Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Living in New York City With the Filthy Rich
"East Side, West Side, All Around the Town"
That's the lead-off line to a once-popular "New York City song" called "The Sidewalks of New York." The two dudes who wrote this at-one-time bestseller (it sold 5,000 copies of sheet music when it first came out in the late 1890s), James Blake wrote the words, Charles Lawlor wrote the music--Blake worked in a hat shop. Lawlor came in the hat shop looking for a hat. While looking at hats, he started humming a tune he'd just written that morning and was stuck in his mind. Blake heard the tune, thought it catchy, so he said he had some lyrics he thought would fit it to a tee, so they collaborated on the song, and voila, they were an overnight sensation. And though the song became a bestseller and the official New York City tune for many years thereafter, both Jimmy Blake and Charles Lawlor died in poverty on the Streets of New York; in fact, Lawlor died penniless in squalor.
Old Smilin' Al Smith, the New York State CATHOLIC Governor, decided in 1928 to run for president against pudgy-fat spoiled rich brat Herbert Hoover. Old Al used "The Sidewalks of New York" as his theme song. The song rather than working for CATHOLIC Al, backfired on him, especially out among the hinterland Yahoos (the hicks, clodhoppers, hillbillies, and second-story operators) who despised anything Catholic and extra-despised anything Catholic New York City; in fact, they hated anything New York City so they voted overwhelmingly for Hoover. I mean, Governor Al got stomped bad, almost as bad as Alf Landon and later Barry Goldwater. Supposedly Al later died with a broken heart still singing "The Sidewalks of New York" if you asked him to, though shunted to the back closets of political remembrance and gratitude.
Al Smith was also the political push behind building the Empire State Building. He became president of the Empire State Building Association, and tagging along with him was Jim Farley who became the materials buyer for the building. Farley was an FDR crony and political hack who later became FDR's Postmaster General back when we had a Postmaster General (was it Nixon or Raygun Reagan who privatized the Post Office?).
Construction began on the Empire State Building in 1931, right smack-dab in the middle of the Great Depression. Ironically it was Herbert Hoover who had beaten Al Smith for President in '28 who turned on the building's lights as President from Washington, District of Corruption, at the building's dedication.
Five workers were killed building the building, which is pretty good considering the risks high-iron construction workers faced every day back in those days, especially after the building rose up over 50 stories.
The Empire State Building sat "unrented" or occupied for twenty years after it opened. For this reason it got the nickname "The Empty State Building." It stayed mostly unoccupied until 1951. During those empty years, the Observation Deck provided nearly all of the building's income, garnering 2 million bucks during the first year of operation.
I live directly under the Empire State Building. It is where I have been directed to live since I was five and my father, a frequent visitor to New York City, sent me a postcard of the Empire State Building with a penned "X" up on the Observation Deck followed by the penned notation "I'm here." I kept that postcard for years and years along with a New York City Coke bottle I'd found on US Highway 80 West walking home from school one day. Those two New York City items kept me believing in the back of my mind that one day I was going to live as close to the Empire State Building as I could possibly get. Well, hey, Pops, "I'm here!"
foto by tgw, 2009
Remember, the Empire State Building was hit by a US Air Force B-25 Mitchell bomber in July of 1945. The plane was piloted by a guy named Smith. The crash killed 14 people. An elevator operator, Betty Oliver, free-fell 75 floors in her elevator that day and survived the fall--a feat still listed as the world record in the Guinness Book of Records.
Nobody Seems the Worse Off
Right up the street from me, and I walked by it last night on my way to buy me a cheap ass sandwich at the Subway Sandwich Shop on Fifth Avenue, is a floo-floo joint called a "wine and chocolate bar." It's tucked back in a corner of the very plain and tacky 50-story luxury hi-rise apartment building they put up there a couple of years ago. It's tucked back far enough off the street that it has set up a large sidewalk-cafe type area, tables and umbrellas out in the open air of a sidewalk of New York. It is also directly across the street from a Con-Edison (stress the "Con" in that name) power substation that is spewing out daily dangerous amounts of mercury and dioxin poisons into my neighborhood's already clogged air from the many exhaust fans spinning madly night and day on its low roof. Can you imagine eating an expensive meal in the outside air of New York City? Surely soon it begins to taste like a mixture of oil and the nonpoisonous taste of mercury and the bug-spray taste of dioxin. But tourists, those dopes, and the usual great pretenders who cruise NYC chic-chic hang spots for showing off and perhaps getting a job as a waiter or waitress if they get enough attention, what do they care if they get a little nauseous or start suffering from respiratory ailments soon thereafter eating and showing off.
There is still evidence of much wealth all around New York City on any given day. That evidence used to be mainly spotted by big long stretch Caddy limos buzzing about the streets hauling the rich and famous around the town. That and when I moved to NYC, we still had Checker cabs, real cabs. You didn't see many luxury automobiles outside of the Caddy limos and the occasional Rolls-Royce, like the Rolls the famous Rocky Benihana used to ride around in all over town, or like the guy with the white Rolls-Royce whose horn played "La Cucharacha"--da-da-da-dah-dah/ da-da-da-dah-dah! This guy used to park over on East 55th, directly behind my apartment on East 56th. Many a night I've heard "La Cucharacha" comin' in after a night of wheelin' the ladies around in his cuchifrito Rolls. The basketball great, Walt Frazier, also used to do his cruisin' around the Upper West Side in a Rolls.
Now you don't see many stretch Caddy limos anymore and I can't remember the last time I saw a Rolls running around town. You do see a lot of BMW sports cars--and a lot of big Lexuses--though since all those kind of luxury cars and luxury SUVs seem to look alike to me these days, these luxury cars don't stick out like those big long Caddy limos used to and occasional juiced up Rolls-Royces used to. Miles Davis used to drive around Manhattan in a Lamborghini. One night he got pulled over in his Lamborghini, along with a very wild-eyed Betty Davis, his wife at the time. When the cops had Miles step out of the car so they could shake him down, he was wearing snakeskin pants. Betty Davis was a big cult star called the Queen of Punk Soul at one time.
Mrs. Miles Davis, Betty Mabry, as Betty Davis on stage in her signature hot pants (can't you hear old James Brown singing about "Hot Pants"?). Betty's the chick on the cover of Miles's great album Filles des Kilimanjaro, a truly great album of real hardcore jazz. Miles met Jimi Hendrix through Betty. As a result of this meeting, Miles turned out his famous Bitches Brew album. Later Miles divorced Betty when he learned she was fucking Jimi Hendrix behind his back. After Miles dropped her (he then married Cicely Tyson), she moved to London and started modeling.
After passing by the swells dabbing at their expensive food at the wine and chocolate bar, I kept on walking around my once workingman's neighborhood. This Midtown Manhattan neighborhood used to be a neighborhood of mixed races and occupations: Chinese, Lebanese, Koreans, Latin Americans, homeless, crackheads, itinerants, and a lot of Jewish people from the Millinery District just up on Broadway and all its Kosher delis and Jewish restaurants in the upper West 30s, and the Fashion Industry over on 8th Avenue; and there were a lot of Moravians in the Flower District just down Sixth Avenue in the West 20s and 30s; and there were Arabs and Persians in the Rug District back over on East 30th (still the site of one of the best Persian restaurants in NYC), or Jews and Russians in the Fur District that was just over behind me on West 30th. The Lebanese are long gone. The homeless and crackheads are long gone. The Millinery District is long gone; the Fashion Industry is pretty much gone from 8th Avenue; the Flower District has shrunk to one corner over on 7th Avenue and about West 29th; the Rug District is still over on East 30th but it's drying up year by year as that area is being swallowed up by hi-rise luxury apartment buildings.
Fifth Avenue between 34th Street all the way down to the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street is a trash dump, with junk store and fast-food garbage out on the curbs in the evening and early morning hours; with trash flying and whirling all over the black-spotted (discarded gums) sidewalks. Trash including: paper cups, paper packaging (wrappings and sacks), aluminum food containers, plastic water bottles, plastic drink bottles, thrown-out computers, broken furniture--truly tacky, especially around the Empire State Building, which is our tourist trap in this neighborhood.
There is a constant stream of tourists going in and out of the new renovated Empire State Building, jamming up the sidewalks from wall to wall, lining up along the curbs to get on these very tacky and diesel-smelly sightseeing buses, double-deckers with seating on their roofs. There are usually 5 or 6 of the smelly beasts parked with their motors running loading sightseers on 34th, the front of the Empire State Building, then 2 or 3 more on around the corner on Fifth. Goofy tourists pay as much as $25 and $35 dollars a piece to ride down Fifth Avenue in the open foul air, 5 or 6 other sightseeing buses all running one after the other, their roofs loaded down with gawking heehawing tourists. Rain or shine, these fools are piled high on these very tacky filth-spewing buses, riding along like trained monkeys listening to the dumbass tour guide spouting out facts about this or that building or this or that whatever, the tourist not knowing whether what the tour guide is spewing out is fact or fiction.
And walking over to Fifth Avenue yesterday I saw a big gang of cop cars and fire engines around this new hi-rise very tacky luxury building, a building I have often commented on in terms of the materials they used to build it. I'd said in past Growler posts it was a building built out of thin concrete slab floorings walled up by big panels of very tacky light green and blue fiberglas or plexaglas slabs each slitted with look-out but can't-look-in glass windows being held in place by flimsy aluminum frames (with concrete post-columns holding up the main weight of the building. I mean it's a truly nondescript generic building with no exterior virtuosities, none whatsoever; just a plain plastic-looking building. It seems the problem yesterday was that some of those glass windows were suddenly falling off the building, most crashing down on tenants's balconies, but some falling all the way down to the street below. Shoddily constructed--you could see it with the naked eye as they were building the eyesore projection of luscious luxury living. It looks exactly the same as all the other hi-rise luxury jobs and luxury hotels going up like wild mushrooms around this city.
The local newscasts reported on the building's falling apart last night and they said some of the tenants who were paying millions of dollars to live there were pissed off about it. I shot 'em all the finger. That's what you deserve, you Yahoos, for paying out that kind of money for a piece-of-shit-constructed luxury building (with very thin sheetrock walls, too; I guarantee you those millionaire apartment owners can hear each others's goings on whether foul or exhuberant night and day--these buildings are not soundproof, unless you rent whole floors or own whole floors, which I'm sure some of these swells do). One woman tenant from the building they interviewed on teevee looked like a Russian babushka woman and had a thick smarmy accent, like she was from the Balkans.
So that's who has money in my city. People who look like peasants with thick foreign accents...Jeeezus!
All the while my old pal who owns my favorite Irish pub was sailing around the Greek Isles with his family. That pissed me off--not because I'm envious of this really nice dude being rich enough to sail the Greek Isles at his leisure--but because he's recently raised all his prices because as he explained his expenditures had gone up considerably thanks to the "recession" and the constant increasing of taxes on liquor and beer. Regular old beers are now 7 bucks a bottle in his pub. A shot of Jameson's 12-year-old cost me and thedailygrowlerhousepianist $10 a tumbler--and the pours were shorter than usual to boot.
I remember a friend of mine, now long in the grave, who used always say, "New York City's one of those towns that if you don't have any money to waste you're not gonna be able to live here for very long. Money to burn by hook or crook is the life blood of New York City."
It's sad to me to see the old "sidewalks of New York" changing to me so too rapidly. Wiping out the old neighborhoods that used to make this city more than just a money trap for google-eyed meathead tourists or foreigners with so much money to waste they come to New York City to waste it in worldly style.
Yes, Mayor Bloomberg, you rich ass bastard, there did used to be a Middle-Class in New York City. A well-paid and very efficient Middle-Class, or should I say more sociologically correctly that it was a White Collar Working Class. But, also, and this is more important, there was also a Blue Collar Working Class still in this city. Now you either have that money to burn or you'll soon be burned at the stake of poverty and have to run for your life or take the bitter end like a real man or woman, with head held high..."Give me liberty or give me a bus ticket out of here." Mayor Bloomberg does this to get rid of our homeless--the rich man's solution (next to building ovens and cooking their asses) to the homeless problem--he gives them a one-way bus ticket to any other city they care to go be homeless in--though one of the stipulations is, it's a whole hell of a long way from New York City. Ah the humanitarian love rich assholes have for their fellow human beings.
for The Daily Growler
Here's a Very Good Article by Chris Hedges (We Like This Dude Here at the Growler--He Thinks Like He's Been Reading The Daily Growler)--Check out how many times he mentions "the Power Elite" in this well-written article from TruthDig.