When I was a Civil Air Patrol cadet in the Bronx in the deadly 1980s we didn’t discover who was really poor until we left New York City for competitions, training weekends, and summer encampments.
The CAP seniors at The Kingsbridge Armory took good care of us, but a few of the program’s 13 to 21 year olds never seemed to get enough to eat. One kid named “Ortiz” actually would wait by the mess hall trash cans and gobble up everything in sight.
Ortiz was smart, strong, tough, hardworking and fast. Basically everything Donald Trump and his fellow trust-fund babies pretend to be. He was also hungry, which is something they know nothing about.
Ortiz didn’t care if we called him “Starvin Marvin” because he knew what it was like to fight for basic survival, scramble for subway fare, and go to bed with an empty belly. To walk the streets of New York City’s outer boros and hope for the best at a time when The Big Apple routinely racked up more than 2,000 homicides a year. Instead of the 500-600 considered normal today.
That translates into six or seven murders a day for a densely packed city with half Houston’s geographic footprint and four times its population.
It was a lawless time in a bankrupt city where my classmates and I routinely closed school bus windows to turn them into giant bongs, without a word of complaint from the drivers.
The vast majority of New York City homicide victims didn’t even rate a mention by the city’s 10 daily newspapers and TV news teams, or a few words on 1010 WINS – the “all news all the time, you give us 10 minutes we’ll give you the world” AM radio station.
Only the rich mattered enough for a story when they got “waxed.” The rest of us were invisible and irrelevant to those running the city. Just as most of you are to the political hookers in DC as you read this article more than 30 years later.
Americans adopted New York City as a symbol of national grit after 9/11 without realizing we were also adopting its virulent strains of affluenza, class warfare and political corruption. Those diseases of the rich have altered our national political and business landscapes with the same finality as the 2011 tsunami that swept into Eastern Japan.
I was acquainted with the painful truth of my own irrelevance in 1984, after someone on my block was shot five times. A younger and considerably less cynical Victor Epstein waited for the city’s voracious news media to descend on his neighborhood in Co-op City.
No one showed.
Same thing happened whenever someone hopped off a balcony in despair.
You didn’t have to be a genius to understand we didn’t count for crap to the rich sonsabitches running things.
The painful truth is that wealthy New Yorkers like U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, The Koch Brothers, Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg aren’t worth diddly as people and are not your friends if you work for a living. They belong to a generation of toxic elites which has waged war on the faltering middle class and made this country worse. Not better.
These predatory elites live apart from the rest of us in rich neighborhoods like Battery Park City, Central Park West, The Upper East Side and in rich communities like Pound Ridge, Alpine, The Hamptons and Greenwich, Conn. They live and work in buildings with doormen and security teams, send their kids to expensive private schools, socialize at private clubs that exclude the rest of us, and use their money to avoid military service and wield tremendous power in the legal arena.
They skirt airport check in lines and TSA security queues, and make “donations” to tiny rural police departments to game the national law enforcement exception to laws prohibiting concealed firearms in places like New York City.
However, these garbage elites still think they’re qualified to make policy for the hard working masses whose kids attend public school. Meaning people like you, me and Ortiz. Even though they almost never carry their weight or lead by example.
In this system of economic apartheid the royal wannabees always ride First Class while the rest of ride coach. Even online, where they are insulated from personal accountability by a new industry of “reputation specialists” who exist solely to erase stories about their bad deeds.
Tell the truth, you didn’t even realize these Kuntry Klub Kommandos were a problem until 2008, did you?
Well, “now you know” as we used to say in the Boogie Down.
Ronald Reagan and his fellow Republicans were starving New York City of federal funds back in the late 70s and early 80s as part of their war on urban Americans, who tended to vote Democrat.
The members of the city’s crooked political machines shunted all the fiscal pain away from the fragile rich people in Manhattan and onto the four outer boros. Just as all the pain from The Great Recession has been put on the masses since 2008.
Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were shorn of police, fire, sanitation, buses, teachers and hospitals in the late 70s and early 80s to ensure the trust-fund babies below 117th Street in Manhattan weren’t impacted by similar cutbacks. Lest they dry up and blow away like the fragile, sheltered, privileged trash they are.
It was normal to have 45 kids in a public school classroom in the late 1970s and early 80s, while there were less than 10 in the city’s pricey prep schools.
It was also normal to see the smoke from four or five insurance fires curling up into the Bronx sky simultaneously. The fires were lit by small business owners desperately seeking a way out of a dysfunctional society.
The kids raised in the outer boros during this turbulent period were incredibly self reliant, and not necessarily by choice.
When we took the subway into the city to play video games at Playland in Times Square – a notorious magnet for the city’s infamous chickenhawks – no one bothered us. The pedophiles knew enough to walk on by as we dropped quarters in video game machines with names like Asteroids, Galaga and Space Invaders.
In the eyes of the bigshots running the city back in the day, the working class kids of its outer boros were a little too self-reliant.
When it snowed hard, the private schools closed early and often, but all the public high schools stayed open. The disparity was a law enforcement strategy meant to keep street-smart teenagers from heading into Manhattan looking for fun.
If the Russians had launched a full-scale nuclear attack on the city with a day’s notice, School Superintendent Frank Macchiarola would’ve still had us sitting at our desks when the missiles came down.
It wasn’t for lack of trying on our end.
We would listen to the lengthy list of school closings on 1010 WINS, rooting fruitlessly for our own. Then we’d try to call in our own shutdowns.
“Thanks for the heads up Principal Kopelman,” the radio station employees would say drolly into the phone. “We share your enthusiasm for student safety. And what might your confirmation code be?”
“Uh confirmation code,” we’d stammer back. “I’m going to have to get back to you with that.”
I was walking into X-rated theaters in Midtown Manhattan at 15. I paid $20 to see a live sex show on stage in Times Square two years before I lost my own virginity. I had to save for two weeks, only to be lectured by a male performer who was pure Bridge and Tunnel Crowd.
The guy was in his late 20s or early 30s, and struck me as a second or third-generation Greek-American or Italian-American from Astoria, Queens. Don’t ask me how I know, but you get a feel for these things in the outer boros. Just as we developed a knack for spotting the undercover cops from New Jersey and Long Island who treated us like residents of an occupied nation.
I had one of the great working class conversations of all time with this guy, after he carried his “wife” off the platform at the center of the room and plopped her into the lap of the Danish tourist seated in front of me.
Each thrust brought Astoria’s white guy afro and bushy mustache a little closer to my corner seat and then away again.
“How old are you,” he suddenly blurted out, apropo of nothing.
“Don’t fuggin worry about it,” I replied dryly, hoping to end the conversation.
After a couple more strokes, Poppa Astoria was at it again.
“No seriously,” he said, breathing hard. “How old are you – 16?”
“I’m 21,” I said, lying egregiously. “What’s it to you?”
“Look, not for nothing,” he said, going silent again to stifle a belch. “But there are certain things you should learn in the backseat of a car with a girl who loves you. Not in a place like this.”
Sadly, my family didn’t own a car any more. We’d been priced out of both our old apartment and our automobile insurance by rising gasoline prices, corporate layoffs, and double-digit inflation.
Fortunately, the Danish tourist chose this moment to get a little too familiar with Poppa Astoria’s “wife.” Prompting him to curtail our heart-to-heart and carry her back on stage. Still connected at the waist.
If Astoria had injured himself doing this, it would have been one hell of a funny worker’s comp claim.
Bronx kids rode 20-year-old and 30-year-old buses and subway cars to work and school in my day. We walked home past stripped cars, gang members, X-rated film theaters, drug addicts, and shot-up storefronts as members of the city’s lucrative drug trade fought it out for the best corners. When the cadets used the bathrooms at the Kingsbridge Armory we did so in groups to avoid being targeted by the homeless drug addicts the city sheltered there.
A whole clique of kids began hanging out at a new rock club called CBGBs after 1978 and dressing like the members of The Clash. Or maybe they were dressing like us.
Who can say?
The same kind of thing happened a few years later with Run-DMC and filmmaker Spike Lee in the sense of art and life being so closely aligned it was almost impossible to say who started what.
In my youth, Times Square was a far cry from the sterile corporate playground you see today. It was a symbol of urban decay, which was rife with B-movie theaters, peepshows, addicts, hookers, transvestites, con artists, hippies and drug dealers. People routinely got mugged in broad daylight. Kids got shot over leather bomber jackets, sneakers, and gold chains.
If you couldn’t defend jewelry, you didn’t wear jewelry. If something could be locked, you locked it. Lest the heroin and crack zombies Hoover it up.
To this day, the only jewelry I wear is a wedding ring and I lock my car inside a locked garage. If it’s an attached garage I lock the door from the house to the garage, too.
Because I know what it’s like to be robbed.
Some of the younger cops walking the beat in Times Square back in the day looked like they needed police protection. The idea that they were protecting us was just as ridiculous as the idea that today’s political hookers are public servants with a principled commitment to the greater good.
We’d buy a dime bag on 42nd Street, then sit down in a smokey theater to watch a terrible flick like “Doctor Butcher,” and argue over whether it was real weed or oregano. Most of the time it was the stuff you sprinkled on a slice of pizza.
The mob was admired. Not just because it was ruthless, but because the elderly residents of mob neighborhoods could walk the streets in safely while everyone else was on their own. They didn’t have to move to South Florida.
Remember the Billy Idol song “there’s a hole in the wall?”
Yeah, Billy was crooning fondly about the spots where he and his fellow users copped crack, powdered coke and heroin in the city’s neglected working class neighborhoods.
Remember the “How I Met Your Mother” episode about the late night drunk train where all the passengers kept saying “what, you think you’re better than me?”
Guilty as charged.
I not only think I’m better than Trump and his fellow rich kids. I know I’m better.
Because they’re sheltered idiots with zero street smarts who walk when they should run and run when they should walk. They’re also the clueless transplants who think they’ve “made it” because they pay $6,000 a month to live in a walk-in closet in Midtown Manhattan when they could have a better place in a decent Bronx neighborhood for a third as much. If they could only overcome their debilitating fear of decent working people.
I was heading to the subway from a friend’s shared apartment in Greenwich Village at about 1 a.m. one night in 2001 when one of “the beautiful people” ran past me.
She was wearing the 2001 equivalent of Louise Linton’s pricey designer ensemble: Tom Ford sunglasses ($445), Hermès scarf ($940), Valentino heels ($995), Roland Mouret trousers ($1,395) and Hermès Birkin bag ($10,000).
I actually heard this Sex and The City wannabee before I saw her on the nearly deserted street. She was preceded by the sound of her stiletto heels “clip clopping” on its cobblestones.
As she ran for her life.
From absolutely no one.
I stared after this apparition of wealthy dysfunction in slack jawed amazement, thinking “what kind of educated idiot pays $6,000 a month to live in sheer terror every day of their life?”
A minute later, the male of the species passed me going in the other direction, with his $2,500 Ferragamo oxfords frantically clip-clopping. I looked back the way he’d just come, searching fruitlessly for the band of ravenous zombies on his tail.
Once again, the street was empty.
“Fuggin rich people,” I muttered aloud, shaking my head ruefully.
When my Civil Air Patrol cadet team traveled to U.S. Air Force bases for competitions we were usually lodged in Visiting Officers Quarters (VOQ). We made annual trips to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, Plattsburgh AFB in Upstate New York, Maxwell AFB in Alabama, and Andrews AFB outside DC.
Most of us has been drawn to the Air Force Auxiliary’s cadet program by the box on military academy applications that reads “CAP.” It was located below the box for Eagle Scouts.
Those who had it rough at home took particular delight in having their own bedrooms during these base visits. Each VOQ apartment shared a bathroom with the adjacent room, and had a small coffee pot and a TV set of its own.
Ortiz would turn on his TV, brew up a pot of Joe, and sit back like he was living large at The Waldorf Astoria.
The painful truth is that you can’t compare his New York experience to Trump’s sheltered upbringing without sounding like a fool.
Like me, Ortiz was a public school kid. That meant relative scarcity. It meant public high schools with 4,200 kids and no football teams just down the street from fancy private academies with scholarship athletes.
So, when people describe political trash like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as “authentic New Yorkers” I just laugh. Because they ain’t authentic anything to me and mine, and they never will be.
They register zero on the Real New Yorker meter.
Especially Trump, who’s a trust-fund baby from the part of wealthy New York which has always been completely full of shit. The kind of kid who you know was afraid to ride the subway in his youth.
CNN hit a new low yesterday when it allowed commentator Chris Cillizza to describe Trump as “a street fighter.” This graduate of the Loomis Chaffee School for the Rich and Sheltered went on to opine that at his core, “Donald Trump is a New York kid who grew up feeling like he was always on the outside looking in, having to scrap his way to get into the places he wanted.”
Sorry, but no. That’s me and my friends, classmates and fellow cadets he’s describing. Not Donnie Trustfund.
CNN was so far off base with this drivel that if you could sue someone for journalism negligence, a dozen class action lawsuits would have been filed against them today. Sounds like they have a lack of economic diversity in the newsroom to me.
Trump is a lot of things, but he’s no street fighter. Much less someone who ever had to work for anything. Not with those tiny paws.
Rich people might not know it, but when you work with your hands your hands get big and rough. Whereas Trump’s dainty hands look like they should be attached to a tiny masseuse from rural China.
The painful truth is that all doors open for the young and rich in New York and they have no concept of real work or real life outside the privilege bubbles which surround them. Even the velvet ropes outside Manhattan nightclubs exist solely to keep the fragile Trumps of the world from having to rub elbows with the rest of us. Lest we puncture their fake tough guy personas.
Bottom line, New York’s working class is what makes it special. Not the idiot socialites who pay $5,000 to attend charity fundraisers at places like “The Met” while openly despising the masses they benefit.
The people worth knowing are the working class New Yorkers the Trumps of the world denigrate as “Bridge and Tunnel Crowd,” because we take a bridge or tunnel to work or school. The folks who took to the streets during Occupy Wall Street and got beaten down by their neighbors and relatives at the direction of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg – another billionaire who bought high office.
Always has been that way, always will be.
Blue collar kids like Ortiz are the ones you want by your side and on your team. Because they stick it out when times get tough, while the trust-fund babies fade away with ready excuses. Like the ridiculous draft deferments Trump finagled for his bone spurs at the height of The Vietnam War, just a year or two after playing varsity baseball for his exclusive prep school.
Toughie had five deferments. That’s a helluva lot of deferments, even for a silver spoon mofo.
We beat the hell out of rich kids like Trump every time we ran into them at regional and national competitions in my days as a cadet. They’d average 8:30 miles while we averaged 5:40, because they had no appetite for discomfort.
We smoked them in the drill events, too, because they had no appetite for the relentless practice needed to march as a unit.
Hell, we even beat them in the written exams and academic panel quizzes, because they wouldn’t put the time in to master the CAP leadership books, aerospace books, and current events they were based on.
And we watched the same rich kids talk shit in the city’s bars and clubs in later years – whenever there was someone around being paid to protect them. Meaning one of us, or our neighbors.
The cadets on my team met a ton of political hookers each time we won the national championship and were flown down to DC to distribute Civil Air Patrol’s annual report to Congress. The members of the New York delegation liked to have their photos taken with us. Just about every one of them wound up in prison or under investigation afterward.
Just like Donnie Trustfund.
New York politics hasve always been crooked. How else could Hillary – who hailed from Chicago, Arkansas, and DC – get elected Senator there in 2000 without even being a New Yorker?
She bought that fuggin seat with the help of Charlie Rangel, the crooked Harlem powerbroker who horded rent controlled apartments during his 46 years in The House of Representatives.
Did you really think there wasn’t a single New Yorker as smart as Hillary or Charlie Rangel – for 46 fuggin years?
Don’t make me laugh.
Where did you think former Illinois Gov. Blagojevich got the idea that Barack Obama’s empty Senate seat was “a fuggin valuable thing (and) you don’t give it away for nothing” after the 2008 presidential race?
Did you think he came up with the idea of auctioning it off himself?
It’s far more likely he got the idea from the way Hillary bought U.S. Patrick Moynihan’s empty seat from the crooked New York Democratic Party after his death.
New York politicians are almost all crooks, from Trump on down. Not Dem crooks or Republican crooks. Just crooks.
Fugg all them political hookers. I wouldn’t break bread with them if they paid for my steak.
And if you would, well hey, we had a phrase in the Boogie Down back in the day for suckers who bought VCRs from passing vans without looking inside the boxes first.
It was “they saw you coming.”
Because when you got home you invariably discovered the boxes were filled with rocks. Just like your head.
If you voted for Trump or Hillary, the crooks in the two political machines saw you coming. Just as they have for nearly 30 years now.
How can you tell the difference between the crooks and the real leaders?
The real leaders in this nation want to regulate Wall Street greed, especially in the out-of-control banking sector that has given us a housing crisis, credit crisis, recession and more than $230 trillion in global debt since 2006. Whereas the crooks who run DC like a political protection racket are paid to prevent bank reform by keeping hardworking Americans out of elected office.
Those same crooked sonsabitches just voted to let the big banks police themselves again and gave their Wall Street paymasters a very, generous tax break. In our name and at our expense.
It’s a huge mess, with no end in sight, and the worst part is that we did it to ourselves by trusting these rich sonsabitches.
It’s time to fight for your own interests as active participants in this fading democracy again. Instead of outsourcing this unpleasant task to the same toxic elites who have been robbing you blind.
That’s what our kids did today with “The March of Our Lives.”