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Posts Tagged ‘People’

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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Black Friday . . .

Work getting so scarce, you have to chase it like a boll weevil through the underbrush. At the JobCentre – known as the dole office in less PC times – they’re hiring more staff to take on the rush. You get £60 a week on the dole now, up from the £28.80 a week you got in my day in the early 90’s. Back when a pint of beer could still be had for £1.50.

Life in Britain . . . called Brook Street, one of dozens of agencies I registered with this summer and fall, none of whom have found me a fucking thing. Woman answers, regional accent, shrewish voice. “We’re busy right now . . . if there was anything we would have called you.” – then she hung up. Last week when I called in, she hectored me for not calling in more often. Hard times brings out this very Teutonic bullying quality in a certain kind of British person – the taste of power.

On the way home, the train was packed. Absurdly – you could hardly breathe. Usual plethora of people nattering on their mobiles. A black girl waving her arms around, acting out everything she was describing, smacking the other passengers. A woman just down the aisle, YELLING: “I can’t believe the fucking shit they make me put up with, I won’t take their FUCKING SHIT!!!”
I mean man. Five minutes on that train exhausted me. Wait ’til the pain really hits.

You see it in the ads: ‘Competitive rates: £7 per hour for admin, or admin work at minimum wage, less than £200 a week. How do you live in London on less than £200 a week?
Meanwhile: Bonuses for City high-flyers will be hard to reign in.

Seems Britain’s high-flying and obviously very valuable City execs, traders or whoever the fuck these people are will simply go to Mumbai Dubai Shanghai if they don’t get the million plus bonuses they feel they deserve. 

Well, let ’em go I say. Enough to make you a goddam Bolshevik. 

How about you readers, are recent events turning you into a Bolshevik?

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First sunny weekday in what feels like months despite the continuing gloomy news, the feel on the section of the London street where I’ve been working is upbeat – even cheerful. Maybe folks are happy about all those bankers getting it . . . or maybe they see this return to 1929 as just so much hype. Maybe it’s just the sun . . . . nonetheless as i sat at the local Starbucks watching the women go by, noting that they actually made eye contact, I had to admit it was one of those days you have to love London.

Amidst all this depressing news, the re-appearance of an old Tory tradition to cheer us all up:

Wolverhampton Tory Councilors Running Brothel

   Love the part about Reader’s Digest, Coronation Street and chat about the weather. £80 for her and only £20 extra for him. Imagine!! Tory councillors in their home and it took an undercover reporter to get them found out! The English and sex, it is a mystery . . . .

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Had my hair cut down in Pimlico last week. The barber was a young guy from Macedonia who had a sister in New Jersey. He said he regretted not going to the US with his sister when he had the chance a few years ago. He was a voluble guy, waving his arms around which was a little unsettling at the end when he had a razor in his hand, shaving the back of my neck between bursts of conversation. But when he was finished, he sighed and said:

   “The English idea is corrupt. They don’t produce anything here, they just trade money. So if you have money, they’ll make you more money – but it’ll cost you. And everyone else has to live on the edge of that system . . . “

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Power tools whirring and roaring in the background, plaster dust and, above all, the cloying, poisonous smell of oil paint. For all the ‘healf and safety’ they bring onto jobsites here, charging you £25 for the pleasure of writing the test, they don’t seem to give a damn about oil fumes on a jobsite. Sometimes it’s been so bad your liver actually starts to ache and everyone runs around delirious and red-faced from the fumes . . .

   I’m in the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair . One of the foremen said they’d been working on it since March 2007, redoing the walls, putting in new floors. Spectacular staircase with iron railing and elaborate moulding around the skylight. Forgettable art – cast-iron snowbirds and some conceptual piece of hand grenades, three feet high then in done again in miniature and mounted on a length of wood – all made of coloured glass.  Neo-florentine statues made of black marble. Names like ‘Rites of Spring’. The kind of stuff that only a Russian nouveau-oligarich could love . .

   On Berkely square, a half street up, are four seperate auto dealerships – Porsche, Bentley, Jack Barclay and Rolls Royce. In the Bentley dealership the prices are listed right in the window, as if they expect people to drop in and pick up a luxury vehicle. And who knows, maybe people do . . . A Bentley coupe will set you back 141,000GBP.

    As on every jobsite, most of the guys are Polish. I thought it was a shit job, paying not nearly enough for the work involved ( knees still killing me from running up and down three flights of stairs, not to mention the unsecured scaffolding) but the Polish guys were even more unhappy about it than I was. They knew they were being underpaid, they knew the agencies were a rip-off and they hustling for something better.

    One guy said he lost everything gambling at the casinos. He had an interesting face, a nice watch and expenisve eyeglasses like he used to be someone. He’d gone through three wives, lived in Paris for years (where he also worked as a painter – said they used oil for everything – walls, ceiling). He was a photographer, but he needed to buy a good digital so he could start getting contracts again. Another guy said he’d been in London eight years, that in Poland he’d worked on surveillance towers, going up and down in a sling and been trained by the army, but that to qualify here he’d have to take a two year course. He said he’d been a trucker for awhile, and ended up driving from two am to six in the evening. “And it was a Polish guy who was the boss – they’re always the worst.” He’d been painting for a few years but, “the prices go down,” laughing, “mostly because of people like me.” Still, he’d made good money for awhile, enough to take his wife and son to Fiji. The trip had cost him seven grand GBP.

   “Why’d you want to go to Fiji?”

   He looked at me skeptically. “Why not? It was a beautiful place, I always want to go there . . . ”

   He wanted to go to Puerto Rico next. Like the other Poles, he was contemplating returning to Poland. The exchange rate – he said the pound has lost something like 50% to the euro in the last year – and the drop in wages didn’t make Britain a viable option anymore. He had friends in Manchester who made barely minimum wage . . .

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