Magic Eight Ball says that the signs are not promising
Back in January, 2021, a young man who was off his meds showed up at our local subway station naked and raving. He ran up and down the platform before pushing someone onto the tracks. Another man jumped down to help the first guy which prompted the naked man to attack him. A train coming into the station was able to stop in time but in the fight on the track bed, the naked man wound up on the third rail and was electrocuted.
Along with all the other dire news of the day came this gem: in the previous week someone has smashed 60 subway windows. This is not something new, either, the window smashing has been going on since April but not to the tune of 60 windows in one week. And those suckers are expensive. Hello, fare increases and service cuts.
Gun violence was up. Back in mid-August, 2021, there was a 72-hour period in which 49 people were shot. I wouldn’t let on to Aunt Beth about that, though (you know how she is). New York's Finest, however, assure us that things are much better now.
There was a great gnashing of teeth and rending of garments when De Blasio took office in 2014. It was the end of the ascent of the city. Here come the bad old days and maybe it was time for all of us to buy guns and get ready to push the refrigerators against the door. And, yes, to hear the pearl-clutchers in the media tell it, we were descending into chaos. I’m wondering if any of those nice white columnists had been paying attention to the city outside their 46th floor, climate-controlled corner offices or if they just peer at their Citizen app as they Uber-ed home to Westchester?
At ground level, things have been looking dire for decades. Ask anyone in my neighborhood.
We had a shooting by the police in the foyer of this building back in the early aughts. I heard about it from the super. A cop in the building the next day affirmed that our neighborhood was very “active”.
It still is.
Five years ago — well into the much-derided De Blasio years — I came home with the fantastic news that I’d gotten a very good-paying job with a prestigious medical college. As I unlocked the door of the building, a woman who had been sitting on the stoop shoved past me to get into the building. My bone-headed mistake? Shoving back. I then got my ass handed to me in no uncertain terms. It was just my good luck that she was so high and out of it that about all she could manage was slapping and hair-pulling. I screamed like an air raid siren and eventually, people came out to see what was going on. She was arrested and I got a five-year order of protection.
In a city, and world, that values men who make money for other men over all else, resources for neighborhoods like mine are skinny. As peaceful and prosperous as the city seemed to many over the past two decades, the majority of people here have seen a steady erosion of services and an increasingly militarized police presence.
Are things noticeably worse now?
Oh, yeah. The gauntlet of people with their hands out on the way to the grocery store has grown exponentially. The line of tired-looking people with gigantic bags of bottles and cans at the automated recycling center a block away has turned into a daily encampment. Seeing people, men mostly, stretched out unconscious on the sidewalk is not unusual. I always watch to make sure they’re breathing.
There was a day not long ago that took everything to a level that cranks who like to rave about the grit, the authenticity, the realness of 1970s New York would have recognized and applauded.
I was waiting for a train at the 7th Avenue station on 14th Street. Because I was reading my book, I was only peripherally aware of shouting coming from the other platform. I glanced up to see a tall, scruffy, agitated guy leaning over a stoic, unresponsive woman. He was shouting his head off. She was like a rock. I went back to my book. It registered that the guy with all the tattoos and piercings and impressive muscles sitting next to me had jumped up and stalked past me. Whatever. Suddenly everyone on both platforms realized that the tattooed guy had crossed to the other platform and was beating the ever-loving crap out of the scruffy, agitated guy.
“You DON’T talk to women that way! EVER!” punch, punch, punch.
Everyone in every direction froze. No one even thought to pull out their phone to get a video of the action.
The scruffy guy was down on his back on the platform bench just trying to protect his face. The woman was watching but not in any way responding. The flurry of punches ended and the attacker told Scruffy to beat it. To just get out of here and never speak to a woman that way again. Scruffy tried to get his hat, but got chased away for his trouble. After several back and forths, Scruffy departed. The adrenalined-up champion strode back to our platform while the woman picked up Scruffy’s hat and followed him out of the station.
I thought about educating our tattooed champion about how he’d probably just made life even worse for that woman but wisely decided not to engage.
We’re all under a lot of added pressure now.
Does that mean New York City and the country as a whole are going down the toilet? Probably. But it’s not as if we’ve ever climbed very far out of that toilet.
Having been indoctrinated since childhood to be passive consumers we find ourselves confronted with a world that demands action. Yes, we could be in for some very bad times. Some of us more than others. How can I help those who are having it a lot worse? It doesn’t take a genius to come up with a hefty list of ways we can support those “essential” workers who were being paid minimum wage to make sure we eat every day.
I make a point to shop in my neighborhood and to donate to the local food bank. I stay in touch with my neighbors. I wore my damned mask everywhere, indoors and out, until the last month or so. The fact is that infections are at an all-time low here in the city and we have a whole slate of new things to worry ourselves sick over. Nuclear annihilation, anyone? Or how about maybe eight or ten Superstorm Sandy's to wake us up?
What are we supposed to do with all this?
Well, I'll keep doing what I can right here, right now. Expect the worst while striving to hold out my hand to those affected the most. Talk about the despair I can feel rising with like-minded friends. Journal. Make art. Make love. Watch movies and write more. Read more.
It’s been bad for a long time. As it gets worse, we’ll hold each other up and get through it.
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