Monday, December 16, 2013

The Existential Crises of Ja’mie: Private School Girl

 Goodbye, housewives! I’ve found a new guilty pleasure! It’s called Ja’mie: Private School Girl and it’s on HBO.
You may recall star, writer and director Chris Lilley from his last HBO show, Summer Heights High, which also featured the eponymous Ja’mie (pronounced Ja-MAY, and played by Mr. Lilley).
Now, I’ve never been to private school (nor have I ever been a teenage girl), but I have to say that Mr. Lilley has captured this world with all the detail of an anthropologist! One of the things that makes the show so simultaneously entertaining and horrifying, is the way it demonstrates the degree to which Valley Girl-isms have saturated the conversation not just of teenage girls (and many adults of both sexes) in the United States, but apparently Australia, as well.
Part of me wants to feel above getting caught up in the exploits of Ja’mie and her ability to turn every minor event in her life into an existential crisis and part of me wants to totally give in to it and jump up and down on her bed with her.
To say that Ja’mie is fond of hyperbole would be an understatement. After a while, you too may find yourself overusing such words/phrases as “seriously,” “literally,” “I'm literally freaking out right now” and “I seriously can't even deal.”
I must give kudos as well to the supporting cast for being able to maintain a straight face through all this. The other “private school girls” are played by actual biological girls who seem to be in or near their teens and ground the show in something approaching reality. Also on hand are Ja’mie’s tirelessly patient parents and school principal, her gay best friend, her hot new boyfriend, and an African boy that Ja’mie’s family “adopts” (and has yet to utter a word of dialogue).
The show is also educational. For example, up until now, I didn’t realize that being called gay was the worst thing that could happen to a teenage girl. (Homophobia: it’s not just for boys anymore!)
In his earlier show, Mr. Lilley also played a somewhat effeminate drama teacher and a teenage thug in addition to Ja’mie, but it’s in Ja’mie that he has found his true calling. (His talents also extend to interpretive dance and singing, as he demonstrates in some of the show’s other running motifs.)
I look forward—with unrestrained teenage longing—to watching Jai’mie’s travails unfold the rest of this season.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Letter to Congressman John Boehner

Dear Congressman Boehner:
My name is Paul Hallasy. My unemployment benefits are due to expire next week and my extended unemployment benefits are due to expire at the end of this year thanks to a law passed by Congressional Republicans (led by you, as Speaker of the House) to cut both the amount of extended unemployment benefits as well as their duration.
I am looking at the very real possibility of becoming homeless or, at the very least, being forced to apply for welfare and food stamps (which you have also cut) for the first time in my life (in the middle of the holiday season, no less).
Rather than passing legislation to create jobs, you and other Congressional Republicans have done nothing but cut benefits for the weakest segment of our society, benefits that would not only prevent people like myself from falling more deeply into poverty but would actually improve the economy, since they would be spent immediately, rather than hoarded like the tax cuts you passed for corporations and wealthy individuals.
For your information, Mr. Speaker, people who can’t find jobs in this economy are not “lazy” and people who rely on benefits to survive are not “takers” (as Mitt Romney famously put it). They are veterans, children, senior citizens and people like myself who have struggled mightily to find a job but still been unsuccessful.
I have spent every day of the last five months actively looking for work, answering want ads, networking on LinkedIn, and attending networking events and seminars. I’ve had seven in-person interviews so far, but no job offers yet. Clearly this is not a matter of my being “lazy.” It’s more a matter of our economy still being weak five years after the financial collapse of 2008 (which Congressional Republicans also exacerbated by weakening regulation of financial institutions), as well as a vicious cycle where companies keep cutting jobs to improve their profits because nobody has any disposable income to buy anything.
Just before writing this letter, I called your office and your representative had the audacity to suggest that it was Senator Harry Reid’s fault that unemployment benefits were not being extended, when it’s Congressional Republicans who have stonewalled every piece of legislation or nominee President Obama has put forth since he took office, to the point where Congress had to finally (thank God!) overturn the filibuster on executive and judicial nominees.
I hope that, as you’re gathered with your family this Thanksgiving and over the holidays that follow, you reflect on the untold pain and suffering you and your fellow Congressional Republicans have caused millions of Americans like myself.
Paul Hallasy
P.S. I filmed an interview with CBS News on this subject this week and took that opportunity to (correctly) point out that Congressional Republicans are the ones responsible for unemployment benefits not being extended.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Harry Met Sally = Annie Hall + Manhattan

Having recently read Billy Crystal’s memoir (Still Foolin’ ’Em) and never having seen When Harry Met Sally, I finally watched it on cable last night. (I’m gay, what can I tell you. Maybe if it had been called When Harry Met Barry.) I was struck by its similarity to Annie Hall and Manhattan. Now, Annie Hall and Manhattan are two of my favorite films of all time, so it’s understandable why even someone as talented as Rob Reiner would want to copy them, but still… So I decided to come up with this handy chart:

When Harry Met Sally
Annie Hall
New York City setting
Gershwin songs

Nebbishy, funny Jew meets emotionally unavailable shiksa
Characters talk directly to camera

Scene in deli

Male romantic lead goes to apartment of female romantic lead to comfort her when she’s crying

Male romantic lead runs to reunite with female romantic lead at end of movie

Montage sequence at end of movie encapsulating course of relationship

Male romantic lead winds up with female romantic lead at end of movie

Significantly, When Harry Met Sally is the only one of the three where the male romantic lead winds up with the female romantic lead at the end of the movie. And that’s why Annie Hall and Manhattan were critically-lauded films and When Harry Met Sally was just an entertaining movie.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rudeness is the New Normal

 As the traffic backs up outside my apartment window (a daily occurrence at rush hour), complete with drivers honking their horns and yelling at each other (along with no cops in sight to enforce existing traffic laws), it occurs to me once again that rudeness is the new normal.
But it’s not just traffic. Rudeness is now an accepted fact of daily life, whether it’s driving, the subway, going to the gym, social media, political discourse, you name it.
How did things get to be this way? When did we go from being a society that at least paid lip service to civilized behavior and the idea of community, that “we’re all in this together,” to the dog-eat-dog world we live in now?
I blame a lot of things, beginning with the economy.
As I enter my fifth month of unemployment (the second longest stretch I’ve ever been unemployed), I think we need to admit that we’ve been in a recession now since at least 2008, despite protestations to the contrary. The number of jobs has declined, along with salaries and benefits, so that what’s left is being fought over like a piece of meat in a lion cage.
Of course, a big reason for the sorry state of our economy is the sorry state of our government. Where Democrats and Republicans once used to work together in order to pass legislation, the political process has come to a standstill, with Republicans literally bringing government to a halt because they didn’t get their way with Obamacare.
And why are we fighting over Obamacare, or other social programs like food stamps, unemployment, etc.? Because we’ve gotten to the point where certain people would rather see someone literally starve to death than give them anything that could be considered a “handout,” never mind that a lot of these same people are themselves receiving public assistance. Meanwhile, those in top 1% of our society continue to make record profits.
And why are we so polarized as a society? Blame social media.
We can now “block” anyone who doesn’t agree with us (and frequently do), so that we live in an echo chamber where we only hear our own opinions repeated back to us. We’ve taken “preaching to the choir” to a whole new level!
I also blame parents for not doing their job as parents, but what do you expect when it now takes two people working full time just to pay the bills, where a generation ago one person’s income (usually the father’s) could support a middle-class existence, allowing someone else (usually the mother) to devote all her time to child-rearing. Nowadays, we plunk our children in front of a TV set or computer, give them a TV dinner and call it a day (if we even do that much).
Sometimes I think that the only thing that will bring things back to “normal” would be a full-scale revolution. But how are you supposed to have a revolution when people are working 80 hours a week? They’re too tired to revolt!
I hope that when Bill deBlasio is elected mayor of New York City on Tuesday (as seems likely) that he’ll be able to start to turn things around, at least in New York City. I hope that the moneyed business interests that run this city haven’t already sunk their talons into him.
But I said the same thing about Barack Obama and look how that turned out.

Friday, October 25, 2013

California Dreamin’ and Laurel Canyon

California dreamin’/On such a winter’s day.
Truer words were never spoken. And it’s only fall!
This is why last night I found myself watching Laurel Canyon, Lisa Cholodenko’s 2002 slice of neo-hippie SoCal living, on the Sundance Channel. I’d seen it before, but it holds up well to repeat viewings.
The movie is seductive because it touches on so many forbidden pleasures: California, drugs, bisexuality. From the opening shots of Laurel Canyon Boulevard winding through the hills above Los Angeles, with its quaint Canyon Country Store and rows of old-fashioned mailboxes, I was sucked in.
In the movie, Christian Bale plays Sam, a recently graduated psychiatrist from the stuffy Northeast who moves to Los Angeles to start his residency in a local hospital, bringing along his equally stuffy girlfriend, Alex (Kate Beckinsdale), who is doing a dissertation on genomics.
While in town, they plan to stay at the vacant Laurel Canyon house of Sam’s mother, Jane, a record producer played by the always-entertaining Frances McDormand. Unfortunately for Sam (and fortunately for his girlfriend, as it turns out), Jane is recording an album there with a band fronted by Ian McKnight (Alessandro Nivola), a man 16 years her junior that she also happens to be fucking.
During the course of the movie, Sam develops an attraction for Sara (Natascha McElhone), one of the female residents at the hospital, while his girlfriend develops an attraction for Ian. High jinks ensue.
This movie touches on so many themes that are near and dear to my heart, among them authenticity and the primacy of rock music’s place in the culture. There are no chain stores in Laurel Canyon in 2002, and I just read Graham Nash’s and Linda Ronstadt’s autobiographies, where they describe Laurel Canyon in the ’70s as being some kind of singer/songwriter’s mecca.
Then there’s the thrill of living vicariously through someone else (preferably someone else with more money), the same thing that originally attracted me to the Real Housewives of Orange County and reality TV, in general.
A lot of Laurel Canyon plays like some kind of lesbian fantasy, which is not surprising considering that Ms. Cholodenko also wrote and directed the lesbian-themed High Art. Two of the main characters are conveniently bisexual, which strains one’s credulity even more than the idea of Kate Beckinsdale doing a doctoral dissertation, especially when Frances McDormand’s character makes out with her son’s girlfriend in front of her own boyfriend. There may be such a thing as being too laid back!
But it sure is fun to wallow in a little uninhibitedness for a while.
Near the end of the movie, there’s the requisite mea culpa, with Sam vowing to save his relationship with Alex.
But then, in the last shot, he receives a call from Natascha McElhone’s character, who says, “What you said last night isn’t true. I can’t control my heart.”
Neither can I, Natascha. Neither can I.

Monday, October 21, 2013

I’m a (Virtual) Star on Nurse Jackie

Nurse Jackie filming in front of my apartment. If you look closely, you can see Edie Falco (left, in blue nurse's scrubs and camel-colored coat) and Adam Ferrara (right, in police uniform).
This morning I had an experience that might serve as an apt metaphor for my life, as well as the lives of many other people in our 21st-century, technologically-mediated world. The TV show Nurse Jackie, which stars Edie Falco (a.k.a. Carmela Soprano on The Sopranos), was filming in front of my apartment building. Now, in addition to being a huge fan of Edie Falco, I also have a real—if tenuous—connection to her in real life. We did children’s theater together on Long Island…37 years ago!
“What are the odds of Edie Falco being in front of my apartment?” I thought, conjuring images in my head of instant entrée to show business, camera bulbs flashing, velvet ropes parting. “Let me go across the street and say hello to her.”
Yeah, right! Like there isn’t someone on the staff on Nurse Jackie whose sole job it is to keep people like me away from her.
I showered and quickly got dressed (without eating breakfast), ran across the street and approached the PA.
“I know this sounds crazy,” I said, trying hard not to sound crazy, “but I did children’s theater with Edie Falco on Long Island.” The PA, who couldn’t have been more than 25, widened his eyes and said, “Cool.”
“I know you’re working and I don’t want to interrupt, but do you think it would be possible for me to say hello?”
“Well, we’re kind of busy shooting right now,” the PA said.
“Of course,” I nodded, assuming the air of a seasoned TV actor. “Do you mind if I watch?”
“No problem,” he said. “Just stand over there.”
He pointed me to a spot outside the gate surrounding the park where they were filming.
I peeked through the metal poles of the gate and, sure enough, about 15 feet away from me, I could see Edie Falco sitting on a park bench in her blue nurse’s scrubs and a camel-colored coat and Adam Ferrara sitting next to her in a blue police uniform.
I instinctively took out my iPhone and took a few pictures.
“How long are you going to be filming here?” I asked.
“About another half hour,” he said.
I was surprised they were going to be finished so soon. The last time I did extra work, I was on set 16 hours and I only did five minutes of work!
“Maybe I can come back later. I live right across the street,” I said, pointing to my apartment.”
“Sure,” the PA nodded.
I figured I would have a leisurely breakfast and come back in a half hour. Instead, I ran back to my apartment and frantically started trying to post the photo to my Facebook page from my iPhone, along with a pithy comment. The first three times I tried sending it, it didn’t go through. Shit! I hooked my iPhone up to my computer and tried sending it again. Still no luck!
Finally, on my fifth try, the photo went through, along with my painstakingly worded comment.
Then I looked out my window and, much to my dismay, saw that the crew was already dismantling the set.
I went back to the PA I had spoken to earlier and asked, “Did everybody leave already?”
“Yep,” he nodded. “They just left a minute ago.”
What TV shoot ever wrapped in 15 minutes?! That had to be the fastest shoot in the history of television!
It occurred to me that if I had just stayed 15 minutes and waited until they were finished filming, I might have been able to say hello to Edie Falco! Instead, I spent that time posting a stupid picture on my Facebook page! My chance at stardom was lost!
Oh, well. At least I had my Facebook photo. Proof that, for one nanosecond, I was 15 feet away from Edie Falco.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Silent Epidemic of Middle-Class Homelessness

 Yesterday, I ran into a friend of mine in Soho. I hadn’t seen him in a long time.
“Long time no see,” I said to him. “You look good.”
He shrugged in his self-deprecating Jewish way.
“Well, at least you’re eating regularly and you have a roof over your head,” I said.
He shook his head.
“You’re homeless?” I asked, half-joking.
He nodded.
“You’re kidding me!” I said.
He told me that he’d been sleeping on the F train for the last two years, with the exception of one month, when he was able to stay at a friend’s co-op, and his birthday (his 60th), when he treated himself to a room at the Y.
As I was talking to him, I realized that I personally knew four people who either are or have been homeless.
At this point, if you’re a Republican, you would probably say, “What’s wrong with these people?”
And I would say, “What’s wrong with our economy (and our society, in general) that people who were formerly what you would call ‘middle-class,’ people who played by the rules and did everything they were supposed to do, still wound up being homeless?”
It’s no surprise when people like Mitt Romney are tone-deaf on this issue. But the reality is that most politicians—Republican and Democrat—are so wealthy that they’ve lost touch with the challenges facing middle-class people. (And forget about the poor. Nobody even talks about them.)
My Soho friend, Norman (not his real name), is a photographer. I don’t know exactly what happened to his last apartment (he was living in New Jersey), but he’s been working as a messenger for the last few years because he couldn’t support himself as a photographer.
I have another friend who was recently forced to move back with his sister in Virginia because his landlord stopped accepting his rent check at the apartment he’d been subletting for the last 19 years. He had been working as a doorman at an apartment building in Soho, but quit his job, partly because the staggered hours were destroying his health. He retired shortly afterwards.
A third friend, who admittedly had certain mental health issues that prevented him from working in office buildings—a serious liability in a city like New York—slept for a period of time in a Korean deli on Fifth Avenue and 13th Street before, after a long period in which he studied to be a priest among other things, he found a room in a house upstate. I’m not sure what he’s doing for a living now, but I know that at one point when he was still sleeping at the Korean deli, he was distributing flyers for a copy center.
A fourth friend, formerly a successful architect, has had to move back with his family on Long Island because he hasn’t been able to find work as an architect. I’m not sure what he’s been doing for money the last few years.
As you can see, some of my friends have been forced to take jobs (messenger, flyer distributor, doorman) that would make it hard for them to find so much as an apartment share, let alone their own apartment, in a city as expensive as New York. So what we’re seeing is a crisis in jobs, as well as housing.
A fifth friend just started a new job at half his normal salary after being unemployed for almost two years. Fortunately for him, he owns his apartment and had received a substantial severance package when he left his previous job.
But most people who describe themselves as “middle-class” are just one crisis away—one job loss, one medical emergency—from being homeless.
So the next time some Republican tries to blame a homeless person for being homeless, I would say, “There but for the grace of God go you.”
And I.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Goodbye to All That (with apologies to Joan Didion)

New York is dead.
The New York I moved here for over 30 years ago, the New York of writers and actors and musicians and artists and cheap apartments, restaurants and clothing stores, is dead and will never return. Bloomberg dealt the final death blow to the last bit of creativity that wasn’t extinguished by the twin evils of Giuliani and AIDS and, even if Bill DiBlasio becomes our next mayor (which I sincerely hope and seems likely), it won’t make a difference. The damage is done and there’s no turning back.
What has taken its place is the New York of fat-assed yuppies backslapping and high-fiving each other as they smoke their cigars and contemplate their next real estate deal over $300 prix-fixe dinners at Per Se. The New York of Sex and the City wannabes tottering through the Meatpacking District in high heels and yelling loudly to no one in particular. The New York of Russian oligarchs (read criminals) plunking down $88 million for an apartment and then never setting foot in it. The New York of the genetically and/or financially gifted, like the two models I saw walking their baby this morning without a care in the world.
The TV show that perfectly encapsulates this moment in time is, of course, “Girls,” a show by, about and for a generation of trust fund babies. As much as I admire the intelligence and talent of Lena Dunham, its creator and staras well as being the most talented, she’s also the least blessed-by-rich-and-famous-parents of the four starsI can’t help but have mixed feelings about a show that suggests that having your parents support you until you’re 30 (if not later) is normal.
And don’t tell me to move to Brooklyn. For all the hassle that would involve (both moving and living there), I might as well move to Los Angeles, an option which is starting to sound awfully attractive right now.
In fact, any second-tier city—whether it’s Los Angeles or Asheville, NC—sounds awfully attractive right now. Sure, I may not be able to get my beloved New York pizza and bagels or go grocery shopping at Dean and DeLuca, but surely there are pizza and bagels, as well as overpriced produce, elsewhere. (Hello, Whole Foods!) And as far as everything else goes, it would be a win-win.
The two things about New York that have really driven me over the edge lately are noise and the subway. New York has always been afflicted by these two facts of life, but lately they’ve gotten much worse. 
I live on what is perhaps the noisiest corner in the city, situated as it is in a direct line between the Williamsburg Bridge and the Holland Tunnel. The noise here has gotten so bad that recently the city took down its “No Honking” signs (which were never enforced even when they were still standing). The city itself has given up!
And the subway. While the population of New York has more than doubled since the subway was first built over a hundred years ago, there has not been a single new subway line added. And yet they keep building more high-rises!
When I look at the faces of people riding the subway, they seem completely drained of hope. Most people here are struggling just to stay on the treadmill. And many—like my best friend, who was forced to move back with his sister in Virginia—are falling off.
I can’t think any other place in America where people pay so much to live so poorly.
So, yes, I’m ready to move out of my beloved New York City, my home town, my heart and soul.
There’s just one problem: I can’t afford to move.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Confessions of a Frustrated Liberal

 I can’t pinpoint exactly when democracy ceased to exist in America, but I think I can safely say that it no longer exists and hasn’t existed for some time. I suppose as good an example as any would be the recent failure of new gun control legislation after the Newtown elementary school massacre. For the first time that I can remember, a powerful interest group (in this case, the gun lobby) proved that they were actually stronger than popular opinion. (If you recall, a majority of Americans at that time said that they supported stronger gun control laws, and yet they failed the pass.)
The other day I found myself walking down West 12th Street in the West Village, looking at the sprawling new development taking shape where St. Vincent’s Hospital used to stand and thinking, “Gee, that really would be a nice place to live!” I had momentarily forgotten that a hospital used to stand in that location, a hospital that had cared for many AIDS patients during the worst days of the AIDS crisis and had stood at the ready to care for any survivors on 9/11.
How about the most recent stories about global warming? How scientists are now 95% certain that it’s because of human activity that the Earth’s temperature is getting warmer? Do you think that’s going to stop people from burning fossil fuels? If someone can light the water coming out of his garden hose on fire, do you think that’s going to stop fracking?
There have always been rich people, of course, but the rich today are so much richer than they ever have been before that it seems naïve to think they won’t always get their way. If Mayor Bloomberg wants to overturn term limits and serve a third term, he can just buy the election. If developers want to overturn zoning regulations and build high-rises around the entire length of the High Line, they can just do it. If chain stores want to take over every mom and pop store in the city, who’s to stop them?
The insidious thing about these kinds of changes is that once they happen, they never go back. You can’t undo them. You can’t tear down a high-rise once it’s built. You can’t reverse global warming. You can’t bring someone back to life once they’ve been killed with an assault weapon.
So, as the oceans continue to rise, extreme weather continues to increase, gun violence continues to escalate and the New Plutocracy continues to build their skyscraper canyons, all I can do is say, “It’s been real, planet Earth. Let the next generation worry about it. Thank God I won’t we around to see it. Not my problem.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Last Shower at Splash

I remember when I first heard that Splash was opening up in 1991. I had been going to Uncle Charlie’s in the West Village and the word on the street was that the gay scene was moving to Chelsea. In the last 20 years, I’ve seen the gay scene move from the West Village to Chelsea to Hell’s Kitchen as each succeeding generation of gay men prettied up the neighborhood, increased real estate values and watched straight people take over our turf. Of course, it didn’t help that a lot of us were also dying of AIDS.
One of the features that defined Splash (apart from the go-go dancers dancing under shower heads) was their videos. I think their most famous video was a scene from Mommie Dearest where Faye Dunaway, as Joan Crawford, slaps her daughter. They had spliced together a series of these slaps so that it became a veritable windmill of slapping. The boys ate it up. There’s nothing quite like being in a room full of grown men and watching them all scream in unison: “Don’t fuck with me, fellas!”
I can’t say that I was ever really a Splash boy. (In keeping with the gay community’s emphasis on youth, all men are “boys.”) It was a bit too preppy for me, a bit too upscale at first and, later, too bridge-and-tunnel.
But I feel sorry for the generation of gay men that’s coming of age now. (Hell, I feel sorry for the generation of people that’s coming up age now.) It seems like, as a society, we’re becoming more and more isolated the more social media claim they’re bringing us together. It’s one thing to post your “likes” on Facebook and it’s quite another to be in a room full of flesh and blood human beings expressing them. I feel like our lives as gay men are being reduced to a sexual act and there’s no more room for witty conversation, something for which we used to be famous.
I go back, once again, to one of my favorite experiences at Uncle Charlie’s, watching the season finale of Dynasty where the entire cast was gunned down. If that were on TV now, we’d all rush to our computers or cell phones to tweet about it, each of us isolated in our solitary apartments, alone in a city of eight million people. Our shared experiences are now virtual.
I prefer to live in the land of flesh and blood.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

America Is a Third World Country

The only growth industry in our economy.
 America is a Third World country and it’s time we stopped kidding ourselves that it’s not. If the definition of a Third World country is a country where the top 1% controls everything (including the government), we have long since reached that point.
The top 1 percent of Americans owns 40 percent of the nation’s wealth[i]. Most CEOs took home an average 379 staffers’ worth in base pay[ii]. Just six Walmart heirs have as much wealth as 30% of Americans[iii].
There’s always been rich people. But the rich today are so much richer than before and power has become so consolidated in so few hands, it’s become impossible for anyone who is not born rich to get ahead.
Even Obama, who was elected on a platform of “change,” has stacked his cabinet with Goldman Sachs executives. So even our government, which used to be the only means available of leveling the playing field somewhat, has become useless.
Everywhere I look I see evidence that proves our Third World status. Whether it’s the book The Unwinding[iv], the documentary Two American Families[v], the daily articles I read in the New York Times or the evidence right in front of my eyes, there’s no denying that we’ve reached a point where the American Dream is dead and there’s no turning back.
This is especially evident if you’re not working 9-5. If you’re working 9-5, you’re shielded from a lot of the worst evidence of America’s decline. But if you’re not working 9-5, it’s amazing the people you see on the streets and on the subway. Hispanic women selling fruit on street corners, Asian women collecting bottles, young African-American teenagers selling candy on the subway. These are the job choices we’re offering people.
Even if you’re a college-educated white male like me, your options are dwindling.
When I first started working, it was still possible to get a so-called “permanent” job. Now companies can’t commit to more than three months at a time, if that. The fastest growing segment of the economy is temp workers[vi]. So-called “permanent” jobs are disappearing and they’re not coming back.
Today, I saw a post on Facebook saying that Manatus, one of the last existing diners in lower Manhattan, is being turned into a Calvin Klein store. Rents on Bleecker Street, formerly a quaint, residential street in New York City’s West Village, now surpass rents on Bond Street in London and Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, according to the Web site Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York[vii].
A few days ago, there was an article in the New York Times about a bidding war for a $595,000 studio in the West Village[viii]. According to the article “it was the only condominium for sale in the West Village for under $600,000.”
And nowadays, even if you’re rich enough to be able to afford a $595,000 studio, the competition to buy that studio is so intense that you can’t really afford it unless you can afford to pay all cash. Because you’re not just competing with rich New Yorkers, you’re competing with rich people from all over the world, who will probably only be using the apartment as an investment or, at most, a pied-à-terre. There are now entire buildings, if not entire neighborhoods, in cities like New York[ix] and London[x] that consist of these uninhabited investment apartments.
My best friend (another college-educated white male like me) recently had to move back with his sister in Virginia because his landlord stopped accepting the rent he was paying on his sublet. He and my other best friend (also college-educated) have both been unemployed for over a year. The only reason I’m still living in New York City is because I’m rent-stabilized.
So let’s stop kidding ourselves that America is the “land of opportunity” and New York is the “city that never sleeps.” Because neither of those statements has been true for at least 20 years.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Warriors: Bloomberg’s Worst Nightmare Meets a Multiethnic Paradise

 Last night I watched The Warriors, a movie that I had fond memories of watching on cable TV as a teenager after it came out in 1979. Boy, have times changed!
I’m pretty sure I didn’t think the movie was camp when I first saw it, even assuming I knew what camp was at that tender age. Watching it almost 35 years later, it’s an unintentional laugh fest on a par with Mommie Dearest. Is this the same movie that struck fear into the heart of suburbanites all over the country?
The first sign that you’re not in 2013 is the subway system: trains covered in graffiti, people using tokens, wooden turnstiles and an illegible subway map. Apparently, there was even an amusement park in Union Square station. Who knew?
But what really makes this a candidate for the Most Quotable Lines Since Scarface Screenwriting Award is the ridiculously clunky dialogue. My personal favorite is when the movie opens. All the gangs of New York are gathered at a park in the Bronx and the Grand Poobah of All Things Gang-Related exhorts the crowd with the following line: “Can you dig it? Can you dig it? CAN YOU DIG IT?!!!” I immediately wanted to break into that line from the old soul classic “Can You Dig It”: “I can digga digga digga, she can digga digga digga, we can digga digga digga digga, Can you dig it, Can you dig it, baby?”
While the gang members in this film exist in some kind of multi-ethnic paradise where all races apparently get along, the characters aren’t always so PC. The word “faggot” was used at least three times by my count, most often as a verb, as in “go faggot” or “gone faggot.” They make it sound like sexual orientation is a choice similar to deciding which restaurant to go to.
There’s another homophobic moment when the gang encounters a group of young women who are apparently lesbian. The call themselves the “Lizzies” and one of them has crimped hair! But they still make out with men (before they try to kill them)! I’m confused.
It’s fun to play “where are they now” with a movie like this. Mercedes Ruehl, who would go on to star on Broadway in Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” trilogy, plays a tough chick (an undercover cop?) who nabs one of the gang members by coming on to him in a park and then handcuffing him to the park bench.
And, of course, Michael Beck, the handsome lead, would go on to star in “Xanadu” the next year with Olivia Newton-John. Just out of curiosity, I decided to look him up on Let’s just say cute doesn’t age well.
There’s more fun to be had with the gang costumes. It’s hard to imagine anyone being scared of a gang of mimes, much less a gang of baseball players with face paint, a gang of pimps, and what looks like a gang of Asian monks. I hope the costume designer was at least nominated for an Oscar.
Another curious feature of the film is that, in a city of eight million people, almost no one seems to be on the street or the subway at the same time as any of the main characters. Normally, this is a sure giveaway that a movie was filmed on a sound stage. But I’m pretty sure this movie was filmed on location in New York City. I even saw my block show up in one scene. (Look for a sign that says “All State Glass.”)
All in all, good times for everyone. Unless you’re a woman. Deborah Van Valkenburgh plays the kind of female lead that actresses are still trying to overcome. The nicest thing that can be said about her character is that she’s “not a slut.”
But at least she’s not a “faggot.”