"New York used to be real, man...."
Photo credit: me
Occasionally, I let the bitter rantings of 45+ year old aging hipsters that spent their 20s getting mugged on the Lower East Side and reading White Noise like it was the Tamud convince me that I have led a fluffy, simple life in NYC and haven't the slightest idea what it's like to live in the "real" New York.
..and then, always, something like this happens to remind me that they can f#$( themselves.
Most recently, an NYPD officer kicked open a door in Bronx apartment, entered without a warrant and shot an unarmed 18 year old, who was flushing marijanua down the drain, in the chest.
When these flashes of serious violence and corruption happen, I inevitably get angry. I'm not just angry about the circumstances that lead to these events. I get angry at the aforementioned 45+ crowd who lament that New York is no longer "real" or "gritty".
To those people I always want to scream that I actually commute through and work in these neighbourhoods. I pay 4 times the rent that they did when they were my age - controlling for inflation. I've spent my prime earning years earning a low wage in the most expensive city in the Western world during a decade that has not seen an increase in the mean income of people in my tax bracket. I'm experiencing the down sides of NYC full frontal, without the benefit of dancing in underground clubs in junkie neighbourhoods until dawn and capitalizing on vague connections to Keith Haring. I live as a pi$$ poor scientist in a city that has a Alicia Silverstone-sized crush on artists. I have shared zip codes with some of the wealthiest people in the U.S., yet I can't count the number of times I've had to negotiate late rent with my landlord or argue for lower fees with doctors because I was starting out with an employer that commonly has 13 week delays in payment. I traverse some pretty low down neighbourhoods. I've had hard financial times here.
I've seen some real desperation and not one bad thing has happened to me because despite my tough time starting out, I always had the opportunity to live happy and safely....as most middle-class people do. I suspect that some of the longing for "gritty New York" is actually a longing for past youth on the part of my aging hipster friends. There is nothing romantic about a Time Square filled with prostitutes, or living here during City's peak murder rate years. Nothing. I can't imagine why anyone would wistfully long for those tough times.
To my aging friends, longing for the "real" New York. Don't worry, you are here. Unfortunately, the terrible things that happen to others point us to where the gritty still lives. If you really long for the gritty old days, you don't have to travel far. I suggest that you take that energy and volunteer to help out neighbourhoods like QueensBridge and the South Bronx.
New York Cares is a volunteer organization that runs projects in such neighbourhoods every week. Put your cynicism to use and head out to Bed-Stuy to assist in an arts program, or volunteer to tutor in Manhattan. Paint a school. Do something....no one is interested in hearing you wax poetic about the former filthiness of East 10th street, but someone out there is interested in what you might be able to bring to an after school sports program.