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I’ll always be friends with someone you hate

“Say it’s not so, Matt,” my friend’s message read, accompanied by a photo of a public figure that I don’t know personally but follow on social media. I explained that I follow/befriend people on social media that I often disagree with, and that while I find some of this person’s views extreme, they were not the murderous villain popularly portrayed in the mainstream press.

My explanation was lost and I found myself “blocked.” It’s a real shame. This is someone I’ve been friends with since college that is generally open-minded and intellectually strong. I know this person from a college debate society, the whole purpose of which is to listen to people you disagree with and debate them peaceably without tantrums or emotional self-immolation.

Maybe this person will find it in their heart to befriend me on social media again, but if not, so be it. I can’t please everyone and I can’t apologize for the opinions of others.

No matter who you are or what your politics, you are going to find I am friends with someone you hate. I can guarantee that to everyone: someone on my list of friends is going to piss you off.

I won’t have it any other way. I refuse to live in an echo chamber only occupied by people who share my view of the world. No matter how right you think you are, no one is above having their opinions and perceptions challenged and there is absolutely nothing virtuous about a closed mind.

In our era of divided politics, trolls on both sides of the spectrum feel morally justified in becoming increasingly uncivil. I’ve had a few people block me or “unfriend” me. One even called me names and blocked me so I couldn’t see or respond, a cowardly low. People engage in this kind of behavior when they have no real ideas or don’t have the wherewithal to defend their beliefs.

But I also have lots of friends that don’t block me. The friends with more substantial progressive activist bona fides – the people who’ve actually been in the streets and done battle with the cops, who’ve been to jail for their activism or actually rumbled with real Nazis in the real world – don’t find the need to block me on social media or prove their online virtue through their computer keyboards. I have friends who are law enforcement officers and military veterans who have been shot at in the line of duty at home and abroad; none of them have expressed horror that I’m friends with people that are communists or anarchists. They don’t need to wear their patriotism or their toughness on their sleeves, they live it every day.

Fortunately, the majority of my friends are confident enough in who they are to listen to other’s people’s views. That doesn’t mean they agree with me or like that I’m online friends with people they deplore, but they have strong enough wits to disagree without name calling.

I can’t judge people based on their ideology alone. Some of the people considered most virtuous in public life have been some of the most miserable human beings; egos rendering them incapable of treating others with dignity and respect. How you treat the waiter or waitress at a restaurant tells me much more about you than whatever politician you voted for last November. So many people who check all the right virtue boxes can’t be bothered to act like a decent human being in real life.

I hope my friend comes back online. I won’t block or unfriend someone just because they hold opinions we may despise. There’s something about my collection of friends that everyone can hate. But I have a great group of friends nonetheless. I’ll never apologize for keeping an open mind to different ideas, no matter how offensive they might seem to others. If that makes enemies out of some friends, then that’s too bad.

If you’re not making enemies, you’re not living life.

New York Taxis: no English required

Years ago, I was helping someone move apartments and we took a cab. We were calling for gypsy cabs as this was in uptown Manhattan where it was difficult to hail a cab. The driver had zero English. Even when my friend wrote the address on a piece of paper and handed it to him, he thought he was going to 124th Street because the number of the building address was 124. He called his dispatcher on his cell phone and him interpret this address.

We don’t expect everyone to speak the King’s English in New York—what native New Yorkers speak is far from the King’s English—but driving a cab or working with the public in this town in any official capacity should require English and until recently that was the case for having a license to drive a cab (colloquially known as a “hack license.”)

New York City taxi drivers are no longer required to pass an English language proficiency test. This regulation had been on the books for a while but not stringently enforced. Ask any New Yorker who has taken cabs in the city regularly and they have had drivers with little or no English. Now it’s just official.

And it’s a bad idea. We don’t have a lot of things that hold us together here in New York or America anymore for that matter. If we’re going to perish in a suicidal cultural bouillabaisse, then I guess descending into a hellish Babel is part of the deal. But the interest of public safety can’t be abandoned so quickly and recklessly.

What’s motivating this in New York is not a lack of drivers who are willing to learn English, but the medallion cab companies losing drivers to startup hailing app companies like Uber and Lyft. It’s not a matter of public policy or politicians’ hearts breaking for destitute non-English speakers, but the cold hard cash that fuels what remains of our “democracy.”

It’s amazing that you can get a driver’s license in the U.S.A. without knowing English, but at least let make sure that those who drive other people professionally know the language. New Yorkers come from every part of the globe and whatever your opinions of our current immigration question, most people agree that people who live and work together need to know the same language.

Technology that’s shaking up the taxi industry will enable drivers who are restricted in language to only deal with clientele they can communicate with. Since you can order any kind of vehicle to pick you up with a ride-sharing mobile application, you can also specify that language proficiency of your driver. Thus the balkanization of the U.S. is advanced further, and all in the name of helping and fairness.

I have never been a frequent user of cabs but in my days of hard drinking and late nights that became early mornings, I would take a cab. Since most cab drivers in New York are from other countries, I enjoyed speaking to them about where they were from and learning about what was going on in the world from people who had a closer connection to it.

New York has survived for hundreds of years in part because people have learned to work with one another despite enormous differences. A common language makes that possible.

Jump Off the Tranny Bandwagon

The latest media spew about the woman formerly known as Bruce Jenner has made the transgendered the cause du jour. Compared with appearing on the Kardashian television show, appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair as a transgendered person is actually a step up from the tabloid sewer for Bruce Jenner. But whatever you think of Caitlyn Jenner, we can at least agree on two things: 1) people have a right to do whatever they want to with their bodies, and 2) the rest of us don’t have to like it.

And for all its good intentions, the increasing acceptance of the transgendered has reached delusional levels that stand to do long-lasting harm.

People who are transgendered should be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else. Treating people with respect means telling them the truth, and if we tell the transgendered that their problems can be solved with hormone treatments and surgery, we’re not being truthful. Gender dysphoria is a mental condition and ought to be treated as such.

There are other disorders that cause people to want to radically alter their bodies in ways that reputable practitioners of medicine will not perform. There are people who wish to have their limbs amputated or become partially paralyzed, and no legitimate doctor will approve such surgery. Gender reassignment surgery should rank among those surgeries doctors won’t do. I am well aware that many transgendered people do not get genital surgery and it’s considered rude to ask if they have. Indeed it is rude to ask someone about the state of their genitals, but if you are making a public pronouncement that you are not the gender you were born into, it begs the question of ‘Just how serious are you about this new identity?’ At any rate, with or without surgery to the genitals, transitioning from one sex to another requires very serious and extreme medical treatment. Those afflicted adults are entitled to seek whatever treatments they can afford, but they shouldn’t take offense when the general public considers it to be the ghastly mutilation that it is or decline to endorse or pay for it.

This is not an excuse to disrespect people who are suffering from gender identity disorder. Trannies shouldn’t lose their jobs for being transgendered, unless their jobs are something incredibly gender specific that their transition would render them incapable of performing. But let’s at least respect our transgendered friends enough to speak to them truthfully.

Someday medical science will have a better answer for people who do not feel that they are in the right body. Right now the going treatment for people who feel they are actually of the opposite sex is to treat them with hormones and surgically alter them to make them look like the gender of their choice. People should be free to do that to themselves if it makes them happy, but the compulsion to do this results from a person’s mental state, and making someone appear to be a man or a women when they are not will not change their basic biological reality, only turn them into a caricature of the opposite gender.

There will come a time, sooner rather than later, when today’s reliance on gender reassignment surgery and all its variant treatments will be considered barbaric and indulgent. Future generations will look at photos of transgendered people the way we look at photos of Chinese foot binding today: as brutal, outdated and an affront to human dignity.

Back in Skel Country

Circumstances have smiled upon me and I found myself with new and more gainful employment. I made the move from journalism to “the dark side” of public relations. My days are still filled trying to understand the minutia of financial terms and technological jargon, I’m just writing for a different audience.

The new job is a shorter commute and is in the Flatiron district of New York. It’s less than two blocks from Madison Square Park and only one block away from the 6 train. The office is in a small building on 24th Street. It’s convenient to both a 7-Eleven and a deli, and near a Baruch College building.

The new office is also only a few doors down from some kind of halfway house or rehab center. There’s no sign on the building indicating this, and a cursory web search of the address revealed nothing about its current use. You can tell what it is by the people who congregate outside and can be seen coming and going. Even before I discovered its location, I knew there was some sort of facility in the area because of the skels I would see on the street.

Skel is an antiquated term meaning street criminal but it’s a catch-all word that is used to include any kind of troubled sort given to criminality, and the homeless and mentally ill seemingly fit into this category.

It’s easy to pick out the skels on the street. They are dirty and wrinkled. They are not homeless-level dirty and don’t have the mile-away stink that typical street bums do. They do not carry around excessive luggage or tons of crap in shopping carts; they have a place to live. But street people have a way of standing out, at least in today’s less crime-ridden city. Twenty years ago things were different and many parts of the city were blanketed with homeless and other skels. Today Manhattan does not have too many poverty pastures. There’s still plenty of poor people in New York, but the space allowed for skels has diminished significantly.

When I worked in the lower part of midtown Manhattan about 12 years ago, the area was populated with a lot of street people. There was a methadone clinic across the street from the building where I worked and some kind of halfway house was not far either. One time I was on my way out of a Duane Reade drug store after buying a few things when a man and woman rushed up to the counter. The man was holding a $10 bill.

“I need change right away! I have to pay the taxi!”

“They’re going to send him to jail if he doesn’t pay!” his female companion said.

The clerks behind the counter shook their heads lazily.

There was no cab outside with an angry driver waiting.

Another time I was walking around on my lunch break and I saw a two men approach a man from behind, one flashed a badge and the two plainclothes cops took the man by the arms and pinned him against the building where I worked.

“Where’s the weed?” one of the cops asked him. I didn’t bother to stick around to see how this encounter ended. When I returned from my lunch break, they were gone.

There is both a Taco Bell and a White Castle on that block of 8th Ave. and 36th Street, which is heavenly unless you are so poor you really can’t afford either. I was coming off of more than a year of unemployment and I was so poor that my lunch sometimes consisted of the free snacks that the failing company offered. Still, the kinds of human abominations that frequented the area were seemingly from a different era. A woman complained to her friends about not getting what she needed from the methadone clinic. Random skels shouted their opinions for the world to hear.

Despite the improved conditions in the Big Apple over the last 20-plus years, New York is still famous for its seedy element. Before it was populated with fancy hotels and trendy restaurants, The Bowery was famous for its many flop houses, where people paid low rent to live in rooms no bigger than a jail cell. It was a world-famous refuge for drunks, drug addicts and criminals and there are still some homeless charities left on The Bowery, which is also known for its stores that providing lighting and restaurant supplies.

The residents of the nearby halfway house are easy to spot. They are dirty and disheveled. But even if you cleaned them up and dressed them in tuxedos and ball gowns, they would still stand out because they’ve acquired such gaunt features and acquired the mannerisms of the permanently destitute.

People often wear their desperation outwardly, and for the lifelong criminal and drug addict these are impossible to hide. Despite all of their efforts, you can hear the junkie quavering in their voice, sense the hurting shiftiness in their eyes, and know to avoid them.

Sometimes you can get fooled, but not for long. One time a man in a suit waved to me and held out his hand to shake mine. He looked a lot like someone I knew so I assumed I knew him and that I had forgotten his name, which I do all the time. Once he started talking though, he started blathering on about his wife being somewhere and he needed money for a cab etc. Damn, I got suckered into listening to a panhandler. I didn’t give him any money but felt like a sucker anyway.

No matter how real or sincerely someone may seem, you’re a damn fool if you give one cent to a panhandler. Even the most bleeding-hearted skel lover admits that the overwhelming majority of money you give to panhandlers goes to purchasing drugs and/or alcohol.

For some reason we allow people to live worse than animals on the streets and subways. If a dog looked and smelled like that, they’d be taken away and given shelter. Somehow it’s deemed liberating to watch people wallow in their own filth, but there’s nothing progressive or enlightening about it at all.

Eventually gentrification will continue and the city and private charities will realize they can generate more revenue for their cause by selling the valuable real estate they hold in Manhattan and move their services to less expensive neighborhoods.

There’s a belief among many artists and poets that the destitute and poor some kind of unique insight or soulful legitimacy. Since they are not blessed with American success they are not cursed by it, or so the logic goes. But you’ll find that most bums on the street are just that: bums. They’re every bit as shallow and ignorant as the douchebag financier or the fashionable hipsters we love to hate.

The world will never be rid of street people. New York’s dwindling clans of them are still around, but their roaming grounds have been sharply reduced and can’t support as large a population.

The Myth of Male Feminism

It’s time for the few men who call themselves feminists to stop.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support the rights of women. It means the feminist label isn’t meant for us. Asking a man to call himself a feminist is like asking a woman to wear an athletic cup. It’s just not meant to be.

Furthermore, the men who are claiming to be feminists are either acting out of fear of being labeled sexist or are trying to get laid. Either way they are full of shit.

I think you’d find it hard to paint me as a woman-hating ogre. I have a wife and two daughters and my last three bosses at work have been women. I have no problem working with women and I would fight to the death to make sure my baby girls are treated fairly.

But feminism as practiced today demands an illogical accounting of the genders in the world and assumes what is dictated by nature is actually the result of some patriarchal conspiracy. And it assumes men and women are equal in all things, which is false. If men and women were equal in all things, I’d be able to breastfeed my two girls, and I can’t.

The adoption of the tem “feminist” by men is by design awkward and one-sided. It’s a label not meant for men to ever use and asking men to identify as such belies the supposed egalitarian intent of the feminist movement as it exists today. We are told feminism means treating men and women equally. Women who believe in treating men and women equally don’t call themselves “masculists.” That would be ridiculous. And so are men who call themselves feminists.

We have to acknowledge that there are differences between the genders that will dictate how each is treated in society. That’s not sexism, that’s reality.

If I were to walk into a women’s restroom, the women in there would not welcome me as an equal being. They would tell me in no uncertain terms that I was in the wrong place. (Although now the idea of “gender neutral bathrooms” are supposed to be catching on. It may be a trend on some college campuses, but females will put a stop to that quickly if it ever picks up steam in the real world).

Treating men and women equally under the law might make sense to a certain degree, but then again, the law will run face-first into scientific reality. Should I be entitled to the same amount of parental leave as my wife? No. Women can feed babies with their own bodies. Men can only do that if they have vampire children. There are legitimate functions in society where gender differences have to be acknowledged in some way and this has often run afoul of the contemporary feminist movement.

Feminism as practiced today has shed its heritage of fighting for suffrage and has instead joined the tired fray of identity politics.  What this needless war between the sexes has given us is a certain segment of the female population who mistake rudeness for assertiveness and then pull the gender card when they get called on it. It’s also produced a large number of men who are afraid to be called sexist or else have a confused notion of what women want. In reality, women want strong men.

The men who identify as feminists are a parade of either self-emasculating depressives or fast-talking pickup artists.

Believe me, the men who are playing the feminist card are trying to get laid. For the most part it won’t work, and the men who tout themselves as male feminists do so because they are in some way shy or awkward around women and they think that perhaps appearing in this activist posture will get them some positive attention from women. That is mostly doomed to failure because men and women don’t choose their mates by their political stances. Even the most outwardly feminist straight woman still wants a man with a level of self-confidence that would often preclude him adopting the feminist label.

But the men who call themselves feminists and are successful with women treat those women like dog shit. I have had acquaintances who were adamant about declaring their feminist politics publicly but then spoke in the most vulgar terms about their conquests of women when there were no women present.

One way or another, all male feminists are frauds. I will gladly fight for the rights of women. But I can’t be a feminist, because I am a man.

How to Go Crazy Properly

tear-hair-outI sat in a room full of very well-behaved financial professionals and analysts wondering why no one was going insane. It was a day like any other and it was a financial conference in Manhattan didn’t suddenly give in to the orgiastic wills of the dozens of assembled people.

Most of us lose our minds at one point or another but almost always too slowly to register to the outside world. We let our own fears and disappointments torture and kill us, carving our minds and souls to shredded pulps.

Given the state of the world, I’m surprised more and more people aren’t dropping out of civilized society by going crazy. Many times I find myself in a situation where people’s acceptance of what’s given to them or the state of their surroundings is maddening and ought to result in a violent outburst of creative violence, but it never happens. And if it did, it would never be contained enough to be justified and righteous.

So even though I sympathize with crazy to the nth degree and feel the temptation to bring that measured and sane violence to our insane world, I can’t stand the people who force their insanity on the world around them.

The people who scream and rave in public, who throw themselves in front of trains or off of buildings, are childish egotists who think they are special enough to force others to notice them and rearrange their lives for them. You have every right to be crazy and are probably right to be insane, but force yourself on others and you’re not better than the rest of the cruel, cruel world, probably worse. That is one reason we have art, music and literature: it’s how we turn the pain of being alive into something worth living for.

You have to embrace your insane rage in the right way. The only worse than letting your insanity kill you is letting it make you an egocentric asshole first.

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