Archive | March 2016

Political enemies make the best friends

There is a popular meme being widely shared on social media. It depicts several of current crop of presidential candidates and says, “If you are voting for any of these candidates, please unfriend me now …. Just kidding. I’m not twelve.”

It’s a funny meme and one people ought to take to heart. I learned long ago that political views and personalities are not one and the same. Just because someone agrees with you on political philosophy and public policy doesn’t mean they are agreeable people are even good people. You will find that you will completely loathe some of your own allies more than your sworn enemies. A person’s personality is not dictated by their politics.

Some of my most productive and pleasant conversations have been with people on the extremes, the outside of what is considered proper or viable political discourse. These people could speak honestly with me because they had nothing to lose. They didn’t have to put on airs to convince themselves or the world around them who they were. Their outlier status bestowed on them an easy confidence that meant they didn’t have to prove who they were or make a dramatic demonstration to establish their identity at every turn.

I have friends who span the political spectrum from far left to far right. Some of my friends would be horrified that I’m friends with communists, cops, Black Lives Matter protesters, white nationalists, transgender activists, Republicans, Democrats, Green Party activists, Libertarians, and more. I’m friends with active duty military members as well as pacifists, anti-war demonstrators as well as veterans (and some of the most fervent anti-war people I know are veterans).

I didn’t set out to cultivate friendships from every political persuasion, it just happened that way. I’ve met lots of interesting people from all walks of life. I value the friendships I’ve made along the way even though I will always disagree with many of my friends on the important issues of the day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I don’t want to live in a world where everyone agrees with me. That would be a strange place and no fun at all. Life is better when your ideas are challenged and you are exposed to ideas on all sides. Many of the opinion writers I read are people I rarely agree with but their arguments are so well written I can’t resist. Also, how will you learn to defend your ideas unless they are challenged by worthy adversaries?

Also, human beings are complex, many-sided beings. The person who may be very conservative on one issue may be very liberal on another. No one worth knowing is a completely blank slate of ideological talking points. No one with a sound intellect can be pigeon-holed into a stereotypical ideological bracket on every matter.

There’s nothing wrong with despising someone’s ideas or speaking your mind when it’s appropriate. But trying to pick and choose your friends by an ideological litmus test will lead you to quickly paint yourself into a corner.

Top five people it’s OK to punch in New York City

There’s been a lot of discussion in the news of recent political violence in this country. Scuffles have broken out at political rallies between protesters and supporters of rival candidates. Protests have gotten ugly. The overwhelming majority of Americans deplore violence of all kinds.

We’ll have no shortage of political ugliness in New York. Some of it has already gotten under way in earnest. But our Gotham is full of human abominations that people of all political affiliations can agree ought to be subjected to swift and brutal physical punishment on sight. Here is a catalog of the top five worthy subjects:

People who stand on the left side of the escalator. Sometimes people don’t realize that they have committed this infraction and there are people who come to New York from parts of the world where escalators are rare (watching Haitians attempt to board an escalator at JFK airport was an eye-opening experience), and they are usually sensible enough to move aside when you say “excuse me.” But some people think that an escalator is an amusement park ride, and they ought to have some common sense and manners beaten into them frequently and without mercy.

People who read their smartphone, kindle or book while walking. You can see these zombies a mile away and each one of them thinks they are the rare exception that can pull it off and not be that plodding imbecile impeding the progress of our precious Gotham. They are wrong. Trample them underfoot. They are not fit to live here.

People who use public transit seats for their luggage. Unless your purse or backpack paid $2.75 to ride this crowded bus or subway, let it sit on the floor or on your lap, or else you will find a host of volunteers willing to cram it up your ass.

Cyclists who ride on sidewalks, run red lights and ride on the wrong side the road. It is never these rancid, entitled brats who are dragged to their deserved deaths by garbage trucks or city buses, but it should be. If I’d go to jail for doing it with a car, don’t you dare try it with a bicycle. What’s most galling is when they yell at pedestrians to get out of their way as they are preparing to run a red light.

People who listen to music or watch videos in public spaces without earphones. Some people are not content speaking on their cell phones in theaters, they want to bring the theater experience with them and everyone within earshot. Simply inform these people that their earphones must be broken since you can hear their sports event/Chinese soap opera/rap mix tape, etc. If they don’t get to the hint, see to it that their devices and jaw is broken as well.

Can we all get along? Yes, we can all agree that some people need to learn some manners. New Yorkers can unite around these common enemies.

Getting our Irish up ahead of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is the time of year when everyone wants to be Irish for a few hours and their definition of being Irish is being an obnoxious drunk. There are actually a lot of nice things about being Irish and Ireland has given us a lot of great things besides a love of the drink.

Among the many positive contributions the Irish have made to the world is music, and around St. Patrick’s Day every year a litany of Irish groups come through the Big Apple to quench our thirst for authentic Irish art.

The Chieftains have been popularizing traditional Irish music since the 1960s and with some luck of the Irish and the busy schedule of generous in-laws, my wife and I scored tickets to see them at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan.

Most of the crowd at the show were well-dressed middle aged people like me or older. I thought I might be overdressed but I wasn’t, which confirms yet again I’ve reached middle age where I can blend in with a crowd that used to look old to me.

But sitting behind us was a loud, possibly drunk, but definitely rude women who acted as if she were in her living room, talking loudly and even shouting ahead to a woman seated in the row ahead of us. After sitting through several songs listening to this absurdly inane and incredibly impolite chatter, my wife asked her to keep her voice down.

The woman took great offense and spent the rest of the show muttering under her breath about how she planned to confront my wife. ‘Go ahead lady,’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s your funeral.’

The Chieftains put on an outstanding performance. They’ve had many celebrated collaborators in the past and had an impressive cast of guest musicians and dancers joining them throughout the evening. A good time was had by all.

Once the show was over and the lights went up, the woman told my wife that she had no right to ask her to be quiet, that the show was for everyone to enjoy and some such malarkey. My wife told her in no uncertain terms that she was wrong and needed to learn some manners. The woman, embarrassed to be called out for such puerile behavior, wouldn’t let go. But my wife can dish out whatever you send her way. The woman’s friends were horrified and did not want to see their friend get thrashed by a visibly pregnant woman.

One of her friends motioned to me and implored me to get my wife out of the building. I told her it was her friend that needed the help, not my wife. The rude woman’s friends eventually corralled her and we all went our separate ways.

No punches were thrown, no chairs hurled through the air. I’m glad for that, though I think it would have been great to watch my pregnant wife knock out this nasty shrew of a woman. I’d take a video of it and then yell, “WORLDSTAR!!” and post it to WorldStarHipHop web site, a popular place to post videos of altercations.

In the end we walked out into the sweet Spring New York night and walked to Times Square, where my wife once reminded me that sometimes you have to enjoy being a tourist in your own city.

We will survive the stupidity of this St. Patrick’s Day as we have survived all others, with pride in our Irish culture intact and our tempers only a little bit the worse for wear.

My cool Vermin Supreme story

As our American political discourse slides further into the gutter with every new televised debate, it may be worthwhile noting that there are some who saw the satire in our politics decades ahead of time. One such person is Vermin Supreme.

Vermin Supreme, you may know, is a perennial presidential candidate who wears a boot on his head and promises everyone a pony. He’s attempted to turn religious conservative candidates gay by pouring glitter on them and promise to fully fund time travel research.

It was 1992 and as the Democratic primary continued to go on then-Governor Bill Clinton’s only real competition after the early primaries was former California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown was the Bernie Sanders of his day, a more liberal alternative to the establishment favorite who captured the enthusiasm of the younger, more activist wing of the Democratic Party. He swore off corporate donations and set limits on what individuals could donate through a 1-800 number (this was in the days before widespread Internet.)

At any rate, that spring before the New York and Connecticut primaries, Jerry Brown had a rally at the University of Connecticut. This was during my freshman year there. I was a columnist for UConn’s Daily Campus and since I showed up there with a notebook, the campaign staff waved me ahead to the press section where I sat among more serious and established members of the media.

Brown’s rally was at the large theater on campus. The event was well attended and the crowd was enthusiastic. When it was over, I hung out with the rest of the media contingent, most of whom were bored by the whole thing (“Once you’ve seen the candidate’s speech you’ve seen them all,” I overheard one say.) Jerry Brown answered some questions before being whisked over to do a live interview with the local news.

As I watched Brown do the TV interview in the auditorium that was now mostly empty, I noticed a strange figure head down a side aisle unnoticed. He was dressed in a coat made of fur pelts and he had a large boot on his head. He continued walking down the aisle until I lost sight of him. As Gov. Brown wrapped up his interview and hurry away to his next campaign event, I heard a voice amplified by a speaker or bullhorn call out to him.


Brown looked over in the direction the voice was coming from but didn’t break stride as he exited the building with a gaggle of campaign staff.

As I stood there I spotted this same strange figure coming back up the aisle. He and I made eye contact and he stopped to address me.

“Another candidate avoiding a question about the weather,” he said, shaking his head. He moved on and I had had the strangest political campaign experience ever.

Years later I saw Vermin Supreme on television and was glad that he hadn’t lost the boot on his head and that he was still engaging in the kind of absurd spectacle that has sadly seemed downright dignified compared with some of our discourse today.

I hope Sid Yiddish seriously considers him for his running mate.

Stuck in Place in New York

New York City right now is a city where people are often stuck in place. Not because they lack ambition or a work ethic, but because the juggernaut of high real estate prices is making life difficult.

I work in an office where most of the people who work there that live within the five boroughs have a commute that is at least an hour on a good day. My commute to work is an hour and fifteen minutes under the best of circumstances and can be significantly longer when things are at their worst. We would all love to live closer to our office, which is in the Flatiron district, but none of us can afford to live nearby.

Even the New York Times, whose primary audience is the more affluent New Yorkers among us, ran a story about retirees who would like to return to the city but can’t because real estate prices are becoming so outrageous.

When I first moved back to New York and was looking for an apartment in early 1998 one of the places I looked for a studio was Wavecrest Gardens in Far Rockaway. They had beautiful studio apartments with ocean views for about $500 per month. There were some drawbacks that kept me away (it would have been a long commute to work and a coworker who moved there said he saw people smoking crack in the stairwells), but the apartments were beautiful and affordable. If prices had simply kept up with inflation, a $500 per month apartment in 1998 would cost roughly $740 today. A studio at Wavecrest Gardens now lists for roughly $1,000 per month today. So rents have moved up at more than double the rate of inflation over the past sixteen years. And for areas that are more fashionable, the increase has gotten even steeper. Parts of Astoria and Williamsburg list small studio for upwards of $2,800 per month, and probably more in some places.

I consider myself very fortunate. I have a steady job with a good salary and my family is healthy and does not want for food, clothing, or shelter. But if we were to try to move to a larger apartment to house our growing brood we would have to take on considerable debt to remain in the same neighborhood, and would not find a place much larger than what we have now for what we could afford.

I have many friends who are bright, hard-working people trying to raise families in safe neighborhoods with good schools. They are not looking for handouts or set-asides. They can’t afford to stay where they are and can’t afford anything else in the area. Some friends and family have fled to New Jersey, some are considering leaving the Northeast entirely, heading to wherever they can make a sound living and provide for their kids.

New York is a place famous for attracting creative people, but creative people need affordable places to live and New York is starting to lose is creative critical mass. Artists and writers don’t need to have the same geographic presence they once did. In the digital age it doesn’t matter if you’re creating your work in New York or Detroit or Tuscaloosa. Most of the Western world downloads its content from the Internet, and traveling to a geographic center to get your work recognized is not as necessary as it used to be.

New Yorkers don’t mind paying a premium to live in the center of Western civilization. And New York is not an anti-capitalist place. It’s the most capitalist place on Earth in many ways. New York is a very tough place to get ahead but at the same time is famous for providing more opportunities than anywhere else in whatever your field of choice. If we want to continue to be that way, then something’s got to be done about the cost of housing. You have to get people to live here and stay a while before they can accomplish things.

If it doesn’t make sense to stay in New York, the middle and working classes will be gone and what will be left wont’ be pleasant for anyone.

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