Dickens, Seinfeld and the Putz Walk Into a Bar

I wonder what the greatest novelist of the Victorian era would say about our beautiful New York City.  Would he simply ignore the squalor and serenade us with sentimentality like Frank Sinatra crooning, If You Can Make it Here, You Can Make it Anywhere?

I think Dickens might write another hit, a hugely successful novel like a Tale of Two Cities, maybe.  There’s certainly enough material.  We’ve got class divisions the likes of which are so extreme that the mere mention of them sends Twitter abuzz and strikes fear in the hearts of the 1%, 2%, 3% –basically any of the people who will have to worry about the discontent of the lower classes.

Dickens might write about the plight of children who are now becoming more and more uneducated as a result of school closings and intermittent instruction.  He would probably write a new Christmas Carol where the haunted are those whose wealth continues to climb, unimpeded, while the gig economy is lauded as good enough for the average American.

There’s plenty of loathing and hatred, distrust, callous disregard for preserving human integrity, too. Dickens would have a field day with our present-day New York City.  What is really going on?  Well, from my suburban home–where I’m waiting for the virus to pass, Broadway to open, my favorite NYC restaurants to come to life–I hear tales of two cities.

One city is Jerry Seinfeld’s City. He basically defends our present-day plight in one of the greatest understatements of all time:  we’re just having a rough time right now.  As a city, we are in the beginning stages of therapy, just figuring out where we went wrong, which parent to blame, and who is responsible for our present despondent state.  Can you blame him?  Like so many of us, he wants to defend us, assure us that there’s hope–of course, there’s hope!


Naturally, the City will return stronger and better than ever; New Yorkers have heart and soul, this great comedian explains with his usual wide grin and neighborly good humor.  I want to believe him, after all, I loved every one of the Seinfeld episodes of his iconic show.  I trust what he says.  He lives in the City.  He’s got his pulse on everything, doesn’t he?

In his opinion piece, he refers to the LinkedIn putz who had the audacity to suggest that NYC wouldn’t come back because people can work remotely from anywhere. Well, the “Putz” is probably right about that, especially for people whose business doesn’t require the type of “energy” Seinfeld says people crave.  I’m thinking the accountants and attorneys working from home in the Adirondacks or the Hamptons are not especially worried about the energy factor.  Yet, I see his point for people creating comedy, drama, plays, movies, fashion, and so forth.

He goes on to tell us about how he hasn’t given up on the City.  How can we possibly disagree?  Giving up is lame, nobody wants to give up, ever.  The synergy of NYC is impossible to extinguish.  There’s an impossibly vibrant rush of excitement and energy once you exit Penn Station and take in the sights and sounds of an unrepentant, unabashed, unrelenting rush of people on their way to exciting destinations.  The hurried pace, the clamor of construction mixes with the odes of a talented musician and the screech of a doomsday pamphlet-distributor hoping to save us from perdition.  In the mix, there’s food everywhere, each ethnic variety more pungent and inviting than the next until one gives up and chooses a comparatively bland pretzel.

NYC is raw and real.  It doesn’t hide anything at all.  Diversity to the point of exhaustion is allowed.  Everything is allowed.  That sounds good too.  Who wants limits, rules, decorum, accountability–boring ideas for old schoolmarms.

No, the City beats with raw emotions, raw energy, unquelled and unabashed.  Yet, there’s something too harsh at the bottom of all this raw energy.  There’s extreme poverty, homelessness, filth, bullying, disrespect, crime, political pandering, and a sense of despair that finally, the spinning top of NYC has spun itself into frenetic chaos.

Even so, what options do we have?  Do we all head to Florida’s gated communities? Are the people fleeing there really going to live “enervated, pastel-filled” lives in Florida as Seinfeld moans?

There’s an ugly side to NYC that has gotten uglier and can’t be ignored.

Politicians are disingenuously wondering why so many people are leaving New York.  As if the filthy streets, disgusting instances of looting and violence, a dramatic rise in crimes, and crippling taxes are trifling lifestyle issues that New Yorkers should just accept.  After all, this is New York!   The greatest city!  

The city never sleeps because people have to work at all hours to eke out a living; because dreams drive the indigent and rich alike.  It is the place where frenzied natives and visitors walk down sticky sidewalks dodging construction scaffolds to slide into posh restaurants where gourmet food resting on icy white tablecloths belies the fact that half the city is a battleground for competing values, economic status, and cultural supremacy.  Plus, the streets stink.  Really.  Urine, food, debris, decomposing filth– all contribute to the stench.  Sorry, but my last visit months ago made me realize just how much the city streets have deteriorated.  Is anyone even cleaning them?  Ever?  

Native New Yorkers will likely take offense, but instead of taking offense, we might do better to elect politicians who don’t have to waste money surveying the obvious.  

 “ If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!”  But why should it be so difficult?  Why should New Yorkers have to live with the smells and squalor of a city that is experiencing turmoil and decadence? We can’t simply ignore the trend of New Yorkers getting fed up with the status quo.

They are leaving. 

Diehard New Yorkers will be unfazed by the recent developments, but the writer Seinfeld refers to as a putz  ( James Altucher) has reason to reassess. In fact, this Bloomberg article shows how those with the means to leave the City are doing just that. It is just one of many detailing the exodus:

“By far the most affluent group of migrants from New York was the 1,309 taxpayers who moved to Wyoming, who had an average income of $179,014.”

Our city is a tale of two cities where the affluent and the indigent share a space.  Where social mobility is still a real possibility.  Where people still believe in the rags to riches stories.  Where an actor can be a waiter one year and a star the next.  We can thank people like Jerry Seinfeld for defending our city, but that isn’t enough.  While we can’t give up, we can’t accept the status quo either, because the status quo stinks.

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