Saturday, October 28, 2006

New York Fell Part 1

THE EMAIL
It was 5:30AM on Thursday September 21th when I checked my email at the radio station. My mother sent me the worst email that I ever received. My grandmother had died the previous morning in her sleep. My grandmother raised me. Since 1998 she had Alzheimer's and from 1999 she had been living living in various nursing homes. She died at a nursing home in Waterbury, CT.
A wave of anguish and grief wracked my body. I cried and shouted in deep pain. An intense, guttural pain that my body had ever been subjected to.



THE PREPARATION
My worst fear since I left the US would be news of my grandmother's passing. While she was alive, she had made arrangements to have her body entombed at a cemetery in NYC. None of her relatives lived in NYC. My mother lives in LA. My uncle lives nearby in Connecticut but he had to tend to the initial preparations there. I decided to go down to NYC 5 days before the funeral to set everything up.
I dropped everything that I was doing. My life no longer mattered. My grandmother was my first and only priority. I bought a one way train ticket to New York. I gave myself 3 days to secure everything in Montreal.
TYPICAL AMTRAK
Some things never change. When I stepped on the New York bound Amtrak train at Montreal Gare Centrale the lights were out. I was on an American train. For some particular flaw inherent in the operation of Amtrak, the lights are often out on its trains. I cannot count the number of times that I have boarded an Amtrak train in the dark. Of course it was not completely dark. The low wattage emergency bulbs that were on that provided the bare minimum of light.
There are legitimate reasons why the lights are turned off. Power is lost when trains change engines and the engines uncouples. However there are times when the lights are off and there does not seem to be any legitimate reason. I have travelled on railways in 7 countries. Only twice outside of the US have I boarded trains with the lights out. The first time was when I took the overnight train from Paris to Toulouse. The lights were out from the start so that passengers could sleep. The second time was when I took a decrepit Stalinist single car rail line between Prague and a provincial village in Bohemia packed with hundreds of ravers. Eventually the lights were turned on our Amtrak train.
The Canada-US border is a very special border. Perhaps there is no other border in the Western World as unique. There is no other border which highlights the differences between two rich industrial nations such as Canada and the US. I was not in Europe before the fall of the Stalinist block but crossing from Canada to the US is the closest I can imagine from crossing West Germany to East Germany.
The robots programmed to work for Homeland Security held the train at the border for more than a hour. They have unlimited power over those who are not US Citizens. I have some civil and constitutional rights left as an American citizen. My rights could be violated with impunity but in theory I do have recourse to justice. Any person who is not a US citizen, including someone who is a legal green card resident have no legal or constitutional rights on American soil.
The border delayed our train by one hour. When we pulled in Saratoga Springs, a muffled and garbled announcement informed that we would be held at the station for at least one hour due to a broken switch at the bridge which crossing the Hudson River in Albany. There was nothing interesting about the station or the surrounding area. After a hour and fifteen minutes we left. After Schnectedeny, the next stop was Albany crossing the very bridge. It should not have taken more than 15 minutes to travel between Schnectedeny and Albany but the train crawled and it took 45 minutes.
It is normal for the lights to go out at Albany part of the scheduled 10 minute layover to allow for the change from diesel electric engines. However the lights stayed on and the engines were not changed. We still had a 10 minute layover. Upon leaving Albany we are already 4 hours late. The train sped down the Hudson River until we passed within the city limits of NYC. For some mysterious reason we stopped for 20 minutes in Riverdale, The Bronx. When we resumed the train travelled no faster than 10MPH. We sped up passing beneath the George Washington Bridge. In West Harlem, the tracks are parallel to the Henry Hudson Parkway. The train went faster than most of the cars except for a yellow cab, which in typical form was faster than the train. Yellow cabbies in New York guard their reputation for speed with the honour of Samurai warriors. That cabbie was not going to let an Amtrak train surpass him.
The conductor made an announcement. Since the train crew neglected to switch from Diesel to Electric engines in Albany and Diesel engines were not allowed to enter Penn Station, we were told to expect a 10 minute delay as an Electric engine would ''tug us into Penn Station.'' Laughter of disgust erupted in my car. Exactly one mile from Penn Station between 54th and 55th Street 75 feet underneath 11th Avenue the train stopped. The Diesel uncoupled and the lights went out. It was just like the early 1980's again. I cannot count the numerous times that I had been stuck in an train under the streets of New York in the dark. Usually this occurred on a NYC transit subway train rather than Amtrak.
We sat in the dark for 20 minutes before the lights came on and we pulled into Penn Station. The journey should have taken 9 hours. It took 14. In that amount of time I could have flown from JFK to London Heathrow with a tea break and back.
THOUGHT CONTROL NEON LIGHTS
I did not have time to change money in Montreal. Since I left on an early Sunday morning, all of the currency exchanges were closed, including the exchange at Gare Centrale. I had arrived in NYC after 10PM on a Sunday night was hard pressed to find an open currency exchange. I figured that there would be a late night exchange in the part of the city I detested most: Times Square. I asked the information clerk at Penn Station where I could find a currency exchange open at the hour. He gave me the answer that I dreaded: 48th and Broadway. As I left the agent thought I was an out of towner and was about to give me directions. I told him that I knew how to get there.
I stepped from escalators underneath Madison Square Garden and was on 7th Avenue and 32nd Street. At the corner of 7th and 34th I saw Macy's. The 7th Avenue entrance used to be lit in neon. Now, there was huge digital screen showing fashion adverts. Times Square had been extended 8 blocks south. On the southwest corner of 34th and 7th stood the symbol of Middle America: K-Mart. I remember when K-Mart first opened back in 1997. The opening of K-Mart in Manhattan had been one of the factors which compelled me to leave New York. When K-Mart opened two stores in Manhattan, the Americanization of New York was complete. Opposite of K-Mart on the southeast corner stood another huge digital billboard showing fashion models prancing around. It was too much.
I made my way Uptown on foot. 7th Avenue between 42nd and 28th is known as Fashion Avenue. It is the heart of the garment district. Walking up the dark cavern of 7th Avenue I saw the blistering lights of Times Square.
How much Times Square had degenerated! By 1996, I had avoided Times Square like the plague. It was too big, too clean, too corporate, too tourist. Disney had bought Times Square as well as the block of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. On this night there were hundreds of tourists milling about and blocking the sidewalks. The electronic adverts hurt my eyes. I tried as much as I could not to look. The images and messages of corporatism, consumerism, conformity, obedience and political propaganda attacked my psychic defenses.
Since 1996, Times Square made me feel aggressive when ever I passed through. I was angry that my first return to the city forced me to go there. The tourists were mesmerized by the lights and digital images perched on the skyscrapers 10-20 stories above Times Square. Everyone I passed appeared to be zombies under heavy enchantment. I felt as if I was in Walt Disney World with the zombie masses waiting for the monorail to whisk them off to the Magic Kingdom.
When I arrived at 48th and Broadway, the exchange was closed. I had absolutely no American cash on me. I asked a Puerto Rican cop where an open exchange was. He told me to walk back to 42nd Street. I had to walk back through the land of digital enchantment. I had my over-sized backpack. I tried to be polite and say excuse me when the zombies obstructed pedestrian traffic. Yet, the zombies were under hypnosis and did not hear me or ignored me. I became really aggressive and simply barged through dozens of zombie tourists. My old New York rudeness returned. I quickened my pace. At the corner of 44th and Broadway I had a tricky obstacle course to navigate. 2 dozen zombies were standing there staring at the giant television screens attached to 1 Times Square. There was a narrow space but there was a cop standing on the edge. I didn't want to be too aggressive and shove the zombies out of my way in front of the cop. Nor did I want to have my backpack bump into the cop. The the cop saw me coming and I said excuse me he didn't move. I do not know how I did it but I was able to squeeze through that narrow strait without hitting the cop.
At 42nd Street, the exchange was closed. I was getting really angry. I asked a Black Times Square security guard where an open currency exchange was. He told me to return to 48th and 7th Avenue. I had just walked back from 48th and Broadway. Once more I had to walk through the thought control zone. I felt as if I were trapped in a vortex. A vortex where I was subjected to psychological torture from which there was no escape from.
The exchange was open. Ironically, it was literally behind the exchange that I had first approached. A young South Asian man worked the counter. He asked me where I was from. I told him that I was a native New Yorker born and and reared but had been living in Montreal for the past 6 years. The agent had been to Montreal and was enthusiastic to meet a Montreal resident. I told him that I was in town for my grandmother's funeral. He said; ''God Bless your grandmother.'' Usually I hate that phrase but I appreciated it and thanked the gentleman.
With American cash I could now get the hell out of Times Square. I called Max and told him that I was on my way downtown to his house. I quickly tried to figure out how to avoid Times Square. None of the subway lines went directly to the Lower East Side. I then remembered that I was one block from Rockefeller Center and from the 6th Avenue subway.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE SUBWAY
One of the more unique but frustrating features of the NYC Subway are that some of the large stations have half a dozen entrances but only 1 or 2 of them are open at any given time. I really hoped that I would not have to walk 2 or 3 blocks to find an open subway entrance. Fortunately, the entrance at 48th and 6th was open.
Two years ago, the Transit Authority eliminated subway tokens. The system completely relies on electronic MetroCards. The were thousands of former token clerks who lost their jobs. Now there are a few hundred and their only job is to help passengers use the machine dispensers.
What has happened to the NYC Subway is that it has become like the Washington, DC Metro. The first time I took the DC Metro back in 1981, it was the first subway system I had encountered which did not have token or ticket clerks. The DC Metro has always used machine dispensers. I never trusted them. In DC, it was common for the machines to take your money, break down and happily keeping the change.
The current fare for NYC Transit is $2, which is quite exorbitant.What a rip off! The MTA has always been a scam agency. If one wants to buy a single fare, you must use the machines. If one can't handle the machines and needs to buy a MetroCard from the agent, the minium amount is $4. Basically, if you are young and tech savvy you can buy a single fare for $2. However, if you are older or from a foreign country then you must pay an additional $2 surcharge.
It took the city a long time to warm up to the MetroCard. During the first 5 years of its implementation, no more than 5% of transit users ever bothered to buy the MetroCard. Against the will of the people, the MTA forced the MetroCard down our throats. The MetroCard is also a tool of control and surveillance. There are micro-chips implanted in the cards. The authorities know what station you entered and at what time. The information contained on the MetroCard can be used as evidence in a court of law.
Ever since the bombings of the London tube 2 years ago, there is now a search policy on the NYC subway. Once a person is inside the subway system, they can be searched by the police at anytime. The 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights against unlawful search and seizure is voided upon swiping your MetroCard through the turnstile. This was just the first of the abolition of constitutional and civil rights I was to discover upon this journey.
I went to the Downtown platform and the F train arrived. The subway cars had not changed. The F train had the same odor that it has had for the past 30 years. I was to discover that the subway had changed least. The spirit of the old and original New York lives in the subway! The F train has always the scent of cotton candy, sea salt and rust.
I have always told Montrealers that I could be kidnapped and blindfolded from anywhere in the world and should I be placed randomly on any subway line, I would know exactly the train line it was and where I was. Every subway line is New York has its own personality. Each line has its own musical sound arrangements both unique and distinct from each other line. Moreover, each subway line has its own distinct odor. Regardless of the type of rolling stock, the trains on each particular line have the same odor. The F train has always smelled of cotton candy, salt water and rust. The number 1 train remains the foulest smelling. Over the decades there have been dozens of different types of rolling stock on the number 1 train but its odor does not go away. As I was to discover, with the exception of the search law and the time limits, the subway was had not changed. I was also to remember many distinct scents that are unique to New York. Not only the scents of the subway but also of certain streets, buildings. More about the subway later. The subway by the way is 102 years old.
MY BEST FRIEND MAX
I have known Max Roy since 1992. He is my longest lasting friendship. He was raised to bourgeois parents from Germany and France in East Midtown. Max speaks fluent French. His German could use a couple months of lessons. Max has travelled all over the world and far more extensively than I have. We often hold conversations with each other in English, French and German.
When I told him about my Grandmother's passing, he was supportive and welcomed me to crash at his place down in the East Village. Max is the authority and expert on all things Gothic. When I met him, he was a 15 year old Super Goth who looked and dressed more like Robert Smith of The Cure than Robert Smith himself. Max has grown and evolved but he remains Goth at heart. He also has the most impressive collection of books of any one that I know in North America. Only my friend Alfred in Vienna has a more impressive library.
DAY 1 MONDAY SEPTEMBER 25 2006
I had hoped to get an early start on Monday. I needed to get in touch with the Rector of my grandmother's church. I wanted to let him know that she had passed and to have him bless her body and tomb. I left a detailed message with his secretary. It was the third message I had left for Pike. I was rather exhausted from the previous days 14 hour journey coupled with nervous tension. Rather than wake up early, I slept in. Max took me to a cafe on the corner of 9th and 2nd Avenue.
Max's German mother Ingeborg was in town. He was heading up to Central Park South to meet her. I had arranged to meet my other friend DB at Columbus Circle in front of the gates of Central Park.
Max and I took the M15 First Avenue bus. I got very emotional as we passed my old neighbourhood of Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town. I grew up there with my Grandmother. The bus also passed Beth Israel Hospital where my grandmother had worked for nearly 25 years.
I did not like the new buses from the outside. They are two piece accordion buses found in the finer provincial cities and suburbs of North America. However, the interior had the typical Manhattan blue seats. 1st Avenue north of 23rd St is the most the most eastern street on Manhattan Island. I could see parts of the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront. New giant luxury buildings now grace the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront.
Just before 42nd St and the UN complex was more construction. As I was to discover more to my anger and revulsion, the entire city was a construction zone. The old buildings were being ripped down to make way for super luxury condos.
Between the UN and 57th Street, nothing had changed much. Max grew up on 56th and 2nd Avenue in a rich building. Max reported that nothing had changed. Of course East Midtown had not changed! It is the rich part of town. The old money is entrenched and therefore not eligible for gentrification.
We got off at 57th Street and transferred to the crosstown bus. I was relieved to be riding on an older pre-Giuliani bus model. 57th Street is the most affluent crosstown street in Manhattan. Sothby's auction house is located on 57th directly across from Carnegie Hall. I was back in New York riding the cross town bus. Manhattan crosstown buses had not changed. The M57 bus remained the only bus route where one can spot rich women wearing their gold and diamond jewelry. I observed a rich blonde woman a few seats away. She was middle aged and attractive. She was old money. She was a native bourgeois New Yorker and not a member of the petit-bourgeois noveau rich who have colonised the city from Iowa. She had Sutton Place written all over her. She had the old New York City attitude. Though she was rich and from a higher class than me, I still had respect for her. It is now her city and no longer mine but at least she is a native. Max got off at 6th Avenue. I continued west to Broadway.
DB AND THE PRIVATISATION OF CENTRAL PARK
After Max, my longest lasting friendship is with DB. I met him from the youth and pot scene of Central Park. Back in the early 1990's before Giuliani and the American takeover of NYC, there were 3 spots in Central Park where young people would congregate to smoke marijuana and trip on LSD. The first spot was the Sheep's Meadow, which was simply called The Meadow. The second spot was the Mind Tree. The Mind Tree was arguably the best tree to be found in any urban park in the US. We used to hang out underneath the tree or we would climb i as it was so easy to climb. It was the coolest spot in New York. The branches were comfortable enough for one could sleep in,which I did once when I was 21. The third spot which was my least favourite was Strawberry Fields. Strawberry Fields is located in the park near the W. 72nd entrance across the street from The Dakota. John Lennon was shot and killed outside The Dakota where he and Yoko Ono lived back in 1980. To keep a permanent memorial to Lennon, Yoko purchased some land just inside the 72nd Street entrance and named it Strawberry Fields. I never liked Strawberry Fields because too many tourists went and there was little privacy to smoke or drink.
I met DB at the main gates to the park at Columbus Circle. Columbus Circle had been in a period of constant change since the 1950's. The old and grey Columbus Coliseum has been torn down and replaced by a twinkling skyscraper complex called the Time-Warner Center. No one in New York shed a tear about the destruction of the Columbus Collesisum. It was one the most despised buildings in Manhattan. It was rarely used and a waste of space. It would have been nice had affordable housing been built but no one, even back in 1977 would have ever believed that affordable housing would be built on Columbus Circle.
Most shocking was the de-constrcution of 1 Columbus Circle. 1 Colmbus Circle was one of the most interesting looking buildings in New York. Built with Walter Gropius Bauhaus style of architecture, it was a 10 story building that did not have windows above the ground floor. Instead there were dark brown almost black circles which ran up and down and across the building givng the visual appearence of a Connect-4 game board with black checker pieces lined vertically and horizontally. 1 Columbus Circle was where the office of the New York City Department Of Culturally Affairs was located. New windows were being installed. Another condo was in the works.
DB arrived. He and I have known each other for 13 years. Our friendship started in Central Park back in the days when NYC was still free. We were kids who hung out at the Sheep's Meadow. Until 1994, the Sheep's Meadow was the NYC equivalent of Parc du Mont Royal on Sundays. One could smoke marijuana and take LSD in relative peace and comfort. DB at the time was known as Tripping D because he would always greet and say good bye to people with his trademark ''Happy Trails!'' When Giuliani became mayor in 1994, the Sheep's Meadow became occupied by the NYPD. By 1995, the stoner scene had been completely displaced.
DB is my Soviet Anrachist friend. He was born in Moscow but moved to NYC as an infant. His parents are still throughly Russian. Going to DB's old apartment was like stepping into a Communist flat in Moscow. DB politcially is more anarchist than those who profess to be yet DB has never described him self or professed to be an Anarchist. Like most other immigrants from the Stalinist Eastern Block he and his family perceive the US these days to be like the Soviet Union. It has always fascinated me how since the mid 1990's every person that I have met from Eastern Europe has called the US Communist.
We walked into Central Park. It was just after 7 and dusk. Walking into the park the first thing I noticed was how dark it was. We walked along the path next to the West Park Drive. I also noticed how the entire park was enfenced. One of my favourite childhood playgrounds had disappeared. The baseball diamond was fenced off and was a pile of rubble. We passed by the Sheep's Meadow. That was also under lock and key.
We walked to Strawberry Fields which was in utter darkness. DB wanted to show me how Central Park had disappeared. We continued walking uptown around the lake. When we turned off the main path to prceede into the park's interior it was pitch dark. It was by now 7:30PM and the sky was twilight. All of the foot paths off the road had fences on both sides. Ever since 1996, Central Park had increasingly been turned into a cage. It was now impossible to go on the grass any where in the park because of 4 foot fences. I got the sense of walking in a concentration camp desgined like a park.
It was so dark that it became scary. During the so-called bad old days when Central Park was supposedely dangerous after dark, it was always well illuminated. Central Park was arguably one of the most illuminiated parks in the world. Every lamp we passed was out. I never get lost and was able to navigate our way by using the skycrapers on Central Park South as my late Uncle Chris taught how when I was a child. Eventually we crossed over the famous wooden bride over the Central Park Lake. In the middle of the bridge I stopped to gain an overview. Central Park was utterly dark. The park was empty. It was over 25 Degrees centigrade and still before 8PM. The park was utterly dark and deserted. I had never seen Central Park so forlorn and abandoned.
We continued on to the Mind Tree. The Tree was fenced in. It was no longer possible to even sit under the tree. There was the following sign on the fence: ''Please Keep Off As To Protect This New Seedling.''
What? Excuse me? What new seedling? What new plantin?. It was the same tree!
All throughout the park on the fences was the same sign. The signs were lying. A first time visitor would assume that Central Park was under the process of renovation and renewal. Don't believe it for a minute. Nothing has changed in the park excpet for the fencing off of the grass. A first time visitor would think that all the grass was new. I might've been fooled had I not seen the same fencing and signage at the Mind Tree.
Walking along the 72nd Street transverse were more fences and concrete barriers. There was no explanation about re-construction or anything. The only sign was Central Park Conversancy. In 1996 Giuliani privatised Central Park. Of course like everything else that had been privatised, the privatisation of Central park occurred through the back door. In 1996, the Parks Department announced that it was turning over the management of the park to the Central Park Conservancy, a private for profit organisation which would keep the park clean and administered. What is the Central Park Conservancy? It is a board consisting entirely of rich ruling class members from the Upper East Side, mostly Park Avenue.
Central Park is not to be used or enjoyed by the majority of residents of the city. Prior to 1996, the playing fields were open to all people. If a group wanted to play baseball, softball, football, soccer or Ultimate Frisbee, it was a first come, first serve basis. Since the Great Lawn was large enough, it was common to find many serpate groups of people palying sports. After the Central Park Conservancy took over the park, all groups had to apply for a permit to use The Great Lawn or any of the playing fields. Until 2000, a permit cost $35 to apply. Applications were routinely rejected. Applicants had to state in an essay why they deserved the right to receive a 3 hour permit to play sports in a public park. If your application was rejected there was no refund for the application fee. If a permit was granted it was granted once for the entire year. New York being New York and America being America, racism became the ultimate decider of who received permits and who did not.. All applications to play soccer were rejected except for the elite private prep schools from the Upper East Side. Most of the adults who play soccer in New York are latinos from Central and South America. Up until the year 2000, not a single permit was issued to any Latino who paid to apply.
Central Park is no longer a public park. The barraicades, the fencing, the lack of lamps is a clear indication that the public is not wanted in the park.
WALKING DOWN 5TH AVENUE
DB works for the poltical action committe of the most powerful labour union in NYC. DB is disillusioned. He told me how the union is tied to the Deomcratic Party. He also bitterly remarked the lack of poltical awareness. DB like most native New Yorkers wants to leave the city.
At Central Park South a ubiqious double decker tour bus passed. I used to work as a tour guide back in 1997 on those nasty and destructive buses. The rise of tourism in New York had a correlating decline in the quality of life. The double decker buses had done more to destroy the city's cultural integrity than anything else. (Please read below about Harlem). I really regret that I ever worked on those cursed buses. I am ashamed that I aided and abetted the Fall of New York by working on them.
As a double decker bus passed packed with tourists, I flicked my still lit cigarette up at the people on the bus. My cigarete just fell short by a few centimeters. Nervous and surprised glances came from some of the tourists. They knew that I was aiming for them and my facial expression was quite hostile. DB laughed. It was the second time in Central Park that he witnessed me flick my cigarette at people. That was the last of my old NYC habits that I picked up before I left. Whenever someone really peeved me, I would flick my cigarette at them.
The Plaza Hotel was gone. That was the second most expensive hotel in NYC and that was not spared from the real estate vultures. Walking down 5th Avenue I noticed how French mid-town had become. So many of the expensive boutiques had French names. Saks, Bergdorf Goodman had French signage. It was highly unexpected. 5th Avenue was now trying to copy Paris. Since when did New York start to copy France? The nouveau riche of New York must think of themselves as Parisians now. 5th Avenue is now indistiungueable from the elite streets of Paris.
We crossed 34th Street and came upon the Empire State Building. Outside the 5th Avenue entrance there were NYPD officers dressed in military unforms carrying AK 47s.
Montreal, Canada has made me naive. I was not alive during the October 1970 crisis when the Canadian Army occupied Montreal. However, there have not been troops on the streets of Canadian cities since 1970. Nor have the municipal police forces of Canada become paramilaitraised as the NYPD.
Seeing two miltary police men in full combat gear with their AK 47s drawn was a wonder to me. Nothing in particular had occurred that night. Those miltiray cops were routinely gurading the Empire State Building. My jaw dropped. I could not help but stare at them. I was in awe. DB noticed me staring at the Military police.
''I don't look at them. When I walk and see them I keep my head down. If I look at them they might think that I am a terrorist suspect.''
My friend Joe The Busker came to my mind. Joe is from Chile. During the Pinochet dictatorship, he would tell stories how the police in Santiago were militarised. As a child he would stare. People would tell thier children not to look at the militray police because it was too dangerous. What DB had just expressed made me realise that New York was like Chile under Pinochet. The next block walking down I had to ask DB if things had really become so serious. DB's face became dark and saturine. Yes, things had become that extreme.
''But what good or difference does it make to have military police on the ground if another plane slammed into the Empire State Building?'' I aksed in my adopted Canadian navievity.
DB told me about the regular drills practiced by the NYPD. Every week hundreds of cops stage emergency drills. A coloumn of 40-50 cars race through Manhattan with lights and sirens at full volume. In their drills, the police time how fast they can mobilize and how many forces they can assemble. DB saw the folly.
''That way they can rush half of the police into buldings where they will all die.''
''That's crazy!'' I was in shock. ''Didn't they learn anything from the firefighters on 9-11 not to rush into a building that has been hit.''
DB's face burrowed and darkended. 'Of course not!''

HOMECOMING
The next day I decided to go back to the Upper West Side. If you read ''First Communique'' of this blog, you will be aware that I grew up on the Upper West Side. I took the subway up to 96th Street. I braced myself for the worst. To my pleasant surprise nothing had not really changed much since 2000. My grandmother had lived for 8 years on the corner of 93rd and Columbus. I had lived there with her on and off during the 90s. It was the first part of the city that felt normal. I was back in my hood. I was home. This of course led me to think of my grandmother and I felt heavy emotions again.
The Upper West Side is the most racially, religously and economically mixed district in the US. It is also the most progressive part of the US. On Columbus Avenue, I was relieved to see many Black and Puerto Rican faces again. The neighbourhood still had its diversity. I had surely expected the Upper West Side to have been ethinically cleansed the way Harlem had been but nothing had changed. The Upper West Side was always the most relaxed part of the city. There is very little racial, social or class tension there. That has to do with the last socialist social engineering the city utilised. In the 1960's a coalition of civil rights activists and socialist state polticians decided to re-build the Upper West Side north of 86th Street. It was the last example of progressive social engineering. The question was asked: How do we acheive an equal and integrated neighbourhood? The answer they determined was to build luxury high rise buildings that would have mixed units. I lived with my grandmother in one such building. On the Upper West Side there are buildings where people on Welfare are neighbours with someone who has an annual salary of over $100,000. It was understood back then that the first step to acheive racial integration was to ensure ecponomic integration.
Many New Yorkers are unaware of this part of the Upper West Side. When most people think of the Upper West Side they think of it as exclusively rich, white and jewish. They think of Central Park West, West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. It is true that those streets are predomintely rich, white and jewish. It is also particulary true between 59th Street and 79th Street. However, Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues above 81st Street becomes diverse pretty quickly. Amsterdam Avenue had not changed at all. I was so relieved. Columbus was the same. Growing up on the Upper West Side, nearly half of my classmates and friends were mixed race. Lots of German-Black couples. Black-Jewish married couples. Lots of Puerto Rican-Jewish married couples. It was not until I had lived in The Bronx and outside of Manhattan that I realised how abnormal the Upper West Side was and how taboo mixed race and mixed faith marriage was.
There were some changes. China Shalom, which was a Chinese Kosher resturant owned and staffed by Chinese Jews had closed. I was disappointed by the fact during all the years that I lived across the street from the restuarant, I had never dined there. The grounds of my old building had been improved and renovated for the better. I went into the lobby to see if I recognised the doorman. The doorman was new. I told him that I used to live in apartment 15A and it was my first time back in 6 years. The mailboxes were moved to the back of the lobby from the front.
So much of my creative endeavors took place and form in that building. From the 15th floor I observed and wrote down my notes about the city which would eventually become The Fall of New York. I made all of my mix tapes including Departure From Babylon in that building.
I noticed the acrhitceture of my old building and surrounding buildings. I realised how much Columbus Avenue between 89th and 97th Street looked like Europe. I could have been in residential sectors of Brussels, Amsterdam or Frankfurt. I had finally realised why I had always felt at home in Europe. The Upper West Side is the most European part of US. The post-war European Social Model was transplanted and replicated on the Upper West Side. Below 86th Street, the Upper West Side looks and feels as if the 4th Dsitrict of Vienna was uprooted and replanted in Manhattan. My love of Vienna is the same as my love of the Upper West Side. I felt at home in Vienna because it was my true home away from home.
I walked down Columbus past the Museum of Natural History. On 78th Street I turned west. I went back to PS 87. (Once again read First Commnuique to see how PS 87 influenced me as a poet.) Though the school is offically called PS 87, it is also named the William T. Sherman School. Sherman was the Union General during the Civil War who burnt down Atlanta. I lived in Atlanta in 76-77 and think it is the worst city in the Western world.(There will be a special edition of this blog about Atlanta in the future.) Atlanta represents every value that is opposed to the values that I was taught from PS 87. In fact, no such school, even private schools, would not be allowed to exist in Atlanta such as PS 87. Part of the problem with New York is that is has become like Atlanta.
I was so happy to see my school still there. Mrs. Naomi Hill is still the Principal. One of my old teachers Mr. Fields is still there. I wanted to see them but an office clerk informed me that Mrs. Hill was in a meeting and Mr. Fields was in class. I just wanted to thank them for what they did for me. I walked to Amsterdam and turned South. It was recess time. I observed the kids of PS 87 at play. They were the same type of kids that we were. The same attitudes. The same laughter. The same type of faces. The same racial mix. I started to cry. I was in such a state of joy. I whispered my thanks to the school building. I would never have become a poet had I not attended PS 87. It would have taken me much longer to understand advertising propaganda had not that school taught us how to read between the lines of advertising. My poem Posters and Bulletins would never had been written had I not attended PS 87. I may not have been so out-spoken politically as I am today if PS 87 had not taught us to question authority, as well as to fight against racism and prejudice of all types. THANK YOU PS 87! THE WORLD OWES MUCH GRATITUDE TO YOU!
The Upper West Side is a very special place in North America. It is the one of the last parts of the US along with the Bronx what is safe for now. What is most remarkable is how from the comfort and privledge of the Upper West Side, I was clearly able to see what was happening in the rest of the city. How I, an Upper Middle Class artist who lived in a luxury high rise building, was able to see the dangerous course that both the city and the country was to take. I was scared in those days. If I could see the repression and opression from there, imagine if I had come from the working class or from the ghettos of The Bronx and Brooklyn.
I am not an American. I am more than a New Yorker. Manhattan is my country. The Upper West Side is my state. I am and will remain an Upper West Sider until my last dying breath.
I walked down Amsterdam passed The Beacon Theatre. I decided to go downtown to Ground Zero.
I got on the IRT at 72nd Street. I took one last look at my homeland. I saw the building where I lived as a baby on the southwest corner of 72nd and Broadway. The building was vacant and undergoing renovation. Another condo no doubt. The 72nd Street station had been renovated. It used to have the most narrow platform on the entire system. It is one of the busiest subway stations in the city. Activists and residents knew that 72nd Street was an accident waiting to happen. 100,000 people used that station every day. It was feared that the narrow platforms and the large crowds would be the perfect recipe for a first class disaster. The platform has been expanded. The Upper West Side rocks!

GROUND ZERO SOLO
The fastest way to get to the World Trade Center from the Upper West Side is to take the Downtown 7th Avenue Express to Chambers Street. Steeping out on to Chambers Street, the first change I noticed was how sunny it was.Chambers Street until Battery Park was perputally shaded because of the skycrapers down there. I walked South on Greenwich Street for two blocks. I was disorientated. I knew that that the towers were no more than 3 blocks from Chambers Street. I headed west to Church Street. Nothing seemed the same. I was heading in the right direction but everything looked different. An unsettled feeling came over me. I finally saw the fencing of Ground Zero.
It is impossible to describe the feeling that I had. There, in the middle of downtown stands a devastatd wasteland. I walked over to the memorial zone. There were photogrpahs of people from that fateful day. There was a disturbing photo of a burnt and bent turnstile of the PATH subway station. The picture that struck me most was a photo taken on Park Row. It was taken just as the towers came down. Hundreds of faces were in shock and awe. I studied the faces in detail. Each face had a gaping mouth. Some faces expressed horror. Others expressed dismay. It is an image that I will never forget. I walked further. The fencing wass so high and repelling at once. There was a piece of the girders from the towers shaped as a cross. I could not tell if that was formed from the destruction or whehter they was carved into a cross.
On Liberty Street were phoot series about the history of lower Manhattan. The twin towers were built on landfill. There were pictures of lower Manhattan in 1967. The next photograph showed the same area in 1969 as the first tower was being erected. Most disturbing was a photograph taken in the PATH subway tunnel after the towers collapsed.
Earlier this year, the PATH line was reopened. From Liberty Street the tracks come out of the tunnel into the terminal. The photographic exhibtions explained the plans to rebuild the WTC transportation hub. The WTC was the most important subway hub in the financial district linking New Jersey and the rest of the city.
Of course there is much wrangling about the proposed Freedom Tower. Survivors of realtives who were killed are deeply and biterly divided over the plans for Freedom Tower. Since the land of the WTC is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, there are political battles and intrigues. The outgoing Govonor of New York State, Geroge Patkai just wants to turn it over for his rich buddies. The Port Authority wants to make sure that it's interess are preserved. The State Of New Jersey has it own interests and agenda. The City of New York between the Mayor's Office and the Manhattan Bougough President are at odds with each other. It may not be another 10 years before the proposed Freedom Tower ever gets started.
There were bulldozers still clearing and decontaminating the land. The space feels haunted. The death of thousands of people hangs over Ground Zero like a dense humid fog. Regardless of whoever one may think orchestraed this attack the morbid sense and the macabre atmosphere makes one feel pain. I cannot beleive the most cynical person would not be moved by Ground Zero.
What was most sketchy about the WTC attacks was the collapse of 7 WTC hours after the towers had fallen. There is now a widespread belief that number 7 was intentionally demolished. There is clearly lots of circumstancial evidence that it was. Number 7 has been completely rebuilt. It took no less than 4 years for number 7 to be re-built. It is now a slick skyscraper. Number 7 is owned by Silverman Properties. It appears that Mr. Silverman wanted to new building to replace the old one. It is also suspicious that number 7 was quickly and conviently rebuilt while the rest of the complex remains levelled.
The day after my Grandmother's funeral, I took my mother to see Ground Zero. Though she was in shock, it was nothing compared to the shock that awaited her in Harlem. But I'm geting ahead of myself.
I never liked the Twin Towers. I always felt that the towers exerted a negative energy over the city. What most unsettled me personally were the elevators. The elevators were huge dimly lit boxes with 10 foot high ceilings and doors on opposite sides of the cars. In New York, most elevators have hand rails for passengers to hold on to in case of an emergency. Unlike the elevators of the Empire State Building which were smaller in size and smoother in ride, the WTC elevators shook violently when going up and down. I never felt safe in the WTC elevators. My worst expereince was during the summer of 1988 when I worked as a foot messenger in my first job ever. I would often pick and deliver letters and packages in the twin towers. I was with one other man when our elevator got stuck between the 44th and 78th floors. It was one of the most terryfying experiences of my life. The elevator shafts of the twin towers housed 5 elevators. As were were stuck I heard the most nerve wracking noise as the other elevators ascended and descended past our stalled car. The sound of steel cables, squeaky wheels and motors produced the cacophony of sinister sounds. As each elevator passed our stalled car, the winds produced made our elevator shake violently. I really thought that I was going to perish that day.
However, 2 years later I was privy to the start of the chain of events that led to the eventual destruction of the WTC. In August 1990, one month before I started university, I worked in the new York Mercantile Exchange(NYMEX). The NYMEX is where crude oil and natural gas is traded. I had one of the worst jobs of my life.
My job was to sit in the middle of the Crude Oil pit. It was a spectacle to see hundreds of men in high paced and frantic action. The frenzy and hysteria of grown men shouting, yelling, and swearing remains inexplicable to this day. My job was to sit in a chair in the middle of the pit. The chair was nestled in a net shaped as an orb spiderès web. When traders made their deals they would write on small index cards and throw them at me. I had to wear protective eye wear. Hundreds of sharp edged cards rained down on me. Without the eye goggles I could have been blinded. My face and my hands were inflicted with dozens of paper cuts each day. I had to grab all the raining cards, stamp each one, bind them in a rubber band and hand them off to another low level staffer. That staffer would run through the NYMEX and hand ti to another low leverl staffer who would drop the cards in a chute. From there, analysts would send the information back upstaris to the big board. I literally had billions of dollars pass through my hands yet I was paid minimum wage.
It was not a coinicidence that aall the traders were white and all of us who worked in the pit were Black. The racist contempt that the traders had for us was obvious. One guido trader from Staten Island waved his finger at me and with his thick accent said: ''If I give you a quata would me fetch me some watah.'' (Translation: If I give you a quarter would you fetch me some water?)
August 1990 was when Iraq invaded Kuwait and I was working in the Crude Oil Pit. Officially, Washington was neutral about the invasion. Bush, Sr made no indication that war was on the horizon. However, the crude oil traders believed otherwise. Ten minutes before the opening bell a greasy trader rubbed his hands and shouted: ''OK boys, it looks like we are going to war.''
I was privy to the start of the first Gulf War. More importantly, that was the incident which led to the evnetual destrction of the WTC. If Arab terrorists did bring down the WTC, the Gulf War and subsequent crippling of Iraq fuelled resentment. If it was(which I believe) a white collar crime, the same greed expressed by that trader fuelled the conspiracy to bring down the WTC. Either way, I was there in August 1990 and witnessed a scene which led to the wasteland that lower Manhattan is now.


THE SUBWAY AT 102
This year is the 102nd anniversary of the building of the first IRT subway line in NYC. (For more about the subway and my love of it please refer to First Communique of this blog.) The subway has not changed that much. There are new subway cars on the IRT. Half of them are Japanese built Kawasaki trains and the other half are Canadian built Bombardier trains.
The Kawasaki cars are called the R-92s. All the different rolling stock are called R for Rolling Stock. The number is the year that they were built. So the R-92s were built in 1992. I call them the Dinkins trains because David Dinkins was still Mayor back in 92. The R-92s were origainlly designed to be the bullet trains of the subway system. As is often the case with new rolling stock, one train is used in service as a test. The first time I rode the R-92 was in 1994. Not only was the train extemely fast but was also remakably smooth and quiet. I remember one morning in 1994 taking the Downtown IRT express. There were 2 Black teenagers from Harlem going to school.The R-92 was a bit too much for them.
''Yo! This train is going too fast. I don't want to get to school yet. Yo let's get the local at 42nd.'' However the trains were never to meet their full potential. In 1997, the TA announced that they were going to slow all 4500 cars of the system so that they could not exceed 30 MPH. I was livid at the time. What made the New York City Subway unique and elite was it's concept of express trains. In 1904, the IRT was built explicity so that the express trains could travel at 45 MPH. Often times, because of the typography of New York, the trains would exceed 50MPH. The IRT stands for Interboro Rapid Transit. There was a legitimate reason why rapid was part of its name.
When the IND system was built in 1930, its purpose was to be faster than the IRT. The A Train used to be the fastest subway line peaking at a speed of 60MPH.
What caused the TA to slow down all the trains? In 1995, there was a collision on the BMT Jamaica line on the Williamsburgh Bridge. It was a late Spring morning when a stalled train on the bridge was hit from behind by another train.
The MTA ran tests and determined that the best way to avoid collisions in the future was to have every subway car reduced to 30 MPH. This was nonsense. Here is why.
The BMT was built in 1910. The BMT was always the shoddiest of the three systems. Though the BMT did revoltiuonise the design of subway cars all over the world, it's tracks and signals were always sub-par. The worst accidents in the entire history of the subway occurred on the BMT in Brooklyn. So the accident on the Williamsburgh Bridge was hardly surprising given the sloppy design of the BMT.
The New York City Subway is still ranked in the top 5 safest systems in the world. When the IRT was built in 1904, it's design and technical features were more advnced than the London Underground or the Paris Metro. The engineers of the Paris Metro who were at the inagural run of the subway had inspected every inch of the line. The IRT left the Parisian engineers in awe.
The IRT was the first system in the world to use the Block System. The Block System is a simple yet eolaborate safety mechanism of the tracks. Next to every signal along the track is a T-Bar. The T-Bar can be spotted as an iron lever in the shape of the letter T. When the signal is Yellow or Green, the T moves down. However, when the signal is Red, the T bars stand up erect. On every subway car on the truck(the truck is a techincal term in railways used to describe the motor where the 4 wheels sit at opposite ends of the car) next to the front wheels is a lever. The lever acts as a safety valve. When the light is Green or Yellow, the T bar is down so that the trains can move freely. However, when the signal is red, the T bar is up. Should the motorman neglect to stop when the front wheel passes the raised T bar, the lever is touched triggering the emergency brakes.
The Block System works that once the front of the train passes a signal, the light automatically turns red. By the time that the the whole train has passed , the T-bar automaitcally stands erect. The Block System works so that there are 5 consecutive red lights. This was set so that in the event that a train was at high speed over 75 miles per hour and passed a red light, not only would the emergency brake be triggered once but that each red light and raised T bar. The momentum of the train would slow down as it repeatedly triggered the emergency brake. By the time a runaway train has touched the 5th raised T-bar, the train would stop.
The IRT was the first to use this system. After the BMT disaster in 1917, the State of New York forced the BMT to adopt similar safety mearues of the IRT Block System. However, the BMT decided to use the Timer System. The Timer System was an inferior subsitute. The Timer System works like this. The BMT is mostly local and the lines rarely exceed 35 MPH. Instead of having free standing Green and Yellow lights like the IRT, the BMT always has Red Lights. The BMT employs the T-Bar only for the emergency brake function. The Timers are set by the speed of the train as it passes the preceeding signal. Often times, the BMT trains are at full speed as they approach a red light but 10 seconds before the train approacehs the T-Bar lowers and the signal turns yellow or green.
On the IRT, if the light is red the trains must slow sown to 5MPH and come to a stop just at the signal before the front wheel hits the T Bar. When the light is green, it means full speed. The BMT use of timers relies on the skill of the motorman along with the proper mechanical functioning of the Timers. What does that mean? It means that when a BMT motorman sees a red light it is not a signal to automatically slow down or stop. Also the BMT does not have 5 red lights in seceescion to create a block. Moreover, the BMT signals break down frequently. Most of the delays expereinced on the BMT are caused by broken or faulty signals.
When the Manhattan bound J train crashed that fateful April morning on the Williamsburg Bridge, the motorman would have been correct to sense that he could continue at speed and that the signal would turn green or yellow just before he passed it. The MTA engineers conducted test after test on the Williamsburgh Bridge track and determined that the cause of the accident was the failure of the T-Bar.
Nothing angers me more than professonal imcompetence and ignorance. What was an inherent flaw of the BMT Timer system was used to condemn the Block System as well. It is almost impossible for a rear-end collision on the IRT Block system as there is at minum 5 red lights between any two trains. I would have expected that the MTA to be aware of this but apparently there were not.
Back to 2006. As I took the IRT express uptown and downtown I noticed how slow the trains moved. They were still fast but I could notice the difference in speed. I was disappointed. It was just another reminder how a unique character of the city was taken away. NYC was always one of the fastest cities on the planet and the express trains were the pulse of the city's speed. New York is boring and slow these days. When they decided to slow down the subway, it was a deliberate ploy to slow down the city.
With all that said, I really like the new trains. From the WTC, I took the recently re-opened E train. What is odd about the IND is that it has not been given any new cars. The tradition of the IND was that it always had the newest and most modern rolling stock on the system. The IRT and BMT always had the oldest rolling stock. This time, the entire IRT has been upgraded but the IND neglected.
The E train is still using the the Budd&Co. R-52s from the 1950s. In Toronto, the TTC subway trains are a near identical replica of the E train. In fact, the entire Toronto subway system is a rip off of the IND. The E train still had that sterile look of grey steel. Toronto is a a dull, sterile city of steel. It makes sense that their trains would look like the E. The E still had that fresh odor. The E train has always been the cleanest line on the system. It is strange because it is one of the most heavily used lines in the city but it has always been squeaky clean. Back in 1977, when every other subway line was covered with graffitti, the E train remained spotless.
Later on in the week, when I took the number 1 train, it had the same odor of decay, sweat and feces. Though there have been many updated rolling stocks on the 1 train, it had the same exact odor that it has had since 1977. When my mother and I took the number 4 IRT up to Harlem, even though the rolling stock was brand new, it had the same feeling. The same type of people on it.
What makes the NYC subway so special is that every line is unique. Every line has its disticnt personality that does not change with time. Every subway line has it's own unique sound. As I rode on the various trains, the same sounds at the same places, stations and locations along its line were the same.
I got off the E train at 14th Street. I transferred to the L line to go crosstown back to the East Village. Between 1978-1980, every school or working day I would take the IND to 14th Street and take the LL train over the First Avenue. This time I went thorugh the same corridors. I went down the steps. I was in for a huge surprise. There were new cars on the L train.
The BMT always had the freaky subway trains of the system. The L train was the funkiest. How many times as a child would I walk down the same stairs to be stunned by a freaky looking train in the station. You can never tell what what type of train you will get on the L.
This train was the R-94. At first this was going to be used on the A train. I rode on it a few times late night during its test runs. However, the TA decided not to use them on the A yet and put them on the L train instead.
The Eighth Avenue station is the terminus of the L train. I got on the the only train in the station. As the train pulled out of the station slowly, I could see the swtich operators room. I spotted the series of yellow painted handles used to swtich tracks. What most riders of the subway are unaware of the vast underground caverns that the subway trains travel through. As my train left the station and swtiched tracks, I remembered the vast cavern. The shape and design of the tunnels also affect the sound of the train. The clanging of metal on metal and the echoes of that sound in the tunnel caverns came back to me. I was on the L train alright.
The L train was origianly known as the BMT Canarsie Line. In 1950, it was renamed the LL train. In 1989 it was renamed to the L. However, it will always be the LL. The Loopy Line. There is only one subway line which Ièm aware of stranger than the LL. That is the U6 in Vienna.
However, this is still Bushreich. In typically ignorant American over-reaction to the London tube bombings, the 4th Amendment no longer applies on the subway. Once you pass through the turnstiles, the police have the power to search you. The 4th Amendment of the US Consitution prohibits searches without warrants obtained in court. The 4th Amendment is just another constutional rgiht taken away under the dictatorship that the US currently is.
Still, the NYC Subway is still the best subway system that I have seen to date. It may not be as effecient as the Washington, DC Metro. It may not be as fancy as the Paris Metro. It may not have the artistic beauty of the Montreal, Moscow or Prague Metro's but the NYC subway is the most interesting system in the world. It is the engineering and human triumph of the industrial age. It is the world's largest machine. It is an organic living entitity that neither fascists such as Guilani or Nazi's such as Bush will never be able to destroy. The only thing that will destroy the subway is a nuclear attack on the city. Even should the Atlantic Ocean rise and swallow New York City, the tunnels will be around. In 2000 years from now, the New York City subway will have eclipsed the Roman Colliseum or the the Acropolis as the most famous feat of engineering in the history of humankind.

PETER COOPER VILLAGE-STUYVESANT TOWN
Though I am an Upper West Sider, I have lived all over Manhattan, The Bronx and Brooklyn. However, my childhood memories of home will always be Peter Cooper Village. I lived in Peter Cooper Village between 1977-1980. Between 1980-1981, I lived across the street in Stuyvesant Town. I went to Primary School on the Upper West Side though I lived on the Lower East Side. The happiest days of my life were those 3 years when I lived at 601 E. 20th Street Apartment 7D with my grandmother and my late Uncle Chris.
Peter Cooper Village-Stuyvesant Town is a city within a city yet at the same time a green oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle. The Socialist housing scheme of Red Vienna had a huge impact on housing developments in New York City. The Vienna Socialists built public housing develpments called Wohnparks or Apartment Parks in English. On the entire Lower East Side of Manhattan from 23rd Street down to the Brooklyn Bridge are the best social housing complexes found outside of Vienna. In New York, these housing developments had parks built into them. (See Parkchester In Part 2)).
Peter Cooper Village-Stuyvesant Town has 5000 residents. It takes up 15 Square Blocks of Manhattan. It is bordered to the south by 14th Street and extends 9 blocks up to 23rd Street. It is bordered by First Avenue to the west and by Avenue C to the east.
It was built in 1947 by the Metropolitan Life Insurnace Company to house veterens returning from World War Two. Peter Cooper Village which is smaller than Stuy Town but with better housing was built for the Officers. Stuy Town which is slightly more spartan was built for the enlisted soldiers.
Prior to its construction, that part of town was known as the Gashouse District. The Gashouse district was a working class slum. The people of Gashouse were moved to the Jacob Riis Projects below 14th Street. The tenements were torn down.
Metropolitan Life Insurance company decided to get into the Real Estate business during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Met Life built 3 great complexes. The first was Parkchester built in 1939 in the northeast Bronx then Peter Cooper Stuy-Town in 1947 and finally Riverton up in Harlem.
Met Life had a racist discrimination policy. Blacks were not permitted to rent in Parkchester or Peter Cooper-Stuy town. That was the reason why Riverton was built in Harlem. Riverton was the known as the Coloured Parkchester. (Please read James Baldwin's essay about Riverton in ''Nobody Knows My Name''. After many discrimination suits in the 1960s, Met Life finally allowed for limited numbers of Blacks to rent in Stuy Town.
Peter Cooper Village was the gem of all the MetLife hosuing schemes. Since it was built for the Officers, it was geared for the higher classes. There are many obvious diffrences. In Peter Cooper Village, the hallways on each floor are carpeted. In Stuy Town, there is no carpeting. The buildings in Peter Cooper Village are 14 stories(with the 13th floor included!). Stuy Town are 12 stories(no 13th floor). The elevators in Peter Cooper Village have atuomatic doors and are faster. In Stuy-Town, the elavators are slow and one has to either push or pull the door open manually.
Peter Cooper Village had always been wired for Air Condtioning. Stuy-Town was not until the last until the 1990s.
I walked through Stuy-Town for the first time in 6 years. It was depressing. All over the buildings are banners advertising Luxury Rentals. Stuy Town was rent controlled and rent stabalised. It offered high end apartments for middle class families. After 9-11, Pataki abolished rent control and stabalisation. There is a grandfather clause that exempts people currently under rent control and stabalisation. As soon as the apartments are vacant, they are now at ''market rate". That means that a one bedroom which rented for $800 is now going to $2500. Last month, MetLife announced that it had sold Peter Cooper-Stuy Town for $5bn. Within 10 years only the super rich will be able to live there. At the end of the 1990s there had been major renvoation work at the complex. We know know why that was.
I saw that new windows had been installed. Every window in Stuy Town has air conditioners sticking out. I walked to Stuyvesant Oval. Though Stuyvesant Town's permieter is rectagular, the interior is designed in the shapr of an oval. I saw kids playing basketball. I saw other kids play baseball. I used to play baseball and football in the same concrete fields.
When one walks in the interior of Stuy Town, it becomes noticeably quiter. The brown-red brick buildings provide a sound barrier from the noise of Manhattan. The same green coloured benches were in the same spots. At the centre of Sutyvesant Oval sits a water fountain. During the holidays, the fountain is turned off and there is an elaborate Chanaukah and Christmas decoration.
How I loved Christmas back in the late 70's. As I child, the building of the cardboard hosues over the fountains was the tell tale sign that Christmas was coming. There was a Yuletide. There was a recording with Christmas Carols. There was a pciture of me back in 1977 wearing a russian coat and hat(yes, I have always had taste for Russian and Eastern European eastichics) sitting in front of the Christmas Decoration.
I walked further and came past the sloping hill. During the winter all the kids would take their sleds out and we would sled down the slopes. To prevent kids from playing on the grass during the warmer months, a low lying chain barrier was put up. However, we were allowed when it snowed because the snow provided a natural blacnket from human feet. Still it was up to the parents to keep the chains up so the kids could slide down the slopes and not get decapticated by the chains. I wondered if the kids wre still allowed to sled down the slopes. I wondered if parents still held the chains up for their children. I recalled one day back in 1979. I was 7 years old. I had used to own a classic Flexible Flyer sled made out of wood with a metal frame. I was on top of the slope and spotted an old lady with grocercies schlepping along. I knew the exact spot of the chain which was high enough for me to sled under. Like a Cougar I followed my prey with my eyes. I calculated how long it would take for her to walk to the spot. Zoom! I was on my sled with a sadistic grin on my face. Bulls Eye! The front of my sled hit the old lady perfectly on her boots and she went down. Her groceries flew all around. She was down for a long time. My uncle Chris ran up. He made sure that she was all right. He collected and picked up her groceries and apologiesed profusely. After she got up and continued home, Chris railed into me verbally.
''Who do you think you are, Superman?''
I was embarassed and humilaited because I had indeed thought that I was Superman.
At this memory I cam upon 601 East 20th Street. I started to cry. I was raised by my Grandmother and Uncle Chris who served as both my mother and father. The 3 of us lived together. Chris died of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 47. 601 East 20th Street was where we used to live. Both of them were now dead. I also cried because I recalled the times of happiness from that time. I was never as happy, alive, and full of hope and vitality as back then.
I crossed 20th Street, which is divinding street between Peter Cooper Village and Stuy Town. I counted up 7 flights and saw the window of my apartment.
By the 1970's, roughly 10% of Stuy Town's residents were Black. In Peter Cooper, only 1% of the residents were Black. We were the first and only Black family in that building. There was only one other Black family that lived on Peter Cooper Road. The only time we ever saw Blacks in our building were maids who worked for residents of our building. One day my Grandmother was in the elevator with two Black maids. They had not seen her before and thought she was new. One of them asked: ''So how are the white people you work for? Are they nice?''
When my grandmother told them that she was not a maid but a tenant the Black maids were in shock. When I had escaped from Atlanta in 1977, I had returned to New York to live with my grandmother. She needed help. She sent me to school uptown and she worked a few blocks away at Beth Israel Hospital. Chris used to work for the the City Dept. of Housing Preservation Development on 125th Street in Harlem. He moved in with us and he took me to and from school every day.
Though Chris was the smartest person I have ever known he always had a a ruffian South Bronx style to him. He was the perfect getlman and could charm the pants off anyone. When he first moved in with us he caused a panic. Our white neighbours were horrified when the eleavtor would open and they saw Chris. When he would enter the building with Keys, one white lady demanded to know how he was able to get a key and who he stole it from. Yet, Chris' charm was too strong. Chris became the most popular resident of the building. Some of the older widows would ring on our door bell to speak to Chris. By 1978, we were the most popular family in the building.
601 is the last building on the north side before East 20th Street ends at the East River. FDR Drive runs right next to the buiding. Apartment 7D had a great view of the East River. From my window I could see Greenpoint, Brooklyn. As a child I used to watch the Sea Planes take off.
601 East 20th Street was my emotional anchor. Years after we left, that building offered me the base of my psychological emotional structure. When I recall my life with my grandmother and Chris, those memories are forever sketched in my mind and heart with Peter Cooper Village.

THE EAST RIVER
If 601 East 20th Street is my emitonal anchor, the East River was where that anchor was dropped. Yes, though I am an Upper West Sider, the East River was always dear to me. On this day, I walked along it. The salt air was the same. The salt air combined with the odor or algae came back to me. In the mornings when I would go to school, I would take the crosstown bus at the corner of FDR and E. 20th Street. I remember those mornings of salt air. Chris and I would often walk along the East River from the 34th Street Heliport, where we would watch the helicoptors take off and land, through the Waterside housing Complex, further past the ConEd power plant(the Battersea Power Station of Manhattan), past 14th Street along East River Park all the way past the Williamsburgh Bridge down to Grand Street.
Since I spent 4 of my formative years along the East River, it was a place that I would return to often. As I grew older I would return to the East River to relax. If I felt depressed or town, I would sit or walk along the East River. In essecne, the East River provided me comfort and solace during the difficult times.
On this day, I saw many ships. All the ships which travel on the East River are escorted by tug boats. The East River has the most active maritime traffic of any city I have been to. In Montreal, the St. Laurent has one or two ships that sail a day. Morever, the waterfront is so removed from the city. I felt the same way about the Hudson River. I have never felt inspired by the Hudson River on the West Side of Manhattan. It is not the most accesible waterfront.
I walked down to where Avenue C turns off from FDR Drive. I went to my old playground. The playground is officially called Murphy Brother's Park but Chirs and I always called in Avenue C Park.
The playgorund is situated at the most secenic spot in all of Manhattan. There is a curve in Manhattan Island at that point. Looking straight ahead one can see Brooklyn, Queens, Roosevelt Island and Midtown Manhattan in one panoramic view. I used to play on the swings and see the Iron Struss of the 59th Street Bridge.
I was back home. For the first time on my trip, I was relaxed. I left the park and walked underneath FDR Drive to the water's edge. The memories came back. I looked uptown and could see the UN building, the Chrysler Buidling and the other skycrapers of Manhattan. I realised that I had pinpointed my favourite spot in North America. At the very edge of Manhattan. On a map of New York, that very spot is near the geographical centre of the 5 boroughs. I would always bring my out of town visitors to that spot. I would also take girlfirends there. There is no spot more romantic in NYC than the corner of Avenue C and FDR Drive.
I continued to walk down the East River. I saw the ConEd power plant. ConEd has always been a fuck-up(please see On It down below). I remember back in 1980 there was a huge explosion at that power plant. It woke us up and scared the hell out of us.
I came upon East River Park. I walked further until I stopped where the Domino Sugar Factory sits across the river in Williamsburgh Brooklyn. There was the same Panamanian ship docked there that I have seen since 1977. That ship imports the sugar cane and raw sugar where it is refined at the factory.
I took one last wiff of the salt water. The walk on the East River was the best psycho and emotianl therapy that I have had since I left NYC 6 years ago. I have no use or need for therapists or analysts. When I needed to sort out my personal issues, I go to the East River and I become healed.

UPTOWN
Uptown, Downtown, Crosstown. These are all simply words to describe North, South and East-West respectively. However, they also have important cultural meanings. In New York, cultural translates into race and class. Uptown used to (used to is the key phrase) connote Black and Poor. Downtown used to connote White and Rich. This is changing radically as I write this essay.
My grandmother's tomb where she was to be buried was at Trinity Cemetery up in Washington Heights. It was a day before the funeral and I had still much to sort out. I went on a mission Uptown for two purposes: The first was to actually find the cemetery so that I didn't waste too much time searching for it the next day. The seond was to scout out a restaurant where we could all eat after the funeral.
That evening I was to meet my mother at LaGuardia Airport and escort her to my grandfather's house. I knew that I could take the bus from Harlem. Since Washington Heights is north or Harlem I figured that I could sort things out.
So I went back on the Number 1 train uptown. How many days of my life did I take this line? Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of times? I do not know. What is most interesting about the Number 1 train is the diversity of its riders. The number 1 train is the only line that goes from the southern tip of Manhattan directly to the northern tip. It is the one of the few subway lines which does not get divided by race after certain stations. To be sure, the majority of whites get off at 116th Street Columbia University but since it terminates in Riverdale, whites remain on the train.
After Columbia the number 1 train comes from below ground and as it passes the 125th Street viaduct. It was my first time on an El since I was in Vienna in 2002. The 125th Street elevated station looks identical to the Bastille station on the Paris Metro. The train goes back underground at 135th Street.
137th Street-City College is the last renovated station. After 137th Street it is still the same stations since 1904. 145th Street was decrepit and peeling. I liked that it had not been tidied up. I got off at 157th Street.
Washington Heights sits at the highest elevated point in NYC. According to the 1990 US Census Bureau, it was the most densely populated area in the US. Washington Heights is also the home to the largest Dominican population outside of the Domincan Republic. I could not even recall the last time I was up in Wash Heights.
Back in the 1980's there was a ridicloulous cultural debate between the residents of Harlem and Wash Heights whether or not Wash Heights was really uptown. As I will get to, there were more serious issues that were to confront Harlem.
What I noticed about the buildings of Wash Heights is how large they are. There is a grandisoity to the apartment buildings there that I have not seen else where. Yet there is something dark and macabre about the buildings. Wash Heights was never a part of town that I frequented very often. It is part of Manhttan so I have been there enough but it was a part of the city which never drew me. I never had many friends from Wash Heights so there were seldom any reasons for me to schlepp on the IRT local up there. I rarely ever went past 125th Street on the number 1 train.
Trinity cemetery is the largest cemetery in Manhattan. It is an Episocopalian cemeterty. My Grandmother was a devout Episcoplaean or as devout as any one in that secular humanist religion can be. It covers 9 Square Blocks where many of the elite of New York are buried. The cemetery is loacted on Riverside Drive between 153rd and 155th Streets. It has the best view of the Hudson River from anywhere in Manhattan. The George Washington Bridge stands majestically nearly 2 miles away. I knew how to find the cemetrery. Next, I needed to scout out a restaurant.
Apparently there is a buffer zone between Wash Heights and Harlem. It is called Heritage Heights. I had never heard of that name before. It must've been a new name. I know the name of eavery neighbourhood and district in Manhattan. If someone were to tell me that a place called Heritage Heights existed in Manhattan, I would have fiecerly contested them. For once, I would have been proved wrong. I would have called it Harlem or even West Harlem. It was a poor district with lots of Latinos and Blacks. I walked down Broadway
People stared at me. Of course. I was dressed in my pinstrip suit jacket with matching vest, sporting a red button down shirt, black tie, black slacks with black shoes. I looked like the 5th and Black member of Kraftwerk.
Since this was NYC, no one stared overtly. There were a few curious glances. I wasn't a cop. Undercovers are too sloppily dressed. Was I lost? I didn't seem to be lost. I had my New York pace and I appeared to know exactly where I was. I did not sense any danger but it was still afternoon and I was on Broadway. I am not sure how I would have fared after 9 or 10PM. Or how safe I would have been in the afternoon on a side street.
I quickly got the impression that I would not find any restuarnats in this part of Manhattan. I got a good look as I walked between 155th Street and 145th Street. This area was no danger of becoming gentrified or ethinically cleansed at least for another 5 years but there it will happen eventually as the corporate barbarians are at the gate. 125th has been breached. 135th Street is the last line of defense. Then it will be 145th street. The Barbarians are coming!
American poverty is staggering. There is poverty in Canada as well but the physical bleakness of the the American Ghettos is heart wrenching. I am sure that many of the Domincan and Latin American immigrants feel as if they have made it. To be fair, no place in Manhattan compares to the bleakness of deprivation of the UK. Still these were the elite poor of America. While they are poor, they are richer than the poor in The Bronx and Brooklyn. They are richer than residents of Chicago's South Side. The very fact that they still live in Manhattan makes them part of the elite.
Every bodega (that's Dep in Anglo Montreal speak) has big signs annocuning that they accept Food Stamps. Every grocery store had big signs ''WIC''(Women Infants Children) where people on welfare can get food and clothes. I was at 145th Street. I took the Number 1 downtown.
I got off at 110th Street Cathedral Parkway. More memories from my childhood. I was back on the Upper West Side(ok Morningside Heights but still). I used to walk down this street every day with Chris when he picked me up from school.
I looked at the buildings. I passed by the building which used to scare me in First Grade. It was a high rise apartment building but along the walls on the second floor were stone carvings of gargoyles. The gargoyles creeped me out as a child. I looked at them on this day and found them funny and not at all scary.
At the corner of 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue is the hidden nuclear reactor that no one is supposed to know about. The Manhattan Project which produced the first atomic bomb was conducted at Columbia Unviersity which is 3 blocks away. After the militray had extracted the plutionium needed for Fat Man and Little Boy, there was still lots of atomic energy left.
On the Southeast corner of 110th and Amsterdam is a very esoteric, non-descript but thougourgly mysterious structure. The entrance is on Amsterdam Avenue. There are high and heavy lead doors. The structure of the building is made of a grey marble. On the front of the building is jsut a small sign which says ConEd. Most people assume that it is a sub-station or transformer station.
It wasn't until 1995 tha I dicovered what it really was. The mother of my friend who works fro ConEd informed me that it was a nuclear reactor. I was in shock. I could not beleive that I lived less than one mile from a nuclear reactor. Worse was the existence of an active nuclear reactor in the middle of Manhattan.
I later researched the reactor. It is a very small reactor which is only one tenth the size of full reactors. Still I wonder how most residents of Manhattan would react if they knew. Wht was interesting was the obvious lack of security. Since no one (until they read this) is aware of a reactor in Manhattan, the authories probably beleive they have no reason to beef up security. Moreover, if there was an increased Military Police guard, people would question the rationale. That would be tricky as the city would have to expose the secret of the atomic reactor.
On the northwest corner of 110th and Amsterdam was V&T Italian restuarant. My mother and grandmother and I had dinner there on Mother's Day back in 1980. I made reservations for 14 for the following afternoon. That was sorted.

SPIRITUAL ROOTS
Across Amsterdam Avenue stands The Cathredral Of St. John The Divine. It is the seat of the Anglican Church in the US. It is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The Cathrdral is also the world's largest Cathredral and the largest house of worship in the United States.
It has been under construction for 150 years. The Cathredral is being built using medeval methods of stone cutting and using basic machines of pulleys and fulcrums to erect it.
I had been unable to reach the Rector of my grandmother's church. I had left several messages informing him of my grandmother's death. They had been close friends and I knew that my grandmother wanted the Rector to perform a service or at the lvery least to bless her body. It was one day before the funeral and I had not been able to get any Episcopalian minister. I had also attempted to find the former vicar of the church. I saw his name in the New York Times in a wedding announcement of which he had performed. I tried to find his number but came up empty. I was feeling emotianlly heavy and went into the Cathedral.
A month after 9-11, an inferno mysteriously engulfed the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The city had already been jittery after 9-11. The fire of the largest Christian church in the US was viewed with paranoia. Was it arson by radical Muslims? Was it the true declaration of war between the Christian and Muslim religions? Not at all. The cause of the inferno was determined to be oil and grease.
The entire first half of the Cathedral was covered under tarp. Usually one has their breath taken away as soon as they entered. The volume and massive space is awe inspiring. The Cathedral normally is big enough to fit the entire Statue of Liberty. Since the fire, one walks through a tunnell rather than the aisle of a church.
The stone and metal masonary on this aisle has either been preserved or restored. It was my first time in the Cathedral in a decade. As Giuliani crakced down hard on marijuana and public smoking of joints, it had become impossible and dangerous to smoke outside. I was still living with my grandmother at the same and all smoking was prohibeted in her house. I used to walk the mile from my house to the Cathedral and would go inside to smoke my spliffs. That is completely allowed. It is a libertarian Church so I did not commit a sin and have no worries about going to Hell. There is no Hell in the secular humanist wing of the Episcopal church.
I grew up as an Episopalian. I was baptised and confirmed in that demoniation. (For more about my religious background and the secular humanism of the New York Episcopal Church please read ''The God of Earth'' entry of this blog.) Who knows, maybe a stoner had smoked to much and accidentaly set the Cathedral alight?
I always liked the stone and metal masonry on the floors of the Cathedral. In the intervening years since my last vist I had lived in the Southwestern French State of Midi-Pyrnees. One of the stone masons had two seals from from that region of France. One is the official coat of arms for Etat Midi-Pyrnees. The other is the heart and flur de lis from the Cathars.
As I went deeper in the Cathdreal the tunnel ended. I looked up and back expecting to see the beautiful 40 meter diameter stained glass window but all I saw were white tarps. Beyond the alter are six small chapels. I was the only person in the Cathedral who was not a tourist.
I entered into a chapel and sat down. I started to break down. I got up and walked to the alter rail where I kneeled down.
I prayed and cried to my grandmother. The floodgates opened. I talked out loud. I affirmed that I did not beleive in God the Father nor did I beleive that Jesus was divine or ressurrected from the dead or that he was the messiah. I only affirmed that I believed in the Holy Spirit. I was at a lost to do as for having a minister bless my grandmother.
I saw one of the dozens of Book Of Common Prayer. I checked the table of contents and went to the pages for the rites of Funerals. I realised that as an Episcolian there was little need for ministers. Unlike the Roman Ctaholic Church where the rituals are for the eyes of the priests only, the Episcopalian Church has no secrets. Every service and ritual from baptism to confirmation to weddings to funerals are printed in the Book Of Common Prayer. Every liturgy of every season of the Church Calender is printed. Bascially, the Book of Common Prayer is a refrence guide for any religious service in or out of Church with or without an ordained minister.
I decided to read two prayers from the Second Rite Of funerals. Unlike the other Chriatian demoninations which elevate teh minister or priest as more divine or knowlegabel about God, there is no hierarchy between lay people and the ordianed clergy. I could could start my own private Episcopal Church in my home and perform all the rituals without being ordained or having attended Divinity School. As long as I use the Book of Common Prayer, nothing else matters. A convient, liberal, do it yourself, take what you need, believe what you want portable religion. I put the Book of Common Prayer in my bag and headed out. I felt relieved. I went out of the Cathedral.
The grounds of The Cathedral of Saint John The Divine occupy 6 Square Blocks of land atop of Morningside Heights. From First to Second Grades I attended the Cathedral School. Stepping out of the Cathedral, I spotted the garden. Nothing had changed. I went to the school building. The memories came back to me. It was not until much later before I appreciated the edcuation of Cathedral School. I was happier at PS 87. From grades K-12, I attended Episcopalian, Catholic and Public School. However, I was happiest in public school. I received a better academic education in private school but received a much better practical and social education in Public School. Also Public School at the time was soft on discipline.
I walked by the playground. I saw some 5th and 6th Grade boys. I didn't get the good sense about them. Unlike observing the kids at PS 87, I did not like these students. I never really liked my classmates at Cathedral School. The white students wre espcially rich, snobbish and reactionary. I recalled how in Second Grade many of the white boys called themselves Nazi's. During Arts and Crafts, many of the white boys would embellish thier drawings of wars and invasions with swastika's. Those boys that I saw reminded me of the kids in my class. All of the racism that I expereinced and witnessed in school only occured in private school. I never expereinced or witnessed any racism or reactionary attitudes in public school. I left the grounds of the Cathedral. I needed to get out to LaGuardia Airport to meet my mother.

M60
Back in the late 1990's the MTA introduced a new bus route the M60. It was the first direct public tranist route to directly conect LaGuardia with Manhattan. The route runs from 106 and Broadway on the Upper West Side through the heart of Harlem on 125th over the Triboro Bridge to Queens via Astoria to LaGuardia.
My mother was scheduled to arrive between 8 and 8:30. I did not know how long the ride would be taking rush hour traffic into consideration. I always try to arrive early at best or on time at the very least when meeting someone coming from out of town. It is rude to leave people wating when they arrive after a long trip.
I waited for the M60 at 110th and Broadway. The bus was due to arrive at 5. It was tardy. A large crowd started to assemble. The same bus stop serves two other routes the M4 and M104. Of course, every two minutes one of those buses arrived but not the M60.
A group of Black women who worked together became agitated. One woman in particular was extremely loud. She was jittery because she had to pick her child up from Day Care and was running late.
''OH MY GAWD! OH MY GAWD! THIS FUCKING BUS! OH MY GAWD! WHERE THE FUCK IS THIS BUS? OH MY GAWD!''
Every time the M104 or M4 would arrive she got louder and more hysterical.
''OH MY GAWD! I CAN'T BELEIVE DIS FUCKING BUS! OH MY GAWD!''
She made veiled threats to no one or nothing is particular.
''OK. I SHOULD TAKE THE M104. FUCK THE M60! THE NEXT TIME THE M104 COMES I'M TAKING IT. IF I HAD TAKEN IT 10 MINUTES AGO, WOULD BE THERE BY NOW!''
Of course the M104 would arrive but instead of taking it as she threatend. She would return to her ''OH MY GAWD'' rave. This was followed by more threats of taking the next M104. Two more M104 buses arrived but she never got on.
By now a crowd of 20 people had assembed waiting for the M60. When it did finally arrive, the usual scramble and jostling to get on the bus occurred. The woman who had been ranting and raving for 20 miuntes had her first spot assured. No one was going to deny her entry first. She cursed out the driver.
It took more than 5 minutes for the bus to leave the stop. It was packed like a fat rat. By the time the bus made it 6 blocks to Columbia University, there was a crowd of 25 waiting for the bus. People grumbled and complained. I was back in New York.
I notice how in Canada and Britain, regardless how late the train or bus is, they maintain the stoic face. If the delay becomes ridiculous Canadians will show dis-content on their faces.b the British remain stone faced. If the delay becomes unbearble only then will Canadians softly grumble. They will ask each other if anyone knows what the delay is. One night at Stratford Station in East London, there was a 3 hour delay with the train. A man my age simpley said to me: ''These trains really take the piss, don't they?'' Usually, I am the one in Canada and Britain to swear and lose my compusure and temper.
The bus finally made it's way on to 125th Street. The Grant Housing Projects were still there but I noticed surveillence cameras on each building. Every playground in the housing project was under survellence.I was nervous to see the damage to the rest of Harlem and it was worse than I imagined. More about Harlem later.
Heading East Crosstown on 125 I noticed a shocking but rather surprising change. All of the formerly privately operated Express Bus lines in the city had been taken over by the MTA. Queens used to have three private bus services but they have all been consolidated into the MTA. It is surprising because it goes the opposite direction of privatisation. London privatised it's bus services in the 1980's. I would have expected to see the MTA privatise it's bus routes but the opposite occurred. This was an important change because all the bus drivers and bus workers are now in the same union. With the exception of New York Bus Service, none of the private bus workers were unionised. Now they are all under the TWU-100.
The bus ascended onto the Triboro Bridge. The Triboro Bridge was built in the 1930s linking Manhattan, The Bronx and Queens. Hence the name Triboro. It is the only Bridge of it's kind in New York City.
From Manhattan the bus crossed over the East River to Randall's Island. After the toll plaza (Americans love their toll roads) the route to Queens runs high above Randall's Island and crosses over to Ward's Island.
Though I have been to Randall's Island, I have never stepped foot on Ward's Island and with good reason. Ward's Island is home to the New York City Department of Corrections Ward's Island Hospital For the Criminally Insane. There are only two ways to get to Ward's island and both are by foot. There is a small foot bridge between 103rd Street in Manhattan over the East River to Ward's Island. The second way is a small and hidden bridge linking Randall's and Ward's Islands.
I have driven across the Triboro Bridge many times by car. Tonight there was heavy traffic. I got the closest look at Ward's Island Facility. From the distance the facility looks ominious. It was built in the 1930's and seems to rival with Italian Fascist archietcture. The complex is 22 stories high. From the bus, I could see the shiloutess of the inmates inside. As the bus crept at a slow pace I saw the recreation yard. The yard is surrounded by 30 feet high fencing with barbed wire. I saw some of the inmates outside. One poor soul was sprawled out in the middle of the handball court. One inmate saw that a city bus was stuck on the bridge and waved at us. It occurred to me how large the facility was. There must be lots of criminally insane people in New York City to have a facility that large. I have passed state and federeal peneteriaries that were much smaller than Ward's Island. I have seen the infamous Wormwood Shrubs prison in London as well as Broadmoor in Devon and they were smaller in scale. Ward's Island may very well be one of the largest houses of detention in the Western World.
The bus continued and we crossed over Hell's Gate. Hell's Gate got it's name back in the 1600's by maritime captains and sailers. It is very rough waters. Hell's Gate are not rapids but very unstable cross currents. Hell's Gate is the body of the East River east of Randall and Ward's Islands. It is where the Long Island Sound narrows into a strait which the East River is. As the bus crossed slowly over Hell's Gate I saw the turbulent waters below. On the other side next to the Queens branch of the Triboro Bridge stands the Hell's Gate Bridge. It is a railway bridge which looks like an older and rustier version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. It was built nearly 20 years before the Triboro Bridge. It is very interesting that the city's hopsital for the criminally insane is located next to Hell's Gate. It was sunset over NYC and I could the new twinkling ligts of the Manhattan skyline. I saw three ships being tugged down river. I could see the northern tip of Roosevelt Island. For another fantastic panorama of New York, the Triboro Bridge between Ward's Island and Astoria Queens is highly reccommneded.
The bus finally got over the Bridge onto Astoria Blvd. I saw the Astoria Blvd Elevated station. I was in New York for sure. If there is anything disticntive about New York it is the IRT built and desgined elevated stations and trestles. Eventaully, we made it to LaGuradia Airport. For some reason even though I was under 2 hours early I failed to meet my mother.

THE FUNERAL
Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep the night before the funeral. I was depressed. I needed to smoke a spliff but spliffs in New York are rare to find as a 40 year old virgin. Max took me out to eat.
I was dreading the funeral for many reasons. What I dreaded most was seeing my family. I had been estranged from my family for a long time. I had been estranged from my mother for 24 years. I had not seen her in 6 years and we parted ways acrimoniously. My Uncle Warren and I had been estranged for 10 years. The last time we had any communication was in the form of a brutal and nasty but well deserved letter me to him. Then were was my Nazi grandfather who I had not seen in over a decade. I was not sure how much tension there would be.
I went down to NYC only for my grandmother. I did not care about my family. I was there only to give and offer help for my grandmother to rest in peace. I had told Max in detail over the years about my family. That was the reason why I wanted Max to come with me to the funeral. I had told him that he would see my pathological family in action. I was that sure it was going to be tense.
I got about 3 hours of sleep. I was supposed to meet with my uncle around noon at the cemetery. I had planned to take the subway uptown. Max didn't get out of bed until 11:30. He decided that she should cab it uptown and that he would cover it.
We grabbed a cab at 4th and Bowery and made our way uptown. In the taxi, I stared at the buildings.
''You know Max, New York's spirit and culture is dead but it is still one of the most intersting and uniquelooking cities in the world.'' That is why many new visotrs to New York are unaware of the profund political and cultural changes in the city. New York is only a shell of a city. The physial structure such as the buildings and subway and bridges are the same. However, New York is dead. A cultural wasteland.
The taxi made it's way along 12th Avenue. Max told me of the plans to develop the Hudson waterfront. The west bank of Manhattan was always barren and desolate compared to the east bank. It was the old port area. It was historically a place for sialors and prostitues. However, with the steady decline of shippping, the west side of Manhattan has been bare, desloate and forlorn for 4 deacdes. I know that the condos and corporate sharks will take over but let them. There is no community to displace. There has never been any real neighbourhood west of 9th Avenue. Affordable housing would be the best but that is an impossibility.
After 59th Street, 12th Avenue becomes the Henry Hudson Pkwy but everyone still calls it West Side Highway. What I never liked about the Upper West Side and Riverside Park was that access to the Hudson River was obsturcted by the highway. We turned off 158th Street and got out at 155 and Riverside Drive. From 1 block away I saw my Uncle with his wife. The big surprise was my younger cousin Albizu who had just turned 20. I had not seen him since he was 9 years old.
Immedialty my uncle and I embraced each other. There was not a hint of hostility. I greeted his wife Lydia. Her brother Hector was there. I remember him from 25 years back. When my uncle and his wife first dated, I met many of her relatives. Hector used to be s subway conductor. Lydia had his condutors hat and gave it to me. I used to wer it every where even though it was 6 sizes too big and the brim would go down to my nose.
We came to the chapel and saw my grandmother's casket. My uncle decided to keep the casket closed because 8 days had passed between her death and the funeral. I was relieved. I certianly did not want to see the corpse. I want my last memory of her to remain how it is. The last time I saw my grandmother was in Atlanta in 2000. I was boarding the coach back to NYC when she and I waved goodbye to each other. Her Alheizer's was pretty severe by then. I had a dark and heavy inutition at the same that I was aving my final goodbye to her.
Eventually my mother arrived. I was worried about her. I thought that she had a breakdown and decided not to come to New York. The days after my grandmother's death I received some pretty disturned and intense emails from her. I had to calm her down in the email exchanges. For some mysterious reason she and I missed each other at the airport the previous evening. My mother looked well. She now sports bi-focals and is in the peak of middle age. Warren really showed his age at 64. He did had his dreads and beard but they were grey. My grandfather really aged. He is in his early 80's. He has a bad knee. He was usually always spry and full of vitality through his 70s but even he has to age.
Finally the Philly branch of the family arrived. My grandmother was raised in Philadelphia where she had lived for 20 years prior to moving to New York in the mid 1940's. Her neice Debbie came with her two kids and two grand daughters. I had not seen them in 15 years. The last time I saw Collique, he was 11 years old. He is now 30 years old.
My family is small but we are diverse. My uncle has often dated and married Puerto Rican women. Lydia is his 3rd wife over all and his second Puerto Rican wife. 3 of my cousins are Puerto Rican. Lydia's sister and brother were there. The Philly Soul branch was there. My mother had come the furthest from Los Angeles. I came from Montreal. My uncle, his wife and son from connecticut.
Max was not the only person who was not related. 4 of my uncle's students and ta's came down from Connecticut as well.
We decided to get the service going. My grandmother was a brilliant and practical woman. She had organsied her funeral 16 years before she died. She had written most of her own eulogy 10 yers ago. My uncle got up and began to read. He broke down and barely got through it. I bought a pack of tissues just for that.
I got up and mentioned some words. I exlained how my grandmother broke down barriers. She was the first person of colour to ever break into the management ranks in Beth Israel Hospital in the 1950s. I also touched upon how she educated all of us. How she maned to raise children who became professors and artists. One of the requests that my grandmother made was to have ''Precious Lord'' played or sung at her funeral. I sang the song pretty badly. I only knew half the tune and read from the lyrics I had printed off the internet the day before.
The service ended and the casket was moved. My grandmother had bought a mauseloem. She bought it back in 1990. She did not want to be cremated and the notion of her being buried with dirt thrown over her was too much. My grandmother picked a spot in front of a bench and grassy knoll directly over looking the Hudson River with the GW Bridge.
''That way you can have tea when you come and vist me,'' my grandmother reasoned at the time she bought it.
The grave workers were geting prepared. I took the Book of Common Prayer and read prayers for her. One prayer for her soul and another prayer to bless the tomb. It was the only time I ever uttered a prayer with sincerity. Though I don't beleive in Heaven or Hell, I know that my grandmother did. For her sake, I wanted her to go to Heaven. She beleived that it was important for the body to be blessed and prayed over to help ensure it. So my prayer and blessings were most sincere.
I was annoyed that the Rector from St. Geroge's Church never got in touch with us or showed up. Either way, my blessing and prayer would have been better than his. It was only two weeks after I returned to Montreal that I dsocvered that the Rector had a stroke.
We went to V&T afterwards and caught up with each other. The estrangment was over. My family and I had buried the hatchet. Thorugh her passing, my grandmother had united the family. It was brillaint day. It was 25 degrees centigrade and sunny without a cloud in sight.
My uncle gave my a bag full of photos that my grandmother had. I went down to Thompkins Square Park after lunch and looked through them. There were some interesting pitures from her trips to Europe in 1970. Of all the pics of her that one that I kept was the one taken in Madrid. My grandmother was half cuban. Her name was Juanita Fernandez. She obviously has Spanirad ancestry. The photgoraph of her in Madrid caught the best of her features. Her natural red hair, he smile, her clothing. In the picture she looked like a Spaniard. She appears in the photo to be at ease. That will be the photo of her that I will keep and cherish.

HARLEM, INC
My mother and I decided to spend some time with each other in NYC and to get re-acquainted. She wanted to see Ground Zero so I took her down. She was also lost and disoriented being in the finaical district though she knew her way around. We broke for lunch and decided to go up to Harlem.
We took the number 4 train from Fulton Street up to 125. It was funny to see that the Lexington Avenue line had not changed in spite of the new subway trains. As usual, all the whites got off the 86th Street. New York has always been a racially polarised and segregated city. That is most evident on the subway. Outside of Manhattan, the subway is the only space where the races mingle and the subway is where the most racial tension in the city surfaces.
Albert Owens, a Black comic who used to do his stand up act in Wshington Square Park aptly characterised the racial divide on the subway. Owens would pretnd to be the subway conductor announcing: '''86th Street is next! All white people get off the train! I repeat all white people must get off the the train.' Then the white people get into the postion to sprint. At 86th they run off the train. 'Fuck the baby in the stroller bitch! This is 86th!'''
But the Lex was not the only line to witness such phemonmena. On the IND, white people used to vacate the A and D trains at 59th Street. The reason was that the next stop was 125th Street. In the 1980's film ''The Brother From Another Planet', a white magician cum scam arttist says: 'For my final trick I am going to make all the white people disappear from the train.'' Sure enough, the conductor announces 59th Street and all the white people get off the train. However times have chaged at least on the IND but I get ahead of myself.
Back on the Number 4 train we get off at 125th. It is the last stop in Manhattan before the trains go up to The Bronx. My mother remarked how the West Bronx residents looked the same with the same attitude.
As we ascended the stairs I told my mother to brace her self.
''Why?''
''Because Harlem is different.''
As soon as we surfaced from the subway at 125th and Lex, my mother went into shock.
"Oh my God, where are we?"
On the corner stood a huge Pathmark shopping store. Pathmark used to only be found in the white middle class areas of Queens and Brooklyn.
My mother looked around in utter bewilderment.
"If you were not here with me I would be lost and not know where I was!"
We made our way on 125th. My mother saw the Park Avenue El and breathed a sigh of relief.
"At least the train is still there. That's the only thing I recognise."
We walked west. Every shop that had only been seen south of 96th Street was now on 125th.
On the corner of Park and 125th stood a construction lot. The sgin on the fence announced the construction of a new corporate sky scraper.
Half of the pedestrians were white. In front of us walked a white yuppie couple with a baby on the mother's back.
"Where are we? What happened?" My mother's shock becoming worse.
We came upon Madison Avenue. A new building was there. It was the Harlem Academy for Girls. It is a charter(half public-half private) shcool exclusively for Black girls of Harlem.
My mother and I had planned to vist her friend Yadoo. Yadoo used to live on the corner of 126th and Madison. At first my mother thought that the new school had teken up the entire block and that Yadoo's building at been demolished. When we walked to 126th and Madison my mother breathed a sigh of relief as the building was still standing.
When I saw the brownstone building I knew that we would not find Yadoo. The building at been rennovated. We went to the ground floor apartment. In the window stood a ADT Alarm sign.
"That's new! I don"t remember seeing that in his window," my mother remarked.
She rang the doorbell. A white man opned the door. My mother asked for Yadoo and of course the white man had no idea who she was talking about. We went back to 125th Street.
I began to worry about my mother. In all the years that I have known her, never had she been shaken and spooked as she was that day.
Back on 125th street we passed Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank. The top corporate banks in the past which never did business above 96th Street. My mother could not beleive it when she saw Bank of America.
"Where are all the Black people? What happended to all the old stores?" My mother asked in desperation.
We came upon the corner of 125th and Lenox Avenue. A Starbucks was there. That was too much for me to take. I looked inside the Starbucks. I wanted to see who was in there. I could not imagine the typical Black Harlem resident stepping foot inside Starbucks. In the window I spotted a white woman. The rest of the customers were all Black women. There was not a single Black male inside.
Crossing Lenox we passed Duane Reade Pharmacy.
"Duane Read! On 125th Street. In Harlem!" My mother is very funny but this was sad and scary. Dunae Reade was the epitome of downtown white middle class establisments. Duane Reade was never found in a single Black or Puerto Rican part of NYC.
Next we passed H&M Department Store. Across the street was Niketown. We came upon the Harlem State Office Building. That was the only structure that we both recognised. My mother felt lightheaded and we decided to sit down.
I explained to my mother that what we were witnessing were the effects of Globalisation.
"Globalisation! I hear them talk about that on TV all the time but I don"t know what it means!"
My mother also realised why Bill Clinton had moved to Harlem. When she heard that he had moved to Harlem, she was bewildered. It became crystal clear to her why Clinton had moved to Harlem.
I hate Bill Clinton. I explained to my mother how Globalisation was a key policy of the Clinton administration. Clinton beleived that the way to end racial and ethnic tensions was to promote globalisation. Clinton was aware of the social and economic disparity beetween white and black americans. He knew that whites had shopping centres such as Pathmark, Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, etc. The Black ghettos of the US were excluded from the consumerism enjoyed by white middle class america. His scheme was to bring the suburbs into the inner city. The idea was that if white and blak americans had the same and eqaul access to consumer goods that would eliminate difference.
I further explained to my mother how the War On Terror was bogus. It has nothing to to with combating or eliminating terrorism. The point of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq was to transform Kabul and Baghdad in the exact same manner as Harlem had been transformed. In esscence, Globalisation is a liberal attempt to eliminate differences in cultures and socities.
My mother objected with the greatest of indigination: "You can't eliminate difference! That"s impossible!"
I had already fled NYC when I read that Bill Clinton moved to Harlem. My first reaction was "there goes the neighbourhood."
My mother noted that when the Harlem State Office Building was built back in 1972, most Blacks in Harlem thought it was erected so that the State could spy on the residents.
We walked past AC Powell Blvd. The Apollo Theart was still up but that too had changed. It is now owned by the Clear Channel Corporation. On this day there were tapings of the TV program "It's Showtime At The Apollo." There were white employees annocuning that the taping was free and the host was Whoppi Goldberg. My mother and I were too disenchanted to go. On queue waiting to go in were mostly white tourists. We continued West.
"Where did everyone go? What happended to all the regular folks? Where is Yadoo? Even if he had changed buildings we would have still saw him?" My mother asked.
Very good question.
On Frederick Douglass Blvd we had seen enough. There was Addidas City.
"What happened to all the Korean business'? Where did all the Koreans go?" My mother was in shock. She was suffering from Trauma.
We decided to see if another friend of hers was around. We went down to AC Powell and 124th. The building was there but the interior had changed. The walls in the lobby had been stripped down. Electrical wiring was hanginf from holes in ceilings. The building was in the process of being converted into a condo. Of course the people we looked for no longer lived there.
Stepping out of the bulding we looked east on 124th Street and saw a penthouse apartment being constructed. My mother has a wicked sense of humour. 20 years ago she would have quipped that she lived in a penthouse in Harlem. There were never any Penthouses north of 96th Street in Manhattan.
"I've got a Pnethouse in Harlem." My mother quipped with bitterness and dismay.
What is happening in Harlem is a genocide. A cultural genocide taking the form of economic ethnic cleansing.
Article 2 section c of the UN Convention of genocide states:
Harlem is being physically desturcted in whole. Since Harlem is the cultral and political capital of Black America and that the econmic condtions are being set to bring about the physical destruction of Blacks in New York City.
In a UN paper on Ethnic Cleansing the author Karyn Baker writes: "Ethnic cleansing has been defined as "the elimination of an unwanted group from society, as by genocide or forced migration."(Italics mine). Blacks are being forced to migrate out of Harlem by ecnomic means.
I know that I am using loaded language. Many readers will object to my classification of "econmic ethnic cleasning". Many readers will argue that Harlem is being gentrified not ethnically cleansed. To bolster my argument, I will give a brief history of Harlem.
HARLEM:FROM BLACK POWER TO EHTNIC CLEANSING
Harlem was not origianlly built for Blacks. To the contrary, Harlem was built for the wealthy whites of Manhattan around the First World War. However, affluent whites choose to live in the counties of Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties north of The Bronx.
Harlem is located in the the geographical centre of Manhattan and has the best residentail housing stocks built for its time. Many Blacks came to New York from the South at the end of the First World War. Though Blacks fought in the war and won the war for the US, when they returned home, they faced the worst violence ever seen in the history of the country. The year 1919 was known as Red 1919 because of the tens of thousands of Blacks murdered in the sotuh the year following the arimstice. After World War Two was more racial violence against Blacks but not on the scale of 1919. It was not only the South that saw racial violence but also Northern cities such as Chicago. In 1919, the future Mayor of Chiacgo Richard Daly insitigated the worst race riot in the history of that city. 5 thousand Blacks were killed in one weekend alone by mobs of working class whites.New York City was one of the few cities to escape the racial carnage of 1919. Blacks moved to New York in droves.
Though New York did not have the violence, it was a racist and segregated city. The only place outside of the Lower East Side of Manhattan(the historical base of Blacks in NYC) where landlords would rent was in Harlem.
Still Harlem was not a ghetto in either the American or European sense of the word. In other northern metropoles such as Chicago and Detroit, Blacks were forced to live in the periphery of the city. The Black ghettos were isolated and were derprived of essential services such as sanitation and public transport. Moreover, in the Black Ghettos of America the housing stock was inferior and often of shoddy design and workmanship.
Harlem was different. It was in the middle of Manhattan. By 1936 ten subway lines served Harlem plus 125th street was a major stop on the New York Central and New Haven Railroads. The Brownstone buildings of Harlem were top rank as far as their beauty and comepted only with the grand masions of the robber barrons in their granddeur. Far from being a marginalised ghetto, Harlem was prime real estate connected directly to the rest of the city and the rest of the country.
By the 1930's Harlem had 1 million residents. It had its own congressional distict. Harlem became the first area in the US where Blacks had their own political representation in the US House of Representatives. It also had it's own seat in the New York City Council. Until the period of de-colonisation of Africa and the West Indies, only Harlem and Martinique were the only places in the world were Black people had any political representation, power and most importantly autonomy. The Black ghettos of Boston, Chicago and Detroit were gerrymandered to neighbouring white areas to ensure that Blacks had no political representation.
Harlem was not only a place where Blacks had political power and autonomy but they had cultural autnomy as well. I do not need to elaborate about the Harlem Renaissance and it's cultural infulecne on the world. Moreover, Harlem was one of the few places in the world whre Blacks could escape the domination and racism of whites. To be sure, white domination took shape mostly in the form of the police, educators and landlords but that was a small price to pay for freedom. In the 1920's when the Ku Klux Klan and mobs of racist whites would raid and rampage Black areas of the country, Harlem was spared. The Ku Klux Klan knew that any attempt to raid Harlem would be a suicide mission. Moreover Harlem was where one could get a slight refuge from corportate capitialism.
Harlem was also where the Communist Party had it's major base in the US. It is estimated that 10% of Harlem's residents were members of the Communist Party. (By the way, the main reason why the Communist Party was attacked and hounded was due to its policy of raical equality. Most of the Communits and alleged Communists who were suponeded to the House Committe of Un-Amrican Activities were Black. Very few whites were summonsed to Washington. White communists or those who were alleged to be were mostly black-listed but not legally pursued.)
Harlem was also where Facism had its biggest support in New York. In the 1930's Black Communists fought running street battles with Black Fascists. Fascism had always had fertile ground in Harlem due to Black Facist Natainalists such as Macus Garvey and later on with Sam Saddiq who called himself the Black Hitler.
On the corner of 125th and Lenox where today Starbucks, Duane Reade and H&M are located was the political centre of Harlem. There Communists and Black Nationalists held rallies. Marcus Garvery, WEB DuBois Malcom X, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr and Fidel Castro all spoke before mass rallies and meetings.WEB DuBOis held public debates with Garvey and Langston Hughes.
125th Street was the social meeting place for Blacks. It was not only a thorughofare for shopping and entertainment but a street where Blacks would discuss politics and philosophy. All of the great questions and issues of the times were discussed and debated on 125th Street. 125 was the place to meet and make friends. It was to place to flirt and cruise.It was the intellectual seat for the Black World.
Between the 1920s and and the 1940s, Harlem was the night life capital of the world. Nightlife was where Blacks and whitew would congregate together. On Friday and Satruday nights the Uptown subway trains were packed with whites from downtown heading up to Harlem to listen to and dance to Jazz and drink at bars. Of course many whites went to Harlem to find sex with Black people. The Cabaret Law (passed in the 20s and ignored from the 60s to early 90s and enforced again under Giuliani) was passed due to the interracial sex that often followed a night of dancing between Black and white.
Not having complte economic autonomy created tensions between Blacks and Jews. Most of the landlords of Harlem were Jews. In fat, Jews were the only white landlords who would rent to Blacks. Most of the grocery and department stores such as the non defunct Blumstein were also owned by Jews. Until the 1950's Blumstein's and all the other shops on 125th Street refused to hire Blacks. Herein lies the genesis of the Black-Jewish conflict in New York.
After the 1964 riots, most of the Jewish shop owners closed and left Harlem. Many of the Jewish landlords abandoned their proterites and would refuse to take care of the buildings anymore while still collecting rent. Many Jewish landowners sold their buildings to Columbia University which remains today the largest landlord in Harlem.
From the late 60s until the mid 80s, Blacks took control of the economic activity. The richest Blacks in the US, lived in Sugar Hill on West Harlem. They started the largest Black radio station in the US. By the 1950's Harlem had taken poltical control over Manhattan. Since then all but 2 Borough Presidents of Manhattan have all been Black. The West Harlem rich became the political elite of Manhattan. It was not the the super rich Upper East Side which ran Manhattan politcally but Harlem. Harlem and the Upper West Side have shared political power.
When Adam Clayton Powell took his seat in the US House of Representatives, he wielded extreme power over Mayor LaGuardia. Until Giuliani, every Mayor of New York City owed their power to Harlem. The Harlem poltical establishmet could make or break any politician in Manhattan. Since Harlem and Manhattan is overwhelmingly Democrat, no Democrat poltician could ill afford to alineate or cross paths with Harlem. I cannot think of any other city in the western world where Blacks wielded political power in municpal affairs as in Harlem and New York. The peak and end of Black political power in New York came with the mayoralty of David Dinkins. Dinkins came from the Harlem political and economic elite. Because a successful candidate for Mayor must have the support of the other 4 Boroughs, it took a long time for Manhattan political power to translate into citywide poltical power. Manhattan has always been the least racist part of New York City. The Brooklyn, Queens and espcially Staten Island political machines were steeped in racism and did everything until the bitter end to exclude Blacks. Because of Harlem and the support of the white left on the Upper West Side, Blacks controlled Manhattan politically.
Still Blacks did not control the economics of Manhattan. That was firmly held by white elites on the Upper East Side and by the robber baron ruling class from Westchester and upstate represented by the Rockefellars who controlled Midtown and the Finncial District around Wall Street.
The racism which manifested in Manhattan was economic. The big banks such as Citibank and Chase Manhattan did not have any branches north of 96th Street. There was a process known as redlining. Redlining meant that not only the abscence of branches but more significantly meant that loans were not given to residents and black business men Uptown. That is why the Harlem eleites set up their own banks such as Carver Federal Savings and the Harlem Savings Bank. Most Blacks in Harlem did not have bank accounts. Most residents used independent check chasing establishments which dotted the lansdscape of Harlem.
Also the big white owned retail chain supermarkets such as D'agostino and Gristedes were not found north of 96th Street. Uptown only had the low end supermarkets such as C-Town where the selections were sparse and the quality of food less than in the white downtown supermarkets. The big white pharmcies such as Duane Reade and Genveve were not found in Harlem. Instead there were independent Black owned pharmacies in Harlem. Many activists in Harlem decried and fought against the systematic exclusion of these retail otlets from Harlem.
By the 1980's may Korean immigrants arrived and set up grcoery stores and other shops in Harlem. This led to many clashes and resentments. Blacks felt indignant that they could not recieve loans to open up businesses but that Koreans who had recently arrived did. There were many cultural mis-understandings. Many Koreans had limited English skills and even if they had learnt English, they could not comprehend the Black slang of Harlem. Koreans were promptly taught upon arrival to dis-trust Blacks and that all Blacks were criminals. When Korean shop owners would catch kids shoplifting, they would beat them. Young Black males would be followed around by the shop owners. The tensions culminated in 1990 when there was a citywide boycott of Korean stores by Blacks.
Here is where the Trotskyist arugment about race and class is correct. Both Koreans and Blacks face racism and discrimination by white society. Banks give Korens slightly more. This fuels resentments. Blacks and Koreans clash but look what happended. Today all the Korean shops have been forced out of business. There are not Black owned shops left on 125th. Instead, there is now multi-national corporations in Harlem. Both the Blacks and Koreans lost out.
In 1996, New York Govonor George Pataki pulled the biggest scam in the history of Harlem. With much fanfare, he announced the creation of an "Economic Empowerment Zone" for Harlem. Pataki announced a massive infusion of state funds to revitalize the economy of Harlem. New York State gave away tax breaks so that multi-national corporations could move on to 125th Street. This was also a public-private sponsorship. Donald Trump and Disney also contributed to the investment of the Economic Empowerment Zone.
When I first heard the announcement in the summer of 1996, the words of Public Enemy immediately came to mind. Can't truss it! The gullible Black political leadership jumped at the bait. Congressman Charles Rangel, City Councilwoman C. Virgina Fields and the top busniness and political leader and former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton all praised Pataki. Of course the Black religious leadership which is a political force to reckon with jumped on the band wagon.
To further divide and confuse people, Pataki announced that the Economic Empowerment Zone would be split between Harlem and the South Bronx just across the Harlem River. The Bronx is politcally controlled by Puerto Ricans. This led to a fierce competitve battle between Black Harlem and Puerto Rican South Bronx. It was a blessing in disguise for The Bronx and a disaster for Harlem which was able to secure the lion's share of funding. This had the devastating effect of breaking the poltical unity forged between Blacks and Puerto Ricans in New York. The political destrutction of this alliance led to the re-election of Mike Bloomberg in 2005.
The banks moved in. The ubiquitous double decker tour buses started to roll through the streets of Harlem. As real estate prices increased the Korean merchants were the first to close their doors. Harlem had been put on sale. Ten years later, 1/3 of the Black residents of Harlem have been displaced.
However this had been a long term plan. Back in 1983, the Harlem based WWRL radio broke the story detailing plans set up by former Mayor Ed Koch, Donald Trump and Chase Manhattan Bank to remove Blacks from Harlem.
In the 1950's as Blacks demanded equality and became upwardly mobile, whites fled by by the hundreds of thousands out to Long Island. However Long Island is not the most conveninet place to live if one works in Manhattan. The Long Island Expressway(LIE) has been dubbed the world's largest parking lot. The Long Island Railroad(LIRR) is one of the most inefficeint railroads in the western world coming a close second to British Rail(BR). For the commuter who lives in central Nassau County faces on avearge a 6 hour commute each day.
It dawned upon the white ruling class that Harlem was in the heart of Manhattan. It takes less than 10 minutes to get from Harlem to midtown on the A train. It takes 15 minutes to get from Harlem to Wall Street. Why should the stock brokers and white collar workers have to deal with the LIRR and a 3 hour commute each way while Blacks in Harlem enjoyed the convience of promixity? The plan was to ethnically cleanse Harlem of Blacks. Eventually the plan was to remove most if not all Blacks from the five Boroughs of New York and replace them with white suburbanites. The majority of New York's 3 million Blacks live in Brooklyn. The A train takes no more than 30 minutes from East New York to midtown Manhattan.
In the Fall of New York I dwcrine about how Priscilla Wooten, the Black City Councilwoman from Queens had endorsed Rudolph Giuliani for re-election in 1997. She endorsed Giuliani because of his plans to develop East New York, Brooklyn which is the poorest district in the city. The plan was the same as it was in Harlem; to build new condos and shopping malls in East New York. The Black residents would be forced out in place of middle class white yuppies.
In 1992, Chase Manhattan Bank moved it's headquarters from the Manhattan Financial District to Brooklyn. Chase Manhattan bought most of the land from Ft. Greene, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick. The agenda was spelled out in Chase's development plan. The plan was to transform the dangerous and crime ridden areas and build new housing developments.
For Marxists who insist that this is about class and not about race should consider the examples of Laurelton and Hollis out in Queens. Those were the two most affluent Black areas in the US. Bewteen 1996-2001, one quarter of the Black residents had their homes foreclosed by the banks. Whether Blacks are poor or affluent there is a process of ethnically cleansing Blacks from New York City.
As I wrote in The Fall of New York, the responsibility of this is not only with the white ruling class but with the Black political leadership which allowed this to happen. Of course there will be a polital price to pay. In central Brooklyn which is the heart of the city's Black Belt, the political hold by Black eletced officials is perilous. For the first time in 50 years, a white right wing Republican is running in Central Brooklyn. He will not win the upcoming election but will secure at least 35% of the vote. Harlem, which was the first district since the 1880's to have Black political power, will see Blacks lose power within 6 years as the Black population declines.
This is a very sophisticated and insidious form of ethnic cleansing. Unlike in Europe or Africa where the cleansing in carried out by force of arms and violence, the ethnic cleansing is occuring through economic means of coercerion. It flies beneath the radar. Only Blacks realise what is occuring but since Blacks are no longer deemed to be signifigant or important who will listen or even care? Since this has occurred with the tacit support and collaboration of the Black political leadership, the racist nature of the cleansing is obscured.
Where is the good Reverened Al Sharpton? Where is Mr. Big Mouth. How come he has not made a peep about the ethnic cleansing of Harlem? Oh that's right. He must be busy defending the Ku Klux Klan and racist cops. He must be busy cashing his cheques he recieves for posing in ads for The Gap. He is too busy sabotaging the Democratic Party. Why am I savagely attacking Al Sharpton? I question why Blacks and the left in the US support Sharpton at all? Al Sharpton was a paid FBI informant back in the 1960s spying on civil rights activists. I never trusted Sharpton ever since he made too much about the Bernard Goetz subway shooting. (Goetz over-reacted but he had valid reasons to suspect those Black kids were going to mug him. Sharpton made it into a racial incident when it wasn't.)
I had become luke-warm about Sharpton in the 1990's because he was leading the opposition against Guiliani but since 1999, he has revealed himself to be a treacherous snake in the grass. In 1999, Sharpton appeared on billboards across the city in ads for The Gap. That cannot be justified for any reason. Also in 1999, when the Ku Klux Klan held its first ever rally in Manhattan, Sharpton filed a friends of the court brief to support their right to hold a rally! Can anyone say Marcus Garvey deja vu? In 2000, a NYPD officer faced disciplinary charges for racist conduct. During the Labor Day parade in Broad Channel, the officer and others participated in the parade wering Blackface and re-enacted the dragging lynching of a Black man in Texas. Sharpton went to the cop's defence arguing for his freedom of expression. Ever since then, Sharpton revealed himself as a enemy to Black people.
This is not unique to Harlem. The same is occuring in Atlanta which is supposeely the best city in America for Blacks to live. There is no more public housing in Atlanta. All of the Blacks have been evicted from the projects. The projects have all been renovated and turned into condos. Again, this has occurred in a city where the entire city government is Black. Hurricane Katrina will effect the same changes in New Orleans in the future. I cannot go into details about the nature and motivations of the Black political leadership in this post but there are many parrales with the collusion of Jews with Anti-Semites in Austria and the rise of Nazism in Germany.
Black America is dead. With the seizure of Harlem, which was the centre and symbol of Black power and culture, Blacks have been thorughly disenfranchised in the US. From the overt disenfranchisement of the right to vote in Florida during the 2000 Presidential election to the eliminaton of public housing in Atlanta to Katrina in New Orleans, Blacks have been put on notice that they are not wanted. That Blacks don't count. Blacks need to step back and get out of the way. This is the second time since the Civil War that Blacks have had their political and civial rights taken away. There can can never be any equality of Blacks in the US. It will take another 60 years before Blacks have to fight again for Civial Rights for a third time. However, I seriously wonder if there will be any Blacks alive then. Why am I afraid that the Blacks who will be alive will be enslaved in prisons and concnetration labour camps?
What is worse is the ignornace and indifference of the white left in the US to this. The white left today is a far cry from the Communists in the 1930s and the Socialists from the 50s to 70s. Teh white left today does not care about the ethnic cleansing occuring in the United States. In fact, the white left is in utter denial of what is obvious. With the discrediting of Marxism, the white left today does not see racial justice as its priority. The white left is deeply racist and in denial of their own racism. Before the white Marxists reached out to Blacks and Puerto Ricans to show that they were in real solidarity and that they actually cared. The white left in the US is insular. They contain themselves in the LES and Park Slope. They make no attempt to reach out. In fact, the white left is part of the problem as well.
Soon, the white left will find itself completely isolated from Blacks in the US. Blacks have no reason to trust whites. Without mutliracial solidarity the left will lose. Since the "progressive" Black leadership has fallen asleep at the switch there is no left wing alternative for Blacks. Younger Blacks sho do decide to take action will fall back into seperatism, nationalism and fascism. Richard Wright in the 1950s and James Baldwin in the 1960s predicted this will occur.
This was the main reason why I fled from the United States. I do not want to live under fascism nor do I want to hate whites. During my entire visit to New York, my hatred of white people was becoming alarming intense. If I lived in the United States, I would find it diffilcut to trust more than 4 whites. The race war is here.
HARLEM USA
125th Street has been transformed into Main Street, USA. My mother and I walked back to Lexington Avenue. Just before the Park Avenue sharply dressed Black man with a British accent stopped me.
"Do I know you?" He asked.
I recognised his face barely. He told me his name. AD. I knew AD when I lived in Vienna. At the time he was a Hip Hop producer living and working in Austria. I first met him in New York 3 years before I went to Vienna. When I first met him he had an American accent though he was British.
"You're British now I see!"
I introduced him to my mother. AD introduced us to his financee.
"What do you think of this?" AD asked of my impressions of Harlem.
"It's all rather mad. It's quite surreal!" I replied.
AD was in complete agreement.
"You know when I moved to New York as a teenager I wanted so much to be American. I'm not American. I'm British. This is not my country. This is not my culture. This country is a mess! I'm just visiting to to show my financee New York."
I told AD that I had moved to Montreal. We exchanged email addresses.
My mother and I went into the subway.
"I have lots to tell when I get back to LA. I go to a Korean Church and the pastor used to live in Harlem. He will be in shock when I tell him what what I saw."
My mother took the uptown local to The Bronx. I went to the lower level to take the Downtown express.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Morning from Port Orange, Fl.
I enjoyed reading through your blog. I have posted references to your blog on my web site, on my Long Island and New York , Righetous Religions and Philosoophy web pages.

Can you send me e mail notices when you post such topics again, so
that I can make references to them
on my web site? I would appreciate that.

Hank Springer, Port Orange Images,
Photo Magazine On Line,
www.portorangeimages.com
poimages@cfl.rr.com

Saturday, October 28, 2006  

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