Foto by tgw, New York City, 2010
Broken English in a Broken Neighborhood in a Broken City in a Broken State
When I first moved into this neighborhood the only English speakers around were in the Irish pub just up the street from my building. And trust me, a true Irishman or woman doesn't speak the same English we Americans do so they can be pretty hard to understand for an American-English-speaking ear (even for an American-Irish-English-speaking ear), an ear taught to hear only American-English replies clearly--without having to bend forward and say, "Beg pardon, what did you say?" I put my hand up to my ear and make out like I'm hard of hearing when I don't understand my neighbors or people in the street who come up to me and ask directions. Once a woman who only spoke Greek--I flailed my hands madly trying through sign language to understand where she wanted to go--finally giving up and pointing westwardly towards New Jersey and saying my best pseudo-Greek, "That way" and off she obediently headed that way--west toward New Jersey. I felt really bad about that for a few blocks on up Fifth Avenue when soon it was pushed off into a dusty area of my mind's attic (I learned that from Sherlock Holmes) and I haven't thought it out and dusted it off until today.
For some strange reason, Latinos and Latinas who can only speak Spanish seek me out on the street--go out of their way to confront me with something like ¿Cómo en nombre de la Virgen encuentro la Embajada mejicana? or something similar. One time this Latina came up to me while I was standing with a Spanish dude and started asking me questions in Spanish. I just pointed towards that Spanish guy and said "Buenas dias" and turned to walk on my way when I heard the Spanish guy holler, "Hey, why me, man, I don't speak no Spanish, man; why the hell you think I speak Spanish, motherfucker?"
I probably know more Spanish than any other language tossed around on these streets--at least I know enough Spanish to maybe point someone in the right direction.
I see a lot of Germans in the streets around my neighborhood because my neighborhood has two $150-a-night (with a 14% city hotel tax added on) hotels (both used to be whorehouses and crack dens) so the Germans flock to these hotels. Germans, however, never approach anyone for directions. They try and figure out things for themselves. Like they always carry maps of New York City with them. Asians never get lost enough to ask a White American for a direction--besides the sidewalks all over this neighborhood are filled with Asians--the White folks haven't driven all the Asians out yet--though they will one day--they will. Like this used to be a big Lebanese neighborhood--the famous-at-one-time Beirut Restaurant used to be over in the Martinique Hotel.
I recently tested my Spanish out at my fav Irish pub when I tried to have a conversation with a couple from Madrid. I got enough conversation in to discover the man was a Sociology professor at the U of Madrid. I failed miserably trying to talk Sociology with him and spent the rest of the effort mostly nodding and saying "Si" once maybe hollering in their faces "¿Qué demonios dice usted?" No, of course, I wasn't that rude to them. I left out the demonios--I mean, they were very nice folks--he was probably a brilliant man. Years ago I met another Sociologist from Madrid, a woman professor--but I won't comment on her--language wasn't the problem with her.
My building at the time I moved into it was dominated by Asians: Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese. The neighborhood was Korean in terms of culture, restaurants, festivals, and language. The Asians who dominated my building, though, were Chinese. New immigrant Chinese. Illegal immigrant Chinese. None of them spoke English and all of them didn't trust any White person--and why should they? They were fresh from China and didn't understand the American English language, the customs, the culture, except the materialistic part of it all; they knew that just fine. Their only salvation when here--and it's the reason they were here anyway--was to be with their own people, either actual relatives or at least people from their hometown or province. The illegal Chinese immigrants worked for the legal Chinese Americans, especially the Chinese-American restaurant owners. I'm talking about a time when Chinese restaurants, both the fast-food kind and the regular kind, were thick on every block of Manhattan for sure and also thick in the other boroughs, too, I'm sure. I mean there were Cantonese joints, Sechuan joints, Hunan joints, Asian-Cuban joints. There were enough Chinese restaurants and joints around to provide plenty of jobs for immigrant Chinese--the men in the kitchens cooking, the women sitting around peeling vegetables and the illegal immigrant boys with their bicycles ran the numerous delivery orders out all across Manhattan.
The recent real-estate-developer attacks on New York City have found this neighborhood and have begun a process of driving out the Asians and replacing them with upper-end Whites, though well-to-do Chinese are welcomed--especially the hip upwardly mobile Chinese no matter their legal status. This is true even in my building where my landlord hates the unhip old-fashioned shit-in-the-stairwell Chinese and risks multiple lawsuits in wild efforts to kick them out of the building. These real-estate building-and-site gobblers have attacked this neighborhood big time especially back about 5 years ago during the wild derivatives trading times when the real estate industry was flourishing and wallowing in record sales; when homeowners were selling their formerly $75,000 houses for $700,000 to these new-home-buyers who couldn't afford to pay $700,000 for a $75,000 house but who did with the encouragement of the friendly easy-to-deal-with newly formed and unregulated mortgage dealers (brokers) and loan sharking bankers--the unregulated financial system--the playboys of the speculation world. Thanks to Bill Clinton's deregulating squad, banks were soon allowed to move away from depending on checking and savings accounts for their capital and move into the field of peddling insurances and credit cards and making all kinds of E-Z loan deals--except to poor blacks who the banks and loan sharks red lined as DANGER ZONES. And banks were also allowed to buy and sell mortgages--to become derivative traders--or vice versa, mortgage and bond brokers allowed to become banks--and even insurance companies also allowed to become banks (check out Met-Life Bank) and not only could these insurance companies still peddle all kinds of insurance but as banks they could also finance hedge funds and private equity groups and finance real-estate developments with monies they reaped extorting the dumbass masses out of their hard-earned bucks by scaring the shit out of them--"What if daddy drops dead suddenly?...what are mommy and the kids to do?" "Daddy's a son of a bitch, mommy says, because he died and left us broke." So look at all the fear they peddled along with their assurances in the form of insurance policies--policies on your life; policies on your death; policies on your chances of dying of a horrible disease; policies on your chances of living beyond 72 years of age; policies on something happening to your house--policies on your wife's or your new false tits--all insurance then broken down into fear divisions: fire, casualty, thefts (break in, burglary, home invasion), wind damage, water damage, storm damage, Act of God damage, lightning striking twice in the same place damage--I mean insurance schemes going every which way to scam people our of their dwindling hard-earned bucks--OR TO FORCE THEM DEEPER INTO DEBT. Why, hell, while they were at it, how about insurance on your cars--aha, and what if you have a wreck in your insured car--aha--you need accident insurance--and, oh yeah, you need break in and burglary insurance on your car. And then there's the taxes on your wages: city tax, state tax, federal tax; then there are the taxes on your sins, the taxes on your groceries, the taxes on your property, the taxes you pay to drive on your own highways--your thruways, your toll roads--some now owned by foreign companies--like those in Indiana--and we all pay restaurant taxes, hotel taxes, taxes on food, taxes on taxes, taxes on phone bills, taxes on utilities bills, taxes on if you win a lottery prize, taxes on capital gains, taxes on marriage licenses, taxes on your healthcare!
Remember when G.W. Bush tried to sell our ports to his pals in Dubai? Let Muslims run our ports. Oh, man, and these asshole Repugnicans are bitching about Obama being soft on terrorists. Muslims running our ports. Makes sense to me. Made sense to the Saudis and the Dubaians and the Arab Emiratese--why not Muslim nations running our ports? Damn splendid Yale Business College Degree thinking.
And credit cards. Hey, I fell for it when the minute I graduated from college a barage of credit cards hit my mailbox. I got eight "gasoline" credit cards on graduating college. I got one from Fina (a long-gone company--made famous by the "Pink Air" advertising campaign back in the 60s using the Pink Panther (of movie fame) cartoon image as their spokesperson). I got one from Mobil (at that time just recently renamed after being the Magnolia Oil and Refining Co (a Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. (Socony standing for: Standard Oil Co. of New York)) for most of my growing-up time in Texas). I got one from Humble (the Humble Oil and Refining Co. out of Houston--also known over in other states as Esso (read as: S--O, as in Standard Oil), both combining to become Exxon in the 60s--and now these many years later, those two Texas Standard Oil companies that started off Magnolia and Humble have alas been reunited into Exxon-Mobil, the biggest and greatest money-making Standard Oil company of all time--and old John D. Rockefeller is smiling in his luxurious grave and his heirs are all so thankful, too, folks, thankful that our kind and considerate politicians allowed Standard Oil to gusher back to Oligarchy status once again. Praise the Lord for deregulating fools like Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton, gnarly old Allen "Fountainhead" Greenspan, and now Barack Obama!
Why not an excess-profits tax on giants like Exxon--and AIG, and Goldman-Sachs, those bastards?
Here ya go, L Hat turned me on to this Mike Taibbi article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone--Mike has done an unbelievably thorough job of relating our financial crooks's way of skinning us alive of all our money to the ways of the grifters and the flim-flammers. A brilliant article--Mike being a The-Daily-Growler-Writing-School-Graduate-type of writer:
And I also got a credit card from The Texas Company--yep, folks, that's good ole Texaco Fire Chief gasoline--"Trust your car to the man who wears the star" was their brand tag. The star representing authority to dumbass Americans--our sheriffs wear star badges; our generals wear stars; our police chiefs wear stars; our celebrities are called "stars." The North Star the guiding star. A star showed the Wise Men where the baby Jesus was. The Red Star the guiding Communist symbol. Our Sun a star. We wish on stars. The Jews see themselves as symbolized by a 6-pointed star. The Devil, yes, he has his on star, a pentagon. Some of us see our future and our past in the stars. We are lost among the stars. We may be overpopulating so we'll outnumber the stars in the universe some day--maybe we already do.
Texaco has now comboed up with Chevron and guess what Chevron originally was: Standard Oil of California or SoCal for short!
I also got a credit card from the Sinclair Oil and Refining Co. whose mascot was Dino the Dinosaur (this when geologists thought oil came from decayed dinosaur corpses from when the big meteor hit the earth way back in an impossible time for humans to remember).
I also got a card from the Phillips Petroleum Co. of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, purveyors of Phillips 66 gasolines.
And lastly, I got a card from the Gulf Oil and Refining Co. makers of Good Gulf gasoline. Gulf Oil goes back to the Spindletop discovery field near Beaumont, Texas, in the early 1900s (1910, I think) their first refinery coming on line in Port Arthur, Texas. The principle investor in Gulf Oil was good ole Bill Mellon of the Pittsburgh, P.A., banking family. Up until the 70s, the Gulf Tower was the tallest building on the Pittsburgh skyline. In 1984, a cool date for a merger, Gulf Oil merged with Chevron (Standard Oil of California (SoCal)), though now Gulf is owned by a consortium headquartered in, guess where? If you guessed the Cayman Islands, you were right. There is still here in New York City a couple of Gulf filling stations, one a big one down on the Lower East Side near the Williamsburg Bridge.
Then on top of all those gasoline cards (you could buy like a set of tires for $120 on these cards and if you knew the filling station guy he'd make the tab out for $150 and give you $30 cash back out of the deal. That's one way you could get cash off your gasoline cards). Then motels and hotels along highways started taking gasoline cards, too, and Stuckies and places like that. And then I got the real deals, first a Diner's Club Card, then second a Master Card, and third an American Express card.
Gradually, I had to cut all my gasoline cards in half and send 'em back to the oil companies accounting divisions (credit divisions). I owed several hundred dollars on all 8 of them and I was wiped out and it got so bad, their dunning me, that I married and moved to New Orleans to escape their dunning ways. After I married, we were loaded with plastic--both of us had American Express cards--her's was one of the first gold cards--and we partied heartily around Manhattan and the world on those cards--even after our divorce, I traveled and lived on my American Express card until the early 80s when I finally had to cut it in half and send it to their Miami dunning office.
After I freed myself from this plastic debt--I paid it off later after I sold my first Pope book for a healthy sum--I haven't had any credit cards since. Fuck credit. Credit is for the taildragger. I'm a fast-cash-only type--and that's a rough way to live--the credit people hate people like me.
All of this to say in a passing note that the new Credit Card regulations went into effect this week. Oh boo-hoo-hoo; hear those credit card crooks crying those big crocodile tears. I'm sure they'll come up with tons of schemes to keep bilking their customers out of as much of any money they have left or points they still have on their credit reports. Did you know a landlord in New York City charges you $75 to check your credit before he or she will rent you an apartment--and certainly before they'll sell you an apartment. Fuck 'em all, I holler. Here's a damn good explanatory article by the AP's finance reporter on the new Credit Card reform--HAH:
I just got a cut-off notice from Verizon. I've had the same telephone number for 31 years now and it has never been cut off. When Verizon was New York Telephone, I was told I had an A1 rating with them and would never be harassed with a cut-off notice. At that time these crooks couldn't charge a late charge either--nor could they charge you for long distance if you didn't use it (they can now). Same thing when New York Telephone merged with New England Telephone and became NYNEX--then that nest of crooks merged with Bell Atlantic to become--suddenly out of nowhere: Verizon, meaning I suppose they own your phone lines both coming and going. Verizon shows no mercy should you get over 100 bucks behind in your payments. They'll shut your phone off quicker than ConEd will turn off your heat and lights if you get that far in debt to them. Verizon is like the Mafia when it comes to owing them over a hundred bucks. They must send out millions of cut-off notices a month, don't you think? Think of the money these crooked bastards make of cutting people's phones off--they charge you all kinds of fees to get your phone back on, too--plus they may demand a large deposit--what a bunch of rip-off bastards. As I've said before, $22 of my phone bill is taxes, fees, wire fees, and surcharges. Plus now late fees have risen to above $5. Plus, if you don't use your long distance service now at all, they still charge you like $4.00 for the service--yeah, they have a spin phrase for what they call it--like they call it something like a "nonuse" fee. I'm not kidding.
I go out in the morning to get coffee. My young coffee dude is an Afghanistan-American. My fruit man, Ibrahim, is also an Afghanistan-American. The great Rafiki gyro cart next to the Arab fellow running the news kiosk is managed by a Bangladeshi and a Moroccan, both who speak perfect American English--so I assume they are both born and raised here. The bank I use for my ATM withdrawals is a Korean bank, Bank Woori. The people in the bank are very friendly, but their American English is atrocious. My fav deli I go to is run by a Bangladeshi gentleman and his partner an Indian Sikh. Their sandwich dude is a young Mexican fellow who calls me El Gringo. The woman who runs the laundry I go to is from the West Indies--her accent (patois) is so thick its only by habit I know what she's saying. The main big deli I go to on Fifth Avenue is run by a Chinese gentleman who is a really nice fellow though he's tighter than Dick's hatband when it comes to deals and speaking American English. The woman I like best who waits on me in this deli is Chilean. My new next-door neighbors on my West are from the Balkans--my doorman tells me they are Gypsies. I do hear them singing heartily songs that do have a Gypsy flavor to them in their apartment occasionally. My landlord is a Persian Jew whose American English is very broken--though if I'm very still when he's speaking I can understand him. The office manager in my building is a Georgian-Russian who speaks with a thick Russian-Jewish accent. He once sat and talked to me and a friend for about 30 minutes telling us his life story. When we finally shook him off and left him spinning in the road, my friend said, "I didn't understand one word that man said. What the hell was he talking about? I did, I think, understand him saying 'daughter' a lot so I assume he was talking about his daughter." "Who knows?" I replied; I hadn't understood what the hell he was saying either and still avoid talking to him to this day.
Norman Mailer back in the fifties said New York City wasn't really a New York City but a New York State unto itself. Mailer championed New York City as the 51st state. But in fact New York City truly isn't really American anymore. It's global. It is very hard to say who is a native New Yorker--if there are any left--though the hospitals are birthing little New Yorkers by the thousands every day. It makes for a crazy city, I'll tell you that. It once was the epitome of American cities--but since the World's Fair of 1964, it has become a Global City State--Mayor Billionaire Bloomberg selling the old American New York City off to the highest Old World (the new trend in New York City restaurants and bars) bidders--to attract Euro Trash to town since, as our Billionaire Mayor tells us over and over, TOURISM is now New York City's number one industry. Wow. Once the place where the American Dream came true. Now it's better if you go to L.A. or Chicago or someplace like that if you're looking for any piece of the American Dream still realizable. It's impossible to dream in New York City anymore.
But hell, once you're embedded in this city--it's hard to leave it--it's hard to give up on it and move to someplace else! When I leave New York City--even to go to a big city like L.A. or London or even Paris--I feel terribly uneasy and anxious to get back to Gotham--though in a few years when all of this International crowd buys us all up and evicts our asses--you may find me living in Podunk--if there's still a Podunk left in this country by then?
I've heard Bangkok, Thailand, is the cheapest big city in the world to live in. Of course AIDS is big there as is child prostitution...oh well, you've got to live where you can afford to live if you're gonna be a Global Citizen.
for The Daily Growler (still very Amurican in its accent)