Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Living Inner City

, Rockaway Beach, on Sunday -- a day after the Great Shark Sighting of '07. Actually, it was a 6-foot Thresher Shark that washed ashore Saturday on Beach 109th Street, just a few short blocks away from where we usually plop our towels down on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, it turned up dead less than a day later with a large open gash on its underbelly, the apparent victim of a float-by mauling.

But on Sunday we had our own scare right on Beach 102nd Street: the reported drowning of a young girl. Around 30 lifeguards came running from all up and down the Beach to search for the missing youngster, while a police helicopter swooped low, very low, overhead. Turns out the girl was on the boardwalk all along. According to a lifeguard I chatted up, the girl's parents panicked; she told me that the dad had lost a brother from drowning years ago and immediately freaked out when he didn't see his daughter. Long story short, we went back to tossing the football around after a short interlude of feigned concern.

But the shark was hardly the only victim of violence in the City on the long Laborious Day Weekend. As if channeling the notoriously deadly Summer of '77, New Yorkers seemed to revert to form, confirming the worst urban stereotypes. But if rumors of a dangerously out of control city keep even one family of fat annoying tourists away, somehow it will all have been worth it.

Now, I hope you're sitting down when you read this next item, because shockingly violence broke out at the 40th annual West Indian Day Parade. I know, I know, hard to believe, but a "reveler" was shot twice in the leg. The news reports all stuck to the same tone: a beautiful day was marred by a few bad apples. On one broadcast, an overhead shot focused in on what looked like a giant mosh pit, with literally thousands of young men pushing each other in what looked like an orgasmic orgy of coordinated violence. Funny, but for whatever reason, cultural or otherwise, it's the kind of thing that rarely happens at, say, the Salute to Israel parade, or even the drunken spectacle that is St. Patrick's Day. Just saying.

On Staten Island, violence also marred a Labor Day block party, with a 4-year-old girl the victim this time of a stray gunshot. The disgusting part is that despite plenty of witnesses to this barbarous act, not one person has thus far come forward to aid the investigation so that police can nab the shooter. The likely reason, of course, is the fear of repercussion should word get out that some concerned citizen is cooperating with the police. Don't worry, though: Al Sharpton will somehow find a way to blame centuries of racial prejudice and white oppression for this outrage, instead of putting the blame where it belongs. Again, just saying.

But the worst act of violence this weekend occurred just a few blocks from where I sit a-typin' this entry. A hard-working 19-year-old Mexican dishwasher named Jose Sierra was shot and killed in Astoria early Sunday morning inside a subway station. Five people, now considered suspects, were seen running away from the Broadway N/W train station after shots rang out at 1:00 AM. Not that everything is all about me, but this is my blog, and that was my "home" stop when I lived in the neighborhood about 20 years ago. Now I live a grand total of 3 subway stops away, in the beautiful Ditmars Blvd. area. The consensus of those residents interviewed by on-location network newspeople is that the "neighborhood is very good," "this is a peaceful neighborhood," it's "unbelievable," etc. Trust me, it's not all that wonderful, unless the area changed a whole lot from when I was a resident in the pre-gentrified '80s. Then, it was overwhelmingly dirty, noisy, malodorous, crowded & rundown -- and I loved it, because my rent was a mere $235.40 when I first moved into rent-controlled apartment B4 at 29-08 31st Avenue, in a building incongruously called Windsor Garden.

Now, my theory is that the name "Windsor Garden" was chosen by savvy real estate honchos to suggest the lush, verdant acres and sprawling hills one might encounter while strolling outside an English country manor. Not only was there no greenery or garden to speak of, but the soulless, dilapidated edifice resembled an embattled fortress more than a royal castle. (Of course, people have a funny way of upgrading their own neighborhood when they describe it to outsiders, except for those posers who like to brazenly "romanticize" their neighborhood as more dangerous than it really is in a pathetically transparent attempt to garner street cred.)

Again, call me cynical, call me disturbed, just don't call me late to dinner, but if this prevents even one set of spoiled, annoying, three- or four-to-an-apartment-sharing yuppies from moving into my nabe, driving rents & food prices up, maybe some good will come from this after all. The other day I saw that a Greek deli had closed, and a sign on the boarded up storefront informed passers-by that a new sushi place was coming -- soon to join the ranks of overpriced coffee joints, boutiques and cafes. Great. Now, I've eaten sushi maybe 10 times in my life, while I used to cop spinach pies from this place on a semi-regular basis. So I've done the math, people, and I'm here to tell you it ain't pretty!


Serge A. Storms said...

You're right. First it'll be a Sushi bar, and the next thing you know you're going to see 'wine tastings' at some dimly lit restaurant that appeared from some khaki netherworld across the street, followed closely by paler and paler skin tones. I've seen it happen. It's scary. I'd hate to see what's happened to the part of Jersey I grew up in since I've been gone 18 years, but I'm sure it's got 5 Starbucks and a Barnes & Noble with a 6th and all together more sinister Starbucks inside.

As for the violence over the weekend, that count actually sounds kind of low. I know around Tampa, that's a bit of a slow weekend, though when the death tolls are down, the child molestation rates are usually up. I don't know what it is about this state, but there's too many people here who love our children in the completely wrong way.

jimithegreek said...

Keep an eye on Mike's Diner, if that goes there goes the hood!!

Wardens World said...

Serge: As I said, Florida is just one big outdoor insane asylum. All the best episodes of 'Cops' are shot there for a reason.

Yeah, it's sad that every single American city looks exactly alike now with the same chain store replicas: Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Best Buy, Circuit City, Blockbuster, Nail Salons, UPS store, large supermarket, Wal-Mart, Multiplex.

Soon everyone will have succumbed to a large vehicle like a Hummer or an SUV because who wants to get crushed while driving a normal-sized car.

Sidewalks will become a thing of the past as pedestrians are phased out and criminalized like some Ray Bradbury story from the '50s.

And what's somehow even worse than a homogenized suburban mall existence is the ascension of the hipster foodie metrosexual trendoid class, with, as you say, wine testings, book readings, open mike nites, with authentically constructed 'dive bars' and 'coffee houses' for that edgy look.

No more is subculture or underground even possible when every 'new wave' is handed to youth culture, ready to be embraced by the next consumer demographic.

Network Television is pure diversion now, no pretense of either quality or meaning, devoid of history and perspective, a total celebration of the present instant gratification.

A mass market focus tested computer originated formulaic pop culture glorifying in equal parts violence, vulgarity, meanness, blissful ignorance, seamlessly packaged in digital rapture.

Is there some endless supply of well off well meaning yuppies being churned out in some CIA warehouse somewhere? If not, who is going to fill up all these huge cookie cutter high rises going up all over NYC? Is it just a case of if we build it they will come with their cargo of well dressed gifted preschoolers. Every other block in Manhattan, and not a few neighborhoods in Queens have these same 30 or 40 story earth tone condo towers rising up into the sky, each containing a couple hundred luxury apartments with names like Queens Crossing, Tribeca Tower and Carnegie Park. All the life is sucked out of these neighborhoods. As long as there's a "good school" nearby though and decent shopping for the privileged classes, then what else really matters, right?

Jim, and my brother went to Mike's Diner last week for breakfast. Instead of the so called breakfast special, I ordered a bacon and egg sandwich. one egg and bacon, mind you. The bill comes and I'm like, excuse me sweetheart, it says here $5.15 for my egg sandwich. That can't be right. No, it's right, she assures me. It's 4-something for a bacon sandwich and then we add the egg. I still wasn't satisfied, so I sarcastically said, wow, good thing I didn't have two eggs, what would that have been, 8.50?

Now, my point is that either the waitress is a jackass -- because isn't there like a ham and egg entry on the fucking menu for like 3 bucks or something, instead of her kind of constructing the sandwich from two different places and then extrapolating the price -- or Mike's is just another overpriced Astoria eatery now. I think it's the latter, because like a savvy landlord, you're gonna charge just as much as you think people are willing to pay, and no less if you will.

Then last Friday I had a job interview down in Soho, another part of town I can't stand, because I hate trendy, stuck up, snotty brats -- but hey that's just me, because apparently they're quite popular and plentiful down there and doing quite well without me.

So being a chronically early person, always arriving like an hour early to every appointment out of some fear that I will somehow be late if I don't. (Yes, I was beaten quite a lot as a kid.) So I'm looking for a reasonably priced place to get a cup of tea or something and kill some time, rather than sitting on steps like a real schmendrick.

So I wander around a few blocks, Wooster, Spring, Houston, you know, can't find any diner, god forbid, or old fashioned coffee shop, of course not. Instead i see some gourmet place, but at least i see it has Vitamin Water in a cooler, so how bad could it be. Well, i look up at the blackboard where the prices are written. Now, you know it's an upscale place if they write the prices in chalk, right? or if you call your place a bistro or an eatery instead of a restaurant. But then i saw on the blackboard ORGANIC EGGS, 2 FOR $8.50. $8.50! Now, I know the Manhattan retail leases are a bitch, with spaces no bigger than closets going for $3,000 or $4,000. Even my friend's little record store in Astoria is a shoebox and he pays well over $2,00o a month. I told him the other day that when it closes you know this is a Starbucks waiting to happen. But $8.50? I mean, I'll buy a halfdozen freerange organic eggs if they're on sale for like 2.00 sometimes. Seeing that price up on that menu brought it all home to me, a real sign literally and figuratively of the coming Fall of the New Roman Empire. How could it be otherwise?