Archive for February, 2009

More beggars.

Haven’t seen so many beggars in New York since I don’t think the 90’s. Almost every time I get on the F train there’s some cat making the rounds. In Park Slope, the boys are out in front of the busier bodegas in the afternoons and early evenings, hustling change.

This morning on the uptown 6, this young guy with a square Irish face got on shaking a little box. “Give me your money! I’m silver!” He was indeed silver, painted head to foot – from his boots up his pants and up over a shabby suit and right up to his buzzcut hair – painted like one of those statue men you see in tourist spaces in London and I guess here – but no one gave him any money and he sat down, pouring the coins out of his pocket. “I gotta go all the way to the Bronx to do this!” He said to no one in particular, looking around to see if anyone would meet his eye. I don’t think anyone did. Couldn’t tell if he was a real beggar.

Still a long way from the bad old days of the early to mid-90’s when I first lived here, when on the rush hour 2 or 3 the beggars would come in waves, the one leaving by the front door, the other coming in the back. Legless, armless, eyeless, mentally disturbed, drunk, dishevelled, drug-addicted, mumbling, shouting, pestering. Sometimes, it was truly amazing. Truly amazing to see this tide of broken humanity in one of the richest, most powerful cities in the world. But if the recession really kicks in where it hurts – I don’t mean the bankers, who can afford to cut back and take a couple years off before their dubious services are needed again – but among the truly poor, the mentally infirm, who are always one step away from total destitution – will we see those days again?

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Taken Fall, 2008

As the Heygate Estate empties out – it is over fifty percent empty now and the first demolitions are scheduled to begin after the summer, what is lees and less clear is what will happen once the estate is demolished. The credit crunch has made the future of the Elephant and Castle regeneration uncertain. At the moment, it looks as if the estate could be pulled down and a vast moribund construction site be left in it’s place. For years. 

   At least it would slow down the gentrification of the Elephant. 


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NY Times reports Laid-off Foreigners Flee as Dubai Spirals Down. Some newspapers report that 3000 cars sit abandoned in the car park of Dubai International, left when their owners fled the country. Seems that foreigners – well anyone – with debts can be put in debtor’s prison. So if you bought property, ran up your credit card, then lose your job and with it your work visa, you go to prison unless you flee the country. Parts of Dubai apparently like a ghost town so many people have left. 

And just a year ago all the smart people in the Manhattan bars, in the City of London, were talking about Dubai, Dubai, Dubai. We had to give bonuses, otherwise the top talent, the financial wizards, would follow the money and go to places like – Dubai. Just one year ago, for the elite of the world, Dubai was a stopover between London, Manhattan, and I don’t know where else (since I’m pretty far from being one of the elite). Friends in London said if you want to make money, make a name in journalism, in anything at all, go to Dubai – great salaries, no tax, holidays etc. Not much fun, but plant yourself for one year, two, and you’ll go places. 

Now, it seems, the good times are over. 

I wonder how far it will go, since Dubai, unlike it’s cousin in the UAI, has no oil and owed it’s prosperity to real estate and finance. Under these circumstances, when things go bad, they can go pretty bad. I know – reading this story I couldn’t help thinking of where I grew up, a boomtown in northern Canada. The boom ended twice, once in the late 50’s, and again in the early 80’s. Both times, most folks ditched whatever they had and got the hell out, leaving behind miles of empty houses, and dozens of automobiles parked in empty driveways (there was no road out). The town still sits high up in PreCambrian Shield, home to 87 people and hundreds of empty buildings, sinking slowly into the earth. 

Hark ye, hark ye.

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Brownstones in that fabulous radioactive glow

Brownstones in that fabulous radioactive glow



Tree in Prospect Park - Again, note the fabulous radioactive glow

Tree in Prospect Park - Again, note the fabulous radioactive glow

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New York women, as every NY man knows, are difficult. If they have great poetry, vitality, curiousity, personality – an awful lot of them are wounded as well. A little blunted at their core, overwhelmed by the sensory and emotional contradictions of their city.

Not just women . . . an awful lot of people here are wounded in some very deep way. High-functioning, dynamic – but New York is a city of damaged people and this contributes a great deal to it’s character good and bad. I don’t know that London has the same quality – or maybe New Yorkers wear it on their sleeves more.

At it’s core, New York is a frontier city, a much larger, infinitely more sophisticated version of the frontier towns where I grew up. Maybe this frontier quality contributes to the city’s odd mixture of compassion and indifference. part of the New York ethos is to become hard, to be a survivor. But maybe after awhile this self-imposed shell destroys something inside as well.

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From bedstuyblog.com. A link to Brian Lehrer’s NPR show ‘Uncommon Economic Indicators’ – people writing calling charting the recession. 

Report Bed-Stuy’s Uncommon Economic Indicators

Posted using ShareThis

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Shot from the Manhattan Bridge descending into Manhattan . . . 



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Walked into the coffee place in Fort Greene the other day. Weekend morning, around eleven. Two rows of people hunched over their laptops, a couple squawking into their cellphones so their nasal voices echoed all about the cafe. 

They looked like electronic galley slaves, bent over so intently looking into their computers, the blue of their screens reflecting back on their faces. This is what people do in their spare time now – go to cafes and even bars and sit hunched over their laptops. 

 Like Johnny Rotten used to say, “boring, boring, boring!’

Whatever else the Obama era brings, I hope it makes life less inane, less asinine, less flipping boring.

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Whatchu looking at? Cobra in Rice Whiskey Bottle at a bar in Park Slope.

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Three guys sitting behind the coat check at the Brooklyn Museum. A Lebanese looking guy and a couple of black guys. 

Lebanese looking guy: “Yeah, I usually throw a molotov cocktail then come in after with machine guns. But you know it’s tough, cause they come back with mortars and shit . . .” 

The black guys nodded sagely, as if they knew exactly what he was talking about.

“Yeah . . . ” 

It took a split second to realize that they were talking about a video game . . .

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