Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the Death of Cities

 It’s happened again. I was forced to wolf down my breakfast while happy tourists watched.
My neighborhood, Little Italy (or, as the arrivistes call it, Nolita) has given up. What used to be a neighborhood of truck stop diners when I moved here 25 years ago has become a neighborhood of high-priced restaurants, bars and boutiques. Where hordes of shoppers descend on lower Broadway and Soho by day and hordes of drunken bridge-and-tunnel wannabes and Upper East Side yuppies descend on the cheek-by-jowel bars by night.
If you want a relaxing, decent breakfast in this neighborhood, you have to pay $50. Actually, you can’t even find breakfast in this neighborhood anymore. Breakfast has been replaced by brunch. You know what the difference between breakfast and brunch is? A sprig of parsley, a water-down cocktail and a half-hour wait for a table.
The one surviving establishment in this neighborhood that could reasonably be called a “diner” (remember those?)—which I will not name, because I don’t want it to become even more crowded--is struggling to survive, with its two harried Chinese waitresses, its Arab owner and its Mexican cooks.
The two Chinese waitresses are always screaming because the place is always packed at all hours of the day with nouveau-riche young bankers with their caterwauling babies and tourists from the nearby Holiday Inn who kid themselves that they’re still experiencing the New York City of Studio 54 and Taxi Driver.
The mild-mannered middle-aged man sitting next to me at the counter politely asks me if there’s anything interesting in the newspaper I have with me and I bark back at him. “I don’t know! I can’t read it because I have to balance it on my head! This neighborhood is fucking unlivable!” I’m immediately embarrassed by my response to this poor, unsuspecting soul, but that’s what this city has turned me into: one of those angry, old “Get off my lawn” types that I probably used to make fun of when I was younger.
They say that Hurricane Sandy has forever altered the landscape of this city, but there’s been an equally dangerous, insidious force repaving the landscape for the last 30 years: gentrification.
In her book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein talks about how we live in an era of “disaster capitalism” where natural and man-made disasters periodically alter the landscape so capitalists can swoop in and remake whatever’s left over into something more expensive and more profitable.
Republicans have been arguing for the last 30 years to “let the market” dictate what happens. “The market is always right!” They keep saying.
But what most of us are left with—those of us who aren’t rich enough to live in gated communities, those of us who moved to the city because it used to offer something different from the stultifying sameness of the suburbs—what we’re left with is a diminished quality of life.
I don’t know why people keep coming here. They could have the same experience if they stayed home and went to the shopping mall. They’ve turned this city into fucking Cleveland!
You could get better service for breakfast if you went to McDonald’s—which is what I’m sure they’ll be turning my neighborhood coffee shop into in the not too distant future.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall: A Review-lette

This 50th-anniversary-edition Bond gets off to a good start with a great chase scene and Adele’s title song but quickly goes downhill and could be shaved by at least 30 minutes. It appears that they’ve run out of Ian Fleming novels to adapt and this Bond, which seems to be a meditation on mortality, sometimes verges on self-parody. Albert Finney’s character reminded me of Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies and Javier Bardem’s character was an uncomfortably homophobic cross between Hannibal Lecter and the “put the lotion in the basket” guy from “Silence of the Lambs.” It seems that the producers are trying to set up the Bond franchise for the Obama demographic: black, female (Naomie Harris as the new Moneypenny), young (Ben Whishaw, looking and sounding like a member of One Direction as the new Q) and gay (Mr. Bardem’s character). Amidst this changing of the guard, the only thing that kept my attention—apart from the exotic locations and Daniel Craig’s wardrobe—was Mr. Craig himself, the not-pretty-but-extremely-sexy star whom I’d gladly watch read a phone book.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Man Joins 21st Century, 21st Century Yawns

So, I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally joined the 21st Century.
I’ve become a pod person, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, I’ve become one of those people I used to make fun of.
The peer pressure was too much. I couldn’t take it anymore.
That’s right, I finally bought an iPhone.
A friend of mine who works for an Internet start-up told me that it was going to change my life, that my life was going to be completely different. And he was right. It’s kind of like having a baby.
I remember when I went to pick up my iPhone from the maternity ward, I mean Apple store. I was so nervous!
There was a young man in his twenties standing next to me and he said, “Is this your first one?”
And I said, “Yes.”
“You must be so proud,” he said.
I nodded.
“It looks just like you,” he said.
Well, it was all dressed in black.
“How do you like it?” he asked.
I said, “Well, I’m getting used to it, but I wish I had a pen and paper. I’m used to writing things down. I’m old school.”
“You sound like my father,” he said.
“I’m old enough to be your father,” I said.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said sheepishly. I guess he didn’t have the Older Person Etiquette app.
Now I’m constantly worried about it getting sick, I mean dropping it.
The other day I had to take it to the doctor, I mean Genius Bar. After waiting for about ten minutes a young man came over to me and said “The doctor will see you now.” I mean, “Can I help you?”
I told him my problem. I couldn’t transfer my iTunes collection from my computer to my iPhone because my software wasn’t up to date. He said, “Take two of these and call me in the morning.” He handed me two discs containing the latest versions of Mac OS X and iTunes.
Now I’m constantly showing people my new phone, just like a proud father. I even have some pictures of it in my wallet. Would you like to see them? Sorry.
I think the reason the iPhone is so popular is because it gives people the illusion of having control over their lives. It’s almost as if they think that if they have an iPhone, they won’t die.
But I died a different kind of death the other day. I ran into my Internet friend and he said, “Hey, I just got a new phone. You wanna see it?”
He pulled it out of his back pocket. It was a Samsung Galaxy.
“Oh, great!” I thought. “So I’ve finally decided to buy an iPhone and now they’re not cool anymore!”
But at least I have the baby pictures.