Thursday, March 01, 2012

Existing in New York City: Billionaires's Heaven/Poor Man's Hell

Foto by tgw, "The Sun Over Lower Manhattan," New York City, February 2012
Say Goodbye to Barney Rosset, Jr.
I noticed Barney died while I was in the hospital fighting for my life but then so many other good folks died, I lost track of Barney's death. Barney's Grove Press and Evergreen Review introduced Americans to so many great writers who before Barney published them were considered indecent writers or just plain pornographic writers. Barney introduced us to D.H. Lawrence by finally publishing Lady Chatterly's Lover in an unexpurgated form. He also beat the censors and published the great Henry Miller's wonderful Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Rosset also published Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs, and Pablo Neruda, et al. What a man! One of the great publishers of all time. Barney Rosset, 89, American publisher (Grove Press) and free speech advocate
The Billionaires Who Now Own Us Lock, Stock, and Barrel
I just read a unbelievable article in Utne about the horrible gap between the poor and the rich in my hometown, New York City. Did you know that of the 9 million people who make up the citizens of New York City, around 90,000 people control 44% of NYC's wealth? Here's an excerpt from this Utne article that first appeared in Orion, written by Christopher Ketcham, a NYC journalist:

"These top wealth recipients—let’s call them the One Percenters—took for themselves close to 44 percent of all income in New York during 2007 (the last year for which data are available). That’s a high bar for wealth concentration; it’s almost twice the record-high levels among the top one percent nationwide, who claimed 23.5 percent of all national income in 2007, a number not seen since the eve of the Great Depression. During the vaunted 2002–07 economic expansion—the housing-boom bubble that ended in our current calamity, this Great Recession—average income for the One Percent in New York went up 119 percent. Meanwhile, the number of homeless people in the city rose to an all-time high in 2010—higher even than during the Great Depression—with a record 113,000 men, women, and children, many of them constituting whole families, retreating night after night to municipal shelters.

"But here’s the most astonishing fact: The One Percent consist of just 34,000 households, about 90,000 people. Relative to the great mass of New Yorkers—9 million of us—they’re nobody. We could snow them under in a New York minute."

As a modified Marxian-Leftwinger Sociologist, the above figures bring up my ire. I see fiery red as I look at them. These 90,000 criminals (and, yes, they are all in the financial industry--they are all stealing their incomes through Wall Street skulduggeries) have an average income of 1.7 million a year. The rest of the 9 million are extremely lucky if they make over $100,000-a-year, though most New Yorkers only make on average per family $46,000-a-year. The poverty level in NYC is around $26,000-a-year (and unless you have a rent-controlled apartment, there's no way any human being can live on $26,000-a-year in this metropolis, not paying $2,000-a-month rent (under our Billionaire Mayor the new base rent in Manhattan), which means your rent takes $24,000-a-year or even more for a family of 3 or 4 who need 2 bedrooms ($4,000-a-month)).

These rich bastards are living supercomfortable Playboy lives (Thorstein Veblen, the brilliant US Sociologist/Economist, called them the leisure class) while all around them the ordinary New Yorker is struggling to stay afloat, also hoping without hope that a sudden tragedy (like my recent heart attack) doesn't hit them and totally wipe them out and send them packing into the streets and into an NYC city shelter. These New Yorkers include policemen, firemen, school teachers, people in advertising, the service industry, secretaries, bank tellers, store clerks, etc. It's not limited to the born poor or unsuccessful or the illegal immigrants.

To really get an eyeful of this inequality, all you have to do is visit Bellevue Hospital, the largest of New York City's city-controlled hospitals. I have been an outpatient there under their Ambcare for two weeks now. Most weekdays I have to report to various clinics and the pharmacy for very long and boring days of sitting among the other patients for most-times 5 hours at a time waiting to be seen by a nurse or a doctor. Patients daily have to report to 2nd-floor modules where first you register, then you're told to go take a seat, and, if you're lucky, 3 hours later you may be seen by a staff member--my average time waiting when I go has so far been 5 hours. In these waiting rooms--they are low-ceilinged unventilated rooms without enough seats for the hundreds of patients using them--are the true poor and downtrodden of this once cultural center of the world.

The first thing I noticed as a White man sitting in these rooms is that...I'm the only White man or woman in the room. Except for the doctors, who are all White (I include Indians from India as White people), I'm the only White patient. I sit for hours hearing them call out, "Manuel Ramirez, are you here?" or "Mercedes Escobar, are you here?" or "Tamilita Lopez, are you here?" or "Consuela Ortega, are you here?" There is one guy who looks White to me, but when they call his name it's a Spanish name. Finally, I hear, very clearly, "Mr. Wolfe, are you here?"

I am a member of the Bellevue Hospital herd. Why am I at Bellevue? you ask. Because it's a free hospital--they must take you whether you can pay or not; whether you have insurance or not, pay-or-die health insurance that I can no longer afford (my COBRA after I got fired would have cost me $5,000-a-year), so being a citizen of New York City, I go to Bellevue.

I'm not saying all these people are Spanish, though the most of them are. There are poor Chinese in the mix; there are poor Haitians in the mix; there are, yes, many poor Islanders (Caribbean) in the mix; and there are many Muslims in the mix. But it's obvious, there aren't many White people in the mix.

Racism has always been the dividing peg in this country's class struggles. Blacks and people of other colors have always been oppressed and kept down since the White man "conquered" this country through the Capitalist trading (slave trading, too) companies that actually were the invaders and occupiers of this once Native American homeland.

I grew up in segregated Texas. Texas has been a racist state since old Mr. Sam Houston kicked the Messkins's asses in what is still today called the Texas Revolution. I was lucky in that my family, though of course they were racists via being White Texans, I was forbidden to use the N word and I was taught to love all people no matter their color. My great-grandmother and my grandmother the poet had many long tales involving them as pioneer White women being harassed by what were then called Nightriders, pre-Ku-Klux-Klan bands of ex-Confederate psychopaths who rode about Texas looking for both freed slaves or White people who befriended them or safe-harbored them.

The Story of My Great-grandmother and Grandmother's Adventures With the Nightriders (from an earlier The Daily Growler post)
One of the most-told stories in my mother's family was about the time my greatgrandfather (J.L. for John Lytle) had gone off to do one of his concerts at a nearby town, leaving my greatgrandmother and my grandmother alone in their dugout house just outside of Youngsport, Texas, in Central Texas. These pioneer White folks would find a nice fairly steep hillside, dig a large hole (manmade cave) in it, put a timber front on the hole, a couple of small windows ("Big enough to stick a rifle through at least") and that was that. This was a time in Texas when ex-Confederate soldiers unhappy with the results of the Civil War and the freeing of slaves went renegade all over this part of the world, from Texas over into New Mexico, on up the cattle trails into Kansas. These renegade Rebels formed into units that called themselves "Nightriders." These weren't Klansmen, but that was their reason for being. They used Klan-like hoods and sheets and one of their missions was to raid freed blacks's homes and either kill them or torture them mercilessly. They also went after any Whites they heard who were hiding former slaves or being nice to freed Blacks--they'd raid your ranch and drive off all your cattle; or they might go so far as to burn your house and barn down and perhaps even shoot you and your family if they felt like it. Texas was so brutally racist about losing the Civil War, it was several years before some Texas slaves found out they had been freed, so these Nightriders would also capture blacks and take them down to Galveston and sell them back into slavery or if they knew they were freed they would simply lynch them or set them on fire--you know, the typical White way following God's word.

So on this night, with my greatgrandfather off singing and swilling (yep, he drank Scotch whiskey; in fact, he drank too much Scotch whiskey, especially after he'd just finished singing and the Scotch was passed around liberally amongst his fellow Clansmen (in the Scottish sense of the word and not in the KKK sense of the word), leaving his women back in their dugout house all alone.

My grandmother, who was but a young girl at the time, told the story in her high thin twangy South Texas voice. She said, her eyes wide open and her voice suddenly very serious and full of drama, that while she and her mother were alone in that dimly lit dank dugout, scared to death, sensitive to the smallest sound, her mother suddenly perked up her ears. Suddenly she shushed her daughter and whispered that she thought she heard something shuffling about in their bare-dirt front yard. She told her daughter to blow out the light in the coal-oil lamp and to pull the shutters down quietly over the burlap-covered windows--just slits really--and then she told her to be quite as a mouse until it was clearer just who or what was making the sound she had heard.

They were used to wild animals coming in the yard at night--white-tailed deer, mule deer, skunks, armadillos, bobcats, wildcats, even panthers--or it could have been Comanches, too, who at that time were still able to wander free over that part of Texas and Oklahoma Territory and were very feared by White folks, especially White women.

As they listened intently in the dark stuffiness of that dugout to that sound in the yard, they soon heard a slight scratching at the door. They stayed stock still. Then through the scratching they heard a voice. "Hep me," it said in just a whisper. "Hep me, pleezz!" It was a woman's voice. My greatgrandmother went to the door and asked who this woman was? The reply came back, "Hep me...the Nightriders is comin' back a ways, pleez hep me." The woman was a black woman. My greatgrandmother could tell. She took the timber bar that barred the big timber door firmly out of its rack and opened the door just a crack. There was a very young Black woman hunched up by the door. She had a bundle in her shaking hands. "Honeychile, " my greatgrandmother said, "you know I can't let you come in here if the Nightriders are after you." "I jest wants you to takes mah bay-bee...." "Your baby?" "Yes'um, mah bay-bee girl. I kin run faster without her. I kin run real fast, but I don't want 'em to git mah bay-bee if they gits me."

My grandmother said her mother turned to her and told her to take the baby from the woman. She protested, "Mama, are you sure?" "Take the baby," her mother told her. The baby was what was wrapped up in the bundle the young woman was holding. When my grandmother extended her arms to take the baby, the Black woman pulled it back, opened up the wrapping and kissed the baby, then handed it through the door and in the next second was gone off into the night.

After rebaring the big door, my greatgrandmother relit the lamp and they checked out the baby. She looked as though she couldn't have been more than a week or two old. Also she was clean as a whistle and as my grandmother put it, "Smelled as fresh as a sweet flower." The baby looked up at these two White women with its big brown eyes full of curiosity though not making one peep, as though already knowledgeable about breaking protective silence. Soon, my greatgrandmother blew out the lamp again and told my grandmother to take the baby all the way back in the farthest far corner of the dugout and to make sure she kept the baby perfectly quite.

Both women could now hear the hooves of the Nightriders's horses coming from a short distance it sounded to her like down the trail (road) that ran a hundred of so yards across a field from the dugout.

They shivered together in silence, two White women and a Black baby, cuddled in the far back corner of the now pitch black and cauldron-hot dugout. Afraid to even breathe; the baby quite and behaving itself magically it seemed like.

The horses hooves got closer. The women could even now hear men's voices over the hoofbeats. Men shouting and whooping it up.

And then they were so close it seemed like they were already in the front yard. They heard one horseman sounding like he was riding right toward the front door, the horse's hooves quaking the hardpacked ground.

Then it was obvious, the yard was full of men on horseback. Nightriders.

The two women didn't dare move. The baby hiccoughed one time and my grandmother put her girlish hand over its mouth. They didn't dare speak even in the quietest whisper. They were holding each other very tight now, with the baby between them tucked under them. The baby began to gurgle. My grandmother again placed her hand over the baby's mouth but the gurgling kept on coming. Then the baby started giggling.

The Nightriders were up close to the front door now. Soon there was a heavy thud against the door. My greatgrandmother put her hand on her daughter's arm and squeezed it. They were both so tense their limbs were beginning to stiffen up forcing them to have to shift their bodies. My grandmother got a cramp in her side. The baby was still lightly giggling. She was beginning to have fun innocently unaware of the deadly situation she was in. My greatgrandmother held her tight against her bosom.

There was another thud against the door. "Hey, open yere door in thar! Open it or we gonna break it in."

The women were now frozen stiff with tension and trying to stay quiet.

"Thar ain't nobody heah, Young, let's go," they heard another man say.

"That nigger gal's around heah somewhar; I kin smell her."

"She's prob'ly off across over that a'way. Back in them woods out thar."

There was then a series of heavy poundings on the sturdy door. "If'n I knocks this door down and find somebody in thar, I'll beat ya good, I tell ya I will."

The women remained quite.

Then the baby sneezed.

"You heah that?" one of the Nightriders said.

"What?" another one asked.

"I heard somethin' in thar!"

"Come on, Young, yore hearin' things. Let's go git that nigger gal."

There was one more thud on the door, then there were smaller thuds against one of the shuttered windows.

"Awright, dammit, I 'spose there's nobody heah. You think that bitch went over toward that thar woods...let's ride around by the Bailey place and come in back of that patch. Le's go."

There was then a burst of horses hooves and horses snorting and then the hooves thundered off out of the yard and then faded off into the distance.

My grandmother sighed and said outloud, "Mama, that was so...." Her mother put her hand over her mouth. "Shhhhhh, honey, they may have left a scout behind. Stay quiet and let me check." My greatgrandmother went over and slowly loosened one of the shutters on the far right window slot. Then she raised the burlap just enough to peek out. The yard was empty and so was the field between the yard and so was the road.

Then the baby started crying and my greatgrandmother lit the lamp again and took the baby in her arms. "Oh golly she's wet herself. Help me with her diaper." She was diapered with the diaper of the day, a cleaned and bleached flour sack held on the baby by two big rusty snap-closed pins. Just as my greatgrandmother was loosening that diaper, they were startled by a quiet knock at the door.

My greatgrandmother blew out the lamp and held her breath. My grandmother grasped her mother's wrist so hard it hurt but she didn't mind the pain knowing how frightened her daughter was.

Then they heard a voice. It was a woman's voice. "White ladies!" it said. "White ladies, it's me, the bay-bee's mama."

My greatgrandmother then took the big timber bar out of the racks and cracked the big door slightly open. She took a big chance that the girl wasn't with the Nightriders, but the chance had to be taken.

The Black girl was there. My grandmother pulled her into the dugout. She then relit the oil lamp and they got their first look at the baby's mother. She was pretty but tough looking, too. She was hardbodied, her legs sturdy and big like small logs.

"How did you get back here? The Nightriders just left here 'bout 15 minutes ago."

"I never left yore yard. I hid up over your house, just up the rise in that clump of cedar trees up there."

"So what are you gonna do, girl? You can't stay here; nor can you leave your baby here...she's so precious; never made a sound the whole time those Nightriders were here. What's her name?"


My grandmother said, "That's my name, too."

"Effie?" the Black girl asked.

"Yes, Effie, that's my name, too."

The Black girl took little Effie in her arms after my greatgrandmother had rigged up a diaper out of an old pillow case she took off her and her husband's bed.

"What are you gonna do, girl? Where you goin'?"

"I got my places where I can go...back the other way from those Nightriders...."

"Yeah but they're just over on the other side of the Bailey farm...."

"That's fine. Let 'em stay there," the Black girl said, "in the meantime, I'se be long gone thataway." She pointed toward the West.

My greatgrandmother let the Black woman and Little Effie out the door and she watched as the woman soon disappeared into the darkness headed out across the field just to the west of the dugout.

"Mama, will she be alright?"

"I 'spose she's used to runnin', child. I know what runnin' is; runnin' with babies, too."

And that woman did know what running was. She had married a 72-year-old Republic of Texas Army officer when she was 12 and when he'd tried to consummate the marriage, she'd kicked him in the nuts and went to her room and refused to come out. This old man sent his sons in to kick some sense into her and both sons tried to rape her and she resisted them. Then one son took out a revolver, pointed it at her, and told her to start running. He said he might give her a five minute start but she had to hurry. "After five minutes," he reemphasized, "then we're coming after you to kill you." My 12-year-old greatgrandmother jumped out a window with nothing on but a thin dress and ran like a lizard out across the lowlands of Lampasas County in the Central Texas swamplands that ran from where she was down to the Lampasas River. She spent a week in those swamps running from those brothers until she finally made it to the river and then followed the river up 20 miles to a little river town where she had relatives that took her in.

That was how the story ended.

That grandmother, my mother's mother, told that story over and over; I've heard it at least 7 times, each time told in the same way with the same dramatic effect. This story was always followed by my grandmother's talking about Black people and how wonderfully kind and gentle they were and what good mothers they made and how awful White people treated them, to the point that one day God would punish White people severely for their treatment of his special Black people. This is also when she taught me that the Civil War was anything but civil. She told me that thousands upon thousands of young men were killed over slavery, whether it was right or wrong. She said all decent White people knew slavery was wrong and the South had made a big mistake defending slavery as being righteous under God. That's when she also taught me that Negroes were not niggers, to which my mother backed that up with the threat of washing my mouth out with lye soap should she ever hear me using that word.
Racism in New York City
I came to New York City from Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1969. It was at the height of the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War protests. In fact, the day I arrived here there was a riot in Harlem and there were rallies in Central Park held by the Black Panthers over the jailing of the Panther 21. There were also attacks on the NYPD (a racist police force still) by the Black Liberation Army. One day when I was visiting my nephew on the Upper West Side, we heard gunshots up the street. On checking it out, we found that the cops had raided a bar up there and as a result had found H. Rap Brown in the bar attempting to rob it. The cops had taken him into custody.

When I first came here, I lived with my brother-in-law out in Morris Plains, New Jersey. There were no Blacks anywhere in that area that I ever saw. My brother-in-law, though a highly educated man (Columbia University), was a stone racist. Once I asked him to take my wife and I to Harlem and he said, "I'd be a fool to go up there...a White man in a Cadillac (he drove a big long black Cadillac--he was a drug company executive) driving into Niggerland is just asking for trouble. You guys wanna go to Harlem, you go on your own."

When my wife and I finally did move into Manhattan, we took an apartment on East 56th Street just off Sutton Place. The only Blacks I ever saw in my neighborhood then was one day the Duke Ellington Orchestra opened up a health spa in a new high-rise luxury apartment building up on First Avenue and E. 56th.

One day after I'd just come to Manhattan, I flagged down a cab. The driver was White, a Jewish guy out of the old school when it came to hack driving--yes, the cab drivers in those days were mostly old New Yorker White guys. In the cab when I told him where I was going, he suddenly said, "You're from the South aren't you?" I told him Texas. He then said, "You're gonna find out quick what's wrong with this city...." He didn't wait for me to ask him what but quickly added, "....there's too God-damn many Por-toe Ree-cans and Niggers in this town."

Since then though in the 70s it looked like this city was finally integrating--this was when I met my future Black wife and was introduced to a Black photographer who was to become my best friend here--that soon it was obvious, both through their suffering racism and unveiling it to me and my own experiencing it through my White bosses and White friends, that New York City was, yes, a divided city in terms of races. NYC was a racist city--and, it still is, folks; it still is.

for The Daily Growler

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