The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘New York’

THUGS

I’m not sure how old I was but my first bicycle came with training wheels.  You may know the type if you’re old enough.  There were two extra tires attached to the back in order to stabilize me as I peddled down the street.  And then came the big day.  My father said that it was time to take off the training wheels and let my bicycle be a real bicycle with only its original two wheels to carry me on my voyage.  That was a day when I had a great deal of fear and trembling as I watched my father remove the two wheels on which I had come to rely.

We came down from the apartment with my newly stripped bike and my father helped me up into the seat.  I practiced mounting and dismounting several times, Dad holding the handle bars until I started to feel comfortable with doing it.  And then we took off, my father running at the side of the bicycle as I uncertainly wobbled down the street.  The wobbling was less noticeable the faster I went – but my father had a little problem keeping up at the faster speed.  And then, he let loose his grip and I was on my own, flying down the street with a big grin on my face.

Off we went to Central Park where I rode around for well over an hour, my confidence in my ability growing by the minute – but always under the watchful eye of my father should something unexpected happen.  This was in the days before helmets or body padding the thickness of the Great Wall of China.  If a kid fell off a bike there was a high likelihood that there would be some abraded skin – but that was life and if that child were smart enough would review what she or he did wrong to avoid a repeat engagement of the same kind.

Several weekends went by and my father always accompanied me on the biking outings.  Even though New York was safer than it is today, my parents were perhaps over-protective of their only child.  Or maybe they just took a deeper interest than parents today.  If I were to go to a friend’s apartment for a party, Dad always walked me there and picked me up when it was time to go home.  Even then there were evil people in the world – a fact that was lost on me but quite evident to my parents based on their own experience.

Well, about three weeks after I first got my taste of freedom, one Sunday Dad and I were off to the park when my father noticed that there was a parking space across the street which would be legal parking until Tuesday.  I think our De Soto spent more time looking for a parking space due to New York’s alternate side of the street rules than actually taking us anywhere, so if Dad could grab this spot he was set for two days.  (He took the subway to work).  So he rushed down the street to our car and left me in front of our apartment building holding my bike and waiting for his return so that we could go off to the park.

As I was waiting his return, a kid, probably four or five years older than I was, ran up to me, pushed me to the ground and stole my bike.  I tried running after him but he obviously had an advantage and he reached Park Avenue way ahead of me.  He turned the corner when I was still half way to the avenue and by the time I got to the corner he had disappeared.  My father saw me without my bike and although he gave up the wonderful parking space to give pursuit, we never saw that kid again.

That was the first time I heard the word “Thug.”  My dad used it to describe this boy’s actions both to me and to the police.  But, needless to say, the young criminal got away with his theft and I never saw that bike again.  If I were to make a guess, I would say that my assailant was Hispanic – probably Puerto Rican as most Hispanics in New York at that time came from that island.  Dad didn’t use the term “thug” to describe him because of his ethnicity but because of what he had done.  Theft and pushing little kids around was thuggish behavior – then as now.

The recent protests in Baltimore and elsewhere throughout the country have caused this word which I considered long dormant to resurface into the vocabulary of our media and politicians.  Obama used it to describe the criminals who earlier this week looted the CVS pharmacy, destroyed 144 cars and set fire to a row of apartment houses.  But there are some in this country who want to make the use of “thug” the center of our focus on what is happening in our inner cities – likening it to the pejorative term, “N*gger.”

Using the term thug proves to their minds that America is indeed a racist country.  What a waste of time – and, sadly, a large percentage of the media, either because of their extreme aversion to asking pithy questions or more frighteningly because they are unable to formulate them, is perfectly happy to play this game.  Media, give it a rest already.

There are some people in this world who are thugs, plain and simple.  They take advantage of others whether it’s through rude behavior or worse, behavior that is rightly illegal.  Destroying a car is an act of thuggery; throwing rocks at other people, police or otherwise, is an act of thuggery; setting an apartment building on fire is an act of thuggery; stealing a little kid’s bike is an act of thuggery.

Thugs should go to jail.  Hopefully, unlike the Mayor of Baltimore who apparently ordered the police to “stand down” as the rioters had their way under the theory that, “It’s only property,” those in positions of authority in cities where these demonstrations transgress the line from peaceful protest to outright thuggish behavior will take the appropriate action.  Society as a whole, black and white alike, would be better off with these rabble rousers under lock and key rather than roaming our streets and endangering our populace.

HISTORY, HANSOM CABS AND HIZ HONOR

During the Holidays my parents and I would frequently take long walks through Central Park.  Sometimes, if the weather were conducive, those would take us past Wollman ice skating rink and down to the park’s southern end.  I always enjoyed those long walks – particularly because it gave me the opportunity to go up to and pet the horses that drew the hansom cabs.  My favorite was a roan named Buttercup.

My parents strongly believed that children should be raised with non-human companions and so there was always a dog in our home.  They believed that sharing childhood with other creatures was essential in teaching kids respect for life in all its forms.  There was nothing that upset them or me more than stories of animal abuse.  This was my introduction to respecting life and celebrating diversity – long before the latter became technically chic and we restricted the definition to other humans.

One night , two weeks before Christmas, dad came home from work and made an announcement at dinner.  The following evening he was going to take us to Central Park and we were going to take a carriage ride in the hansoms.  I remember my sense of excitement at this news.  I had always wanted to ride in the back of one of these vintage carriages but I knew the rides were expensive.  I hoped that we could ride in the carriage that Buttercup drew.

As it turned out, Buttercup was off duty that evening so our ride was pulled by a horse named Alfie.  It occurred to me that in the hour the carriage moved along that this was an incredibly slow way to travel.  It gave me a new appreciation for the pioneers who made their way west in Conestoga wagons.  And I must admit that the ride wasn’t all that comfortable.  Still, it was a fun thing to do and turned into what is most likely to be a once in a lifetime experience.

One of the first pronouncements of New York’s recently elected mayor, Bill de Blasio is that the hansom cab rides will be terminated because they represent an expression of animal cruelty.  Frankly, if I believed that I would be one of the first in line to support their retirement.  But the facts tell a different story.

The horses and their drivers are, like almost everything else in New York, highly regulated by the city.  They are required to get a complete veterinarian exam twice a year; the rules regulating the business requires  that they have at least an eight week annual vacation and are not permitted to work in rainy or extreme weather; and their diet must meet high standards set by the city.

While I haven’t lived in my birth city for a long while, I have a sneaky suspicion that the well-being of the hansom cab horses is not the most pressing one that New Yorkers face.  If it were, they should rename the city, Utopia.  And perhaps as the mayor matures into his responsibilities he will find, as he did several weeks after his announcement regarding the hansom cabs, that New Yorkers are more concerned about the clearance of snow from their streets – particularly in the streets in neighborhoods which did not vote for him.

It always amazes me that the liberal left in their pursuit of securing peace on earth and equity for all so often disregard the bodies they are willing to throw under the bus in the interest of achieving their goals.  In the case of the hansom cabs, those bodies are the two hundred drivers who earn their living guiding their steeds through the park.  Some of them have been at their jobs for over thirty years.

Now in fairness to the mayor, he has a plan to replace the hansom cabs with pseudo-vintage electric cars.  Thus he can both placate animal rights groups and the various environmental groups which helped fund his election campaign.  Oh, and this idea co-incidentally came from a campaign contributor, a chap by the name of Steve Nislick.

Actually, Mr. Nislick is more than just a contributor to the mayor’s successful election campaign.  Mr. Nislick happens to be the CEO of a company named Edison Properties which operates parking lots and storage units.  Interestingly, the bulk of Edison’s business interests happen to be in the vicinity of the five stables which house New York’s hansom cab horses.  Naturally, if the horses are retired those stables would most likely be sold and converted to other uses – such as parking lots or storage units.

Perhaps the casual reader will think that de Blasio’s motivation is nothing more than the typical iconoclastic destruction of anything that represents tradition.  The hansom cabs certainly fit that mold as they have been active since Central Park was opened in 1857.  But that theory comes into question if you realize that the day he was sworn in, he and his family moved into Gracie Mansion, the official residence of NY’s mayors, built in 1799 which had been eschewed by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.  Incidentally, the former mayor had, at his own expense, completely refurbished the residence as a gift to the people of the city.

Of course suggesting that personal self-interest might be the guiding force in the mayor’s reversal of his position on the hansom cabs from the days he was a member of the City Council will undoubtedly bring the left to its feet, shouting cries of “racism.”  After all, the mayor’s wife is a black woman.  That is if they have time left over from calling black conservatives “Uncle Toms” and making fun of Justice Clarence Thomas for having married a spouse who happens to be white.

WHAT, ME BOTHER?

My instructor in debating emphasized I don’t know how many times, that engaging in “ad hominem” arguments was a major no-no.  In other words, it was appropriate – even desirable – to make counter arguments to those your opponent set forth – but it was not acceptable to say something like, “Well, I’m not surprised to hear you say that.  That’s just the kind of thing I would expect from someone as ugly as you.”

Those instructions really stuck with me.  Therefore, it is difficult for me to “attack” someone without feeling at least a small quiver of guilt that I might be engaging in that sort of argumentation.  Fortunately, I have been able to resolve this dilemma by substituting an “ad hominid” argument in place of the tabooed “ad hominem” one.

As you know, the family “Hominidae” includes both man and our fossil ancestors.  I am not sure if the classification covers Neanderthals – but for my purposes I’m going to include them as well.  (This is a modern day and I feel fully entitled to mold the facts to my liking just in case I ever want to apply for a position on the staff of “The New York Times”).

So, speaking of Neanderthals, as you probably know, Eliot Spitzer is running for the position of Comptroller of my birthplace, New York City.  It’s been five years since he resigned his position as governor over some minor, habitual inappropriateness with a stable of high end hookers.  Amazingly, his wife Silda has stuck with him during what must have been an extremely difficult time for her.

During Spitzer’s tenure as Attorney General, he mercilessly attacked both the New York Stock Exchange and the financial industry for their outrageous behavior.  (This, of course, included something that was really not his business – executive compensation).  Now considering his personal habit of dropping twenty grand for a night of pleasure with his sex partners, one has to wonder how he defines “excessive”.

But there is one thing that Mr. Spitzer has not done excessively.  That is take the time and exercise his responsibility to vote.  Yes, he was “so busy” last year around election time – flying to California to do a TV show – that he neither got around to procuring an absentee ballot nor did he show up personally on Election Day.

We all make mistakes and certainly an important public figure must have many demands on his time.  I presume that explains his similar failure to get out to vote on two previous occasions – in 2007 and 2003.  In his defense, he did cast a ballot in each election in which he was running for orifice office.

With what might be called a “checkered career,” it is hard to imagine what line of work Mr. Spitzer might next pursue should his bid to return to public office fail this November.  Perhaps he might want to team up with sexting star, Anthony Wiener, whose run for Mayor seems to have taken an abrupt turn for the worse with the revelation that long after he was “cured of his bad behavior,” new photos and messages have started to surface.

I can see the two of them working together as a comedy team, perhaps calling themselves, “Latke and Hamentash”.  I’m sure that the duo would play well to OWS – or any other group that includes Neanderthals in its membership.

alfredeneuman

IN SEARCH OF A PIECE OF MEAT

Dad was born in the Bronx, NY in 1906. (For those of you who are wondering about my age I was born very late in his life).

He was the second son among seven siblings. Dad’s family was poor. Dirt poor.

Each of the children was expected to help contribute to the family’s welfare. (In those days, welfare meant survival). There was no unemployment insurance nor were there government subsidies. If you couldn’t support yourself you had only family and friends to whom you could turn. The alternative was death.

The immigrants who came to this country at the turn of the 20th century understood this – and they conducted themselves accordingly.

Dad used to tell me that having meat of any kind on the dinner table was truly a reason for celebration. Most meals would consist of some home-made bread and a bowl of vegetable soup (the soup being determined by whatever veggies were currently in season and the least expensive). Nevertheless, the family survived and was never in excessive want.

Dad was a dreamer. Although the highest form of meat that he had ever experienced was “chopped meat” – what we today call hamburger – he had heard about something that was truly miraculous. It was called “steak”.

Dad held down a job as a newspaper delivery boy. At this he earned eight cents a week. But dad, the entrepreneur, told my grandparents that he actually earned seven cents a week at the job. Apparently he had a secret place where that precious extra penny went each week. 

One day he had that “Eureka” moment. Dad was born in July and the fireworks displays that went on for the 4th gave him an inspiration. He realized that people liked to set off fireworks. You could buy them in his neighborhood for three cents each. But dad realized that fireworks were a Chinese invention – and he wanted to see how much he could buy them for in Chinatown. So he took 40 cents out of his stash (all of which was still in pennies) and took the streetcar to Mott and Pell Streets. In Chinatown you could find fireworks in many varieties – and you could buy them at a cost of five for a penny.

Dad’s mind rushed as he computed the profitability. A penny would return a 14 cent profit! This was huge. This could truly help his family.

Dad converted the remaining 38 cents he had (there was a charge of one cent each way on the street car) and went back to the Bronx with his cache of fireworks. Along the way he saw a sign on a little restaurant that had a “blue plate special” with steak on the menu for only 69 cents. He knew he was getting closer to this steak. Closer by the sale of each firecracker in his little bag.

Dad sold out his inventory in just a few hours. He hadn’t told his parents about his enterprise and now armed with well over five dollars, the next day he returned to Chinatown to buy more inventory. He was again successful in unloading the entirety of his purchases. He was ecstatic – as were his parents when he handed them $65 and told him how he had earned it. This was rent money for more than six months. This was as much as his father earned in three months. 

The family had a celebratory dinner. Grandma went out and bought “chopped meat” and prepared it for the meal.

What dad didn’t tell them was that he had sniggled away several dollars – so that he could go to the restaurant and buy the “Blue Plate Special”.

It was several weeks before dad could get away to consummate his desires – but the day finally came. He boarded the streetcar and got off at the restaurant’s stop. The sign was still in the window – “Blue Plate Special. Salisbury Steak, Mashed Potatoes, String Beans and Mushroom Gravy – 69c”. Dad went into the restaurant and ordered the special. Imagine his surprise and disappointment – “CHOPPED MEAT”!

Think about how grateful we should be. We live in a nation where our grocery stores are fully stocked. There is no rationing of essential goods and services. We can buy whatever we want within the constraints of our incomes and budgets – and thanks to the liberality of credit extension – we can exceed those merely by signing a form and using a piece of plastic.

Thanks dad for teaching me a valuable life lesson. I love and miss you.

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