New York, New York; it aint what it used to be.
By Andrei Codrescu
In the late 60s when I lived here, New York City was dangerous, wacked and fun. One night I saw six crimes in progress in one block: a guy was smashing a car window with a crowbar, two dudes with hoods over their heads were robbing a tourist, a girl was screaming and holding on to her purse as a 15-year old child tugged on it, two strollers were smoking a huge spliff of marijuana, a drug dealer was handing over glassine packets to someone double-parked in front of the subway stop, and a nicely dressed young man was tearing out of a restaurant with a bag of food he hadnt paid for, a waiter in hot pursuit. I could hear police sirens and tires screeching around the corner, but the cops were busy over there. On this block, it was business as usual.
Personally, I was lucky: I was only mugged twice in three years, once at gunpoint, once at knifepoint and both times I handed up the five bucks that was my average portable wealth in those days. I had neighbors who were not so lucky: they were mugged enough times to understand that it was all just a message to move back to Scarsdale. Between crimes, my inspired artist friends and everyone else broke the victimless laws without many qualms: consumed all the illegal substances we could afford, jumped turnstiles without paying, drank from brown paper bags in public buildings, and hustled Lyndon Johnsons Great Society for petty cash to cover the bad habits. Now and then we ate, but that was timed to free lunches in churches, parks and newly established Indian cults.
Then came Giuliani. Today, New York is like Minneapolis used to be. They even cover the sidewalks with mayonnaise in case you drop your Wonderbread by mistake. The people are so nice, you just know they are being bussed in from Peoria by the Disney Tourism Board to walk around and smile. The tourists walk fearlessly about former cesspools of sin and drink $8 cokes after seeing $100-a-ticket plays about jobless young overdeducated people who cant afford the rent but keep smiling despite everything. The titty bars of yore, featuring average-sized women, have turned into 60-foot neon movie actresses playing strippers in new movies. There are fewer homeless people to be seen, too, after they were shipped to San Francisco in a special convoy train nobody talks about.
Its nice to walk around not being mugged by a skinny junky with a sour look on his pustulant visage. It feels much better to be robbed by Disney on a clean, well-lit street. The difference is adrenaline. There was a lot in the first scenario, and its missing from the second. Who needed that adrenaline? Nobody, except maybe artists, who cant afford to live in such a nice place now, and have no time to make art anyway, because they work 10 times as much as we used to, just to pay for paint and D.S.L.