on a Friday night, when news is likely to get the least amount of attention. Since returning to football, Vick has been the subject of the most invective aimed at a sports figure since O.J. Simpson got away with murder. And Vick didn’t get away with his crimes.
That’s not to say that the continued campaign against Vick is without merit. Michael Vick is every bit as bad as his harshest detractors say. He heartlessly tortured and murdered defenseless animals and his dumbly parroted apologies in the intervening years convince me that he’s only sorry he got caught. If there’s an afterlife, Vick will spend eternity being torturously gnawed at by Rottweilers with AIDS.
But there are a few things that stand out in the endless Vick hatred that the Jets have stirred up again. One is that there are much worse people still playing professional sports today that do not create half the controversy that rightfully follows Vick. The NFL employs rapists and murderers and thugs of every stripe.
One of the rapists that had a home in the NFL until just now was Mark Sanchez, the Jets quarterback that Michael Vick is replacing. It escaped the ire of football moralists that Sanchez was arrested for raping a woman at the University of Southern California while he was a student there, though charges were never brought. There has been no exodus of people from Pittsburgh Steelers fandom on account of their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, being a serial rapist. Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens is a murderer of people and went on to become a Super Bowl MVP.
The second thing to take note is that the era of the celebrity hero is over. It is hard to face the reality that people we admire for their skills or accomplishments can be bad people. The sports world brings this into focus for us many times over, but the same is true for any celebrated line of work. It’s unfortunate that Lord Byron likely knocked up his own sister and that William S. Burroughs shot his wife to death, but that doesn’t make their writing any less influential.
So I won’t stop being a Jets fan. When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first scoreless half to your last fumbled play. I’m used to rooting for a losing NFL team and over needing to like professional athletes. Being a New York Yankees fan, I have read some of the horror stories of how Joe DiMaggio would treat fans. Was Billy Martin a homophobe or a racist? Who cares? No one hired him to sing “Kumbaya” to crack babies; they hired him to play and coach baseball. Baseball’s current home run record holder, Barry Bonds, is such a despised human being that his own teammates could barely bring themselves to congratulate the slugger on his accomplishments.
We can rightfully revile sports figures all we want, but ultimately they will be judged by what they do on the field of play. The New York Jets long ago gave up trying to recreate the magic of being heroes to anyone. Now they just need to win football games.
My latest contribution to Street Carnage expounds on a great idea that resulted from a conversation with my friend Jay from the band Suzuki Smith. We aim to be the breast milk magnates of our generation, selling exotic breast milk from women all over the globe to our exclusive clientele.
Jay’s wife says this idea is crazy, but our wives will be instrumental in making a breast milk empire possible. They must be the public face of our business. Women from all over the world will be more willing to share their breast milk with other women, not a couple of pervy middle-aged guys. We will be the wildly successful once we get our network of milk-pumping MILFs into full production and a way to make drinking human breast milk a staple of our decadent and depraved culture. Wish us luck.
The great green retardation is upon us once again. St. Patrick’s Day should be a sad day for Irish people. The day has been reduced to an excuse to get drunk. Getting drunk is fine, but drinking to celebrate Irish culture is like smoking crack to celebrate Black History Month. The Irish Americans, for all the good they have done this country, are quick to embrace the worst in themselves. No other ethnic group I can think of so joyously trumpets its own most negative stereotype.
Celebrate April 24 or June 20 instead. St. Patrick’s Day is a Catholic saint’s feast day. Catholicism has had a tremendous influence on Ireland and I’m sure some of it has been good. But for the most part Catholicism has helped keep Ireland divided and promoted poverty and child molestation. The Catholic influence is such that in the Republic of Ireland divorce wasn’t legalized until 1996 and abortion wasn’t legalized until 2013. It will be a tremendous help to divorce Irish identity from Catholicism. And if you are the religious sort, I don’t think too many people left in the world have a holy or religious association with St. Patrick’s Day anymore. If you let the day be just a saint’s feast day once again, Irish Americans can join with everyone else in puking their guts out on Cinco de Mayo.
Since we celebrate America’s Independence on the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, let’s celebrate Irish heritage with the anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916, which is April 24. It took longer before most of Ireland was free from British rule (we’re still waiting), but that was the beginning of the end of most of Ireland leaving the U.K., even though the rebellion was quickly crushed and most of its leaders executed.
If you’d prefer a summer Irish celebration, June 20 is the birthday of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the leader of the 1798 United Irishman Rebellion. The United Irishman Rebellion failed miserably (it would have worked if the French had gotten to Ireland in time to help), but Wolfe Tone (who happened to be Protestant) is considered the founder of Irish republicanism.
Read some Irish literature. Ireland has produced more poets and playwrights than you can shake a shillelagh at. Go try to wade your way through the more problematic James Joyce, but read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners first. In fact, June 16 or Bloomsday would be another great Irish national holiday in place of St. Patrick’s Day.
So read Brendan Behan’s plays and Yeats’ poems. Did you know that Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula, was Irish? Did you know Irish playwright Samuel Beckett used to drive Andre the Giant to school? It’s true. Go see a Beckett play or a Martin McDonagh play. Impress your lady friends with some witty Oscar Wilde quotes. You will be a better person for it.
Learn some Irish (aka Gaelic). Like most Americans, I am not fluent in the indigenous language of my ancestors. The Irish language had been called Gaelic for a long time, but since there are other forms of Gaelic, such as Scots Gaelic in Scotland and Ulster Scots, a form of Scots Gaelic spoken in parts of the North of Ireland, the Irish Gaelic language is now just called Irish. There are classes at the Irish Arts Center in New York and in many cities around the U.S. It’s a beautiful language and learning to speak Irish will do your brain more favors than downing a fifth of Jameson.
Revive Irish nationalism. Padraig Pearse famously said, “Ireland unfree will never be at peace.” Ireland is still divided and while the paramilitary violence that plagued it over the past several decades is over, there is still residual sectarian violence and breakaway paramilitaries fighting for their causes. If Irish Americans were as united in pursuing a united Ireland as Jewish Americans are in advocating for Israel, we could have united Ireland next week. What will happen in two years from now when it is 2016, 100 years after the Easter Uprising, and we still have a divided Ireland? Also, self-proclaimed Irish nationalist groups in Ireland have failed to address and in fact have supported large-scale immigration to Ireland. Ireland has seen massive immigration of similar scale that has already had very dangerous effects in places such as England and France. Irish Americans, who were instrumental in supporting the struggle for Irish freedom for centuries, should help revive Irish nationalism in Ireland once again.
Filmmaker Spike Lee made news when he complained about the gentrification of Brooklyn recently, decrying the efforts of white interlopers to “bogart” black cultural enclaves like his native Fort Greene.
But Lee suffers from the one-sided view of gentrification that informs much of the current debate. Real estate investors have helped foment ethnic changes in neighborhoods for generations both in New York and beyond, and the “hipsterization” of today’s neighborhoods echo the block busting and white flight of decades ago.
Gentrification today usually refers to middle or upper-class whites moving in to non-white neighborhoods, causing property values to rise and the non-white residents getting priced out of living there. But in the not-so-distant past it meant poor non-whites moving into mostly white neighborhoods in numbers large enough to drive down property values and chase away the white residents.
For every black family being priced out of newly trendy neighborhoods in Brooklyn, there are a half dozen white families that were chased out of New York City years ago. My father’s family was one of them. My grandparents had seven children and were able to raise them all in the Fordham Road area of the Bronx starting in the late 1940s. By the time my youngest aunts were in high school in the 1970s, the area had become too dangerous and they left for Westchester.
The hipster Brooklynites that Spike Lee assails are indeed loathsome beings, and ironically they’ll be the first to agree with and trumpet Lee’s remarks. (One of the surest signs that you’re a hipster is that you don’t recognize that you’re a hipster.) But many of these new residents have only bought into the cinematic view of Brooklyn that Lee popularized in his films. They want the urbane cultural currency of living in a black neighborhood without any of the risk and inconveniences of living in a black neighborhood. They are miserable wretches. Fine.
But if Spike Lee is right to complain about the whites moving into Fort Greene, then the previous generations of whites who were chased out of Brooklyn were right to complain. If ethnic displacement is bad for blacks, then it’s bad for whites and everyone else. You can’t claim virtue in preserving black neighborhoods and not white neighborhoods. If it’s a worthy cause to keep Harlem, Fort Greene and Bed Stuy as they are, then it’s virtuous to keep Breezy Point, Woodlawn and Middle Village the way they are.
But no matter how you remember them, old neighborhoods are destined for change. The coming and going of people from New York is so great that just about every neighborhood and enclave looks ethnically different than it did decades ago.
That same rapid force of change that we would curse now is the same force that helped make the city what it was at our preferred moment. There is no golden age of New York City except in our own separate minds. The Roman Empire that gave us Rome is long gone, but Rome is still there. The American empire that helped birth New York City is fading now, but New York City will be here forever. That change is unavoidable; it’s helped New York survive.
The more you selectively rail against gentrification, the more hopeless your cause. In New York City, the worst place to live is in the past.
Here in New York City, strip clubs have been regulated nearly to death, and the bell tolls for many of the survivors today. According to the New York Times community groups throughout the city have waged a war of attrition against strip clubs by petitioning the state liquor authority to take away the nudie bars’ liquor licenses and deny new strip club applicants the right to sell alcohol. That has been shuttering numerous strip clubs throughout the five boroughs.
It’s a sad commentary on society that strip clubs fail when they lose their liquor licenses. Topless women should trump alcohol. If you are a man who can’t enjoy the sight of a topless woman without a drink in your hand, you are either a deeply troubled closeted homosexual or a deeply troubled drunkard. But the lack of a liquor license is a revenue killer for the clubs, which makes a larger share of its money on alcohol than on the entertainment.
It also bestows an extra level of apprehension on the part of a customer considering going to a club. Strip clubs are sleazy places as it is, one that can’t get a liquor license will lose even non-drinking clientele.
The Giuliani administration started this foolishness with zoning restrictions on strip clubs that drove many to either move or go out of business. The new rules instituted by Giuliani limited the distance a strip club could be from a school or church. I’ll wager a lap dance at the Clermont Lounge that churches do more brain damage and aid in more sexual deviance than strip clubs.
I am not a frequent visitor to strip clubs. They are overpriced and your time and energies are better spent on trying to see a woman naked for free and privately. But there are some occasions where strip clubs are appropriate. A bachelor party without a stripper is like a wedding without a bride (Yes, I know that many gay weddings don’t have brides, but I guarantee you that plenty of gay bachelor parties have strippers).
There are certain times when the strip club is the logical place to go, when it is OK to live life at its most honest and primal and to do so without apology. It is nice to be in an environment where it is polite to stare at women’s breasts.
But even if you despise strip clubs and wish they would all fall into the sea, you must at least recognize their right to exist. I don’t like that there are Starbucks on every other street corner. I think that our neighborhoods would be better if we started putting the zoning crunch on the churches rather than the strip clubs. Churches don’t pay taxes like strip clubs do. But things I don’t like have the right to exist.
Banishing strip clubs is not only puritanically foolish and extremist, it is wantonly cruel towards people who earn their living there. Even ignoring the argument of what kind of mouth-breathing reactionary hates the idea of looking at naked women, what kind of heartless jackass wants to throw hundreds of people out of work out of some smug self-satisfied sense of righteousness?
End the war on strip clubs.