An Open Letter to Michael Bloomberg

Brought on by this gem.

Dear Mr. Bloomberg,

You just insist on pissing people off lately, don’t you. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if you get off on the fallout, especially when you come out with zingers like this one.

“You’ll get used to it”? Seriously?!

Mr. Bloomberg, who do you think you are? Truly. Who do you think you are? Because last time I checked, the Middle Ages have expired and you aren’t the king, New York City in 2013 is not Soviet Russia of the 1960s, and this being the United States with a penumbral right to privacy supported by both the US Constitution and courtroom precedent in the United States Supreme Court – look up the definition of penumbral if you aren’t comfortable with big words – I want to know what, exactly, you think you are doing and who, exactly, you think you are by condoning drone espionage on New Yorkers. Probable cause hasn’t even entered your thinking process, has it?

First of all, don’t even think about giving the bullshit line of, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about”. That is not the damned point. The NYPD is just as notorious as the LAPD in terms of abuse of power, if not more so, and you granting the NYPD the sort of technology that provides an excellent opportunity to invade anyone’s privacy without them knowing it really, really does not sit well with me. Considering that the NYPD protects abusers and rapists within their own ranks with the infamous blue wall of silence, the absolute last thing they ought to have is more access to potential victims.

Don’t pooh-pooh the NYPD’s ongoing history of abuse of power, Bloomberg. The stop-and-frisk approach has been racially slanted from the get-go, and there are too many complaints of police brutality to just disregard as overzealous rookies drunk on the power of having a badge and a gun. And didn’t we just convict a cop who’s a wannabe cannibal? Yeah. We have a police force of thugs, closet racists, abusers, and wannabe serial killers looking for a chance to get it right. What’s the best thing to do? Why, give them espionage gear!

And you wonder why people don’t take you seriously.

I would also like to know exactly why this is a priority as opposed to the very real and very growing housing crisis in New York. No, I’m not talking about the less-than-1% vacancy. I’m talking about the price. I understand that you don’t really think about anyone who doesn’t make below $70K per year as someone who actually exists, but you tell me this, Mr. B: what exactly justifies renting out a 250sqft closet – I won’t call it a studio – on the Upper West Side for $1,600? What justifies a two-bedroom in Inwood being upwards of $1,400? I really want to know. Because the majority of the city’s population cannot afford those rents, hadn’t been able to afford those rents for some years now, and are slowly getting priced out of the city.

Mr. Bloomberg, contrary to your belief, this city doesn’t consist of young wealthy future tycoons who are making bank in $70K and up, have no other obligations, and can afford to pay these inflated rents and go out to Broadway shows, etc. This city consists of a lot of people who are making $40K a year and under, whose single paycheck goes to rent alone, who do not work at a desk job in a cubicle farm. They’re usually the ones who are delivering your catered lunches. They’re the ones pouring the morning coffee for all the nine-to-fivers. They’re the ones who are doing the data entry and bookkeeping without health insurance at a starter salary just because they need the income, regardless of how much experience they have. They’re older people who aren’t able to retire because the recession sucked up their 401Ks. They’re people who weren’t born here, who are trying to make it here, who are not familiar with employment laws, and who take a below-minimum-wage job because it pays bills. They’re the ones whom you and Wall Street and too many other people sneeringly tell to just “take some responsibility for yourself and do better”. They don’t have a lack of responsibility, Mr. Bloomberg, of that rest assured, but they do have a very real challenge trying to pay an inflated rent rate when their paycheck stretches only so far to cover rent and bills aren’t willing to wait on payment. That’s not a lack of responsibility. That’s a juggling act worthy of Cirque du Soleil to manage all the responsibilities that they have.

Instead of addressing the issue of NY’s housing, you instead decide to attempt banning soda because – according to your reasoning – New Yorkers aren’t “being responsible” with their health.

Very nice, Mr. Bloomberg. I salute your absolute lack of priorities. I also salute you, in your quest for public health, requiring GMO foods to be labeled– oh, wait, you’ve not done that. Oh, wait, you’ve also done absolutely nothing about corn subsidies or HFCS subsidies. Yeah, so what was this about the soda ban being for purposes of public health?

You’re also not addressing the very real homelessness problem in New York. My guess is that the sequester has also impacted funding on the homeless programs, which you have more than the means to contribute to out of your own pocket, being the scion of the Bloomberg brand. But silly me, how can I possibly think that you would want to invest in the infrastructure of your project? After all, you’re treating the city, which needs to be run as an administration, as a business project, and you completely disregard, like so many businessmen who get comfortable in their money often do, the crucial infrastructure of your project. The project is only as viable as the employees, and even if the cheapest, rustiest screw gives way and pops out of the joist, the entire building collapses. You disregard that little fact. The money you’re pouring into the useless battle against soda of all things could be used to alleviate the homelessness problem, because guess what: those same homeless people, once cleaned up, housed, and medicated, can then go to work. There’s little shortage of employment in the city, if you actually consider that employment does not equal a nine-to-five at a desk.

But you don’t consider that. Instead, you think that it’s fine to authorize a gross invasion of privacy and think that we can “get used to it”.

Mr. Bloomberg, it took you the Dec. 2010 blizzard to actually realize that it’s important to prep the city for inclement weather, and in learning that lesson, you had the balls to tell people who were snowed in and could not leave their houses to “go see a Broadway show and stop complaining”. That was so very easy for you to say, Mr. Bloomberg. Your building’s street was plowed immediately after the last snowflake settled. Your sidewalk was salted. Those of us who live in South Brooklyn couldn’t walk outside for days. Now why, exactly, was South Brooklyn buried while Park Slope was dug out right away? Is it because SoBro residents are not rich? Or because they are, largely, not WASPs? Let’s fess up here. What’s so repellent about us in the outer boroughs that you couldn’t even bother to clean our streets in a timely fashion, and yet at the same time, you’d happily authorize drone espionage?

Don’t tell me to “go see a Broadway show”, because for one, I am no fan of Broadway, and two, I see more than enough shows in a year, Mr. Bloomberg. I am a concert photographer. I see shows aplenty. I also see when there is a real problem in my city, and that problem is a mayor who thinks that he can be a CEO running a project in an admin environment. I grew up in New York. I lived here for twenty years. I’ll likely die in this city, even though everything practical in me is screaming to get out and hightail it to Phoenix. But while I’m a New Yorker, the one thing I will not tolerate is some smarmy suit telling me that I’ll “get used to” a blatant violation of my privacy because a police force that is long overdue for a psychological reassessment and a recurrence of the Wickersham Commission happens to have drone tech. I will not tolerate the same smarmy suit slicing up the education budget and instead pouring money into a Sisyphean battle to ban sodas above a certain size. Do not patronize me and my ilk, Mr. Bloomberg. We may not be rich, but there are far more of us than there are of you and yours. Just because you don’t see New York as worthwhile if it’s further up than 92nd Street in Manhattan and below Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It exists, and its population greatly outnumbers the New York in your scope.

Mr. Bloomberg, we are not your employees, and this city is not a business. Contrary to your attitude, you do not have full and complete control of the population of this city, and we will not stand for, nor will we “get used to”, a damned thing we don’t want to see, and you will do very well to remember it.

Your illegal third term did not go unnoticed. Nor did your continued mismanagement of the MTA. I, for one, would like to know what percentage of the MTA’s profit goes into your pockets, because so far, the fares are increasing, the service is steadily declining, and projects that have been started years ago are no closer to being completed. There has already been one transit strike, and if you hadn’t noticed, this city is as reliant on its public transit as a person relies on air to breathe. This is the one system that you cannot afford to run into the ground – no pun intended – and yet you’re doing so anyway.

Mr. Bloomberg, your administrative skills are deplorable. Point blank, you don’t have a damned clue what you’re doing with this city. There will always be a class stratification in every big city, there will always be the haves and the have-nots, but in a city where the have-nots greatly outnumber the haves, and have some of the widest income gaps, I would imagine that you’d want to avoid making them angry. Like as not, they can vote, and no one on either side of the income gap is okay with their privacy being invaded without due cause.

If you knew what you were doing, then a 1BR in South Brooklyn would never have been allowed to reach over $900 in price per month.

You’re no mayor of mine, Mr. Bloomberg. I did not vote for you. I definitely did not agree with your third term. And no Broadway show that you can suggest erases the fact that right now, teachers and social workers burn out and have PTSD by route of their jobs, the subway service has been steadily declining, and people are being priced out of even the boonies – and that it’s all happening on your watch. Your tacit tolerance tells me that you’re A-OK with it.

Unless you want a return of the 1890s Gilded Age-era tenements – which, come to think of it, might be your end goal after all – buck up, put on your big-boy pants, and do your damned job. If you’re not okay with the way things are for the lower denominator of your constituents, start actually doing something about it.

Otherwise, get the hell out and give the job to someone who will.

No love whatsoever,

K.G.

The Soda Ban is No More

Per newspapers.

What I want to know is why was this implemented in the first place? It is completely none of the mayor’s business as to whether or not someone wants to get a 32oz Big Gulp. Yes, it’s unhealthy. Yes, soda is effectively a sugar bomb, worse if it’s made with HFCS or aspartame (as most of these actually are). But again: it isn’t his damn business. If the city’s not had a reasonable train fare since 2000, why in the hell is a soda ban a good idea? Or is Bloomberg, like most politicians, more concerned with shoehorning people into his own box of a viewpoint than he is with, I don’t know, his job?

When this got put into place to begin with, one of the things I heard primarily was fat-shaming. As in, “if all those fat people wouldn’t be so fat, then I could have my soda in peace!” To which I say, shut the hell up. Fat isn’t created equal. Not all of it comes from bad eating. And banning large soda is not going to resolve the “obesity epidemic” – which, by the by, has to be one of the most over-sensationalized, manufactured pieces of body-policing tripe I’ve heard to date. 

Really: there’s no epidemic. You can’t catch fat. You don’t get infected by fat. You don’t become fat just because someone other than yourself is of a bigger size. And you certainly don’t become fat because someone other than yourself is drinking a large soda. No one is obligating them to do so, it’s their choice. 

So why in the hell does legislative money and time have to get wasted by instituting this in the first place? 

If you want to ban something, try banning HFCS. It’ll do a lot more good. 

And the judge put it very, very well: Bloomberg had overstepped his bounds in attempting to ban or limit a perfectly legal substance under the guise of health risks. Yeah, there is a health risk to drinking large amounts of very sugary drinks. I will be the last person to deny it. But until sugary drinks are a controlled substance, you don’t get the right to ban them. Mayor or no mayor, if it’s legal, paws off. 

K.G.

Priced Out

This morning, en route to work, I glanced at the early-morning newspaper and saw the headline that many young New Yorkers are giving up on homeownership because of the price range. (note: requires registration, but you get the gist)

At risk of being crass…duh hey, Captain Obvious! Of course they’ll give up on homeownership, because there’s no way to stretch money any further than living in this city stretches it already. Salaries have not kept up pace with living costs here for nearly two decades; how in the hell does anyone expect a young person or young couple, who is just settling down in a job, starting to get a feel for job security, etc., to be able to even think about affording a house when they’re lucky their monthly salary stretches enough to cover the usual bills? And let’s not forget that there’s a pretty good chance that said young person or young couple also has student loans to repay, and depending on how they are structured, that paycheck has to stretch even further. So yes, something does have to give, and something inevitably will, and owning one’s own home, whether a house in Queens or an apartment in Manhattan, is the first thing to go.

I’m a licensed real estate agent, though not exactly actively practicing, and a huge reason why I went on hiatus with that in the winter is because I feel something very fundamentally wrong with trying to sell someone a 300sqft closet-like 1BR for over $2,000/mo. Prices in NY are completely, without question, out of control. There might be a great job market here, with over 100,000 small businesses to start with, but what good is a job market if you can’t find a place to live that won’t eat most of your income?

Even the cheap areas of Brooklyn are starting to get expensive. I grew up in a building where, at the time we had signed the lease for the two-bedroom that my family had started out in, it was $700/mo. That same two-bed, right now, is being rented out at double that price. And the salary of the tenants had not changed. My parents working together back when I was 10 made exactly what I make right now at nearly 28. That’s the reality of living in NYC, and it’s actually the primary reason that I’ve decided to jump the NYC ship and find my fortunes elsewhere – in a more affordable city, for starters.

Something has to give. Something has to change. Never mind the absolutely prohibitive costs of living in Manhattan, I have no idea when a 400sqft studio in Brooklyn became worth $1,200/mo. I also have no idea when a three-bedroom one-bathroom house in Queens got to be $500K. The NY property taxes are up there, but they are definitely not up there to the point where the rent roll is completely wiped out by the property tax payment. Currently, I work in property management and oversee the rent rolls and property taxes for three buildings. I see it firsthand. There’s no need, none whatsoever, for a residential rental to be priced the way it is.

One of two things has to happen: a global cap on both rents and property taxes to be proportionate to the median income (which is nowhere near as high as most people think it to be), or the median income needs to go up. The second won’t happen, because unfortunately, running a city of this size takes an inordinate amount of resources and this is one of the most heavily taxed states on the income-tax spectrum with the primary reason being simply having enough funds to keep the base administration of this city running. The first is debatable, because while it’s possible in some areas within the state, I severely doubt about how plausible it’s going to be to implement it in Metro NY.

It’s pretty damn rare for someone under 35 to land a job that pays more than $40K per year, and having a passable survival in NYC, if you consider the base expenses of rent, food, bills, student loan payments, and transportation, requires a minimum of about $60K. It does all come down to money, and I’m seeing people who can more than afford to pay a little extra in tax, go up in arms the minute anyone dares to suggest that they pay a little more in tax so that their secretary doesn’t have to survive on ramen noodles because her Bronx apartment is eating up most of her take-home income. The people who can afford the extra in taxes are in the minority; Wall Street is only a 5-block stretch from Broadway to Water Street. And we have people all over the five boroughs who are skipping a meal to cover their rents just because the people who work in that little five-block stretch are up in arms at the idea of closed loopholes and paying more in tax; an amount they can, in all actuality, afford without ill effect on their life and lifestyles.

Yes, it’s possible to get that golden 60K/year job, but consider that there are only so many jobs to go around that grant that passable income. You can get a job easily in this city, yes, but the likelihood is much higher that it won’t have the salary that you require. In fact, I’m ready to guarantee that your income offer will not be nearly enough to qualify as survivable. You’ll take the job, of course. You’ll take it because you need to survive and pay bills, only to find that you can’t survive, at least not where you can say that you’re making it on your own. You can pull yourself by the bootstraps only so much when you have an anvil on the boot. And between holding out for that comfortable 60K job and taking the very readily available 35K job, guess what: you’re taking that 35K because your stomach doesn’t like being empty. You’ll rent a corner in someone’s apartment and pay an amount that, in any other city, will grant you your own place.

Really, no joke, that’s what making it in NY amounts to nowadays. If you make under a certain amount and you’re not living at home, you rent a corner in someone’s living room, often with no rental agreement or sublet contract, still lose more than half your monthly income on that rent, make your bill payments best you can, and eat on credit. And you know, maybe it’s just me and I “don’t understand” what it’s like to be a New Yorker (no joke, heard that from a few of my peers…uh, I lived in this city for most of my life already), but I think that if you’re pushing at 30 and live in this city, you deserve something more out of life than a corner in someone else’s apartment and getting into debt to have food in your stomach. Someone who’s working their ass off to survive deserves better than living hand-to-mouth until their forties. And food is expensive, especially if it’s not coming from a box or a can. Don’t ever, ever wonder why people always go for fast food when broke: a salad is $10, a burger is $3. Math.

And unfortunately, it’s not just in NYC. Any major city has this sort of stratification, especially where the cost of living is out of alignment with salaries. People wonder why their college-aged kids aren’t leaving home and starting their own families. Simple answer: they can’t afford to. And loath though I am to admit it, there’s a pretty fair possibility that they never will, depending on their situations.

K.G.

This New Yorker is pissed off. Officially.

It was coming, especially in light of the fact that, two days later, there’s still a near foot-thick layer of compacted snow over pretty much every street in my immediate 5-block radius. I almost blew out both my ankles walking home from the train last night and it’s a short walk. And as I was coming home, I saw that my main street is still covered with compacted snow, and the side streets are nigh impassable.

The same goes for this morning. I’m debating binding both my ankles with Ace bandages as a preventative measure. I’ve not skated in about 20 years; now is not the time for me to start practicing.

My nieghborhood is home to a very large population of the elderly. And it was only earlier this year that we had a comparable blizzard and the public transit was still in commission at that time.

Disclaimer: This is a rant. I’m angry, I’m letting off steam, and it’s bound to get profane – but that’s how I feel. I’m putting this behind a cut for language, and if you don’t want to read, close this window. I won’t hold any offense. This is mostly intended for my usual readers, who are comprised of mostly friends from outside my state, who are worried about how I’m holding up post-storm. I’m including reference links to the NY Post, wherein Mr. Bloomberg made some comments that made my blood boil, so you will see what elicited this.
For the record, no, I didn’t vote for him. And my rant therefore takes up the form of an open letter.

Continue reading “This New Yorker is pissed off. Officially.”

“I know what I’m needing, and I don’t want to waste more time…”

“…I’m in a New York state of mind…”

– Billy Joel

You know, while that song has been overplayed, I’ve truly been in a New York state of mind the past couple of days.

What you guys may not know about me, and if you do – great!, but I absolutely love walking. In part, because I live in a city that doesn’t require having a car to get around, in another because I’m just the sort of a person whose mind does great things when the feet are in motion, but I love, love long walks through the city. Any metropolis, truly, but this one I lived in for the past sixteen years and, truth be told, I am in love with it.

“Have you ever been in love? With a person, that is.”

Yes, I have. It’s not my general policy to comment on my personal life, but the other times I was in love before ended very, very badly. One of the two times that it didn’t end badly was when I first explored NY for what it was…and never quite stopped doing so. My other love affair is with music.

“So why do you say that you love NYC? You refer to it like it’s a person, almost…romantically.”

For a reason, I assure. It breathes in a certain sense, it certainly has its own heartbeat, and it definitely has good days and bad. It’s just on such a larger scale, and it is alive in its own unique way. I say that I am in love with it because its rhythm – insane, frenetic, multicolored, multifaceted – is the same as my own way of thinking: nonstop, random and yet perfectly organized, colorful and imaginative, everyday and madcap at the same time. It’s a city that is its own way of life, and its own brand of uniqueness.

“It’s just so…fast-paced!”

Ever seen how I walk? ;)

But truly, this is a different love. New York is my heart and soul because of its rhythm, and because of the very unique things I may find in it. I would see a teenage girl decked out like Ricky’s makeup shop used her wardrobe for experimentation playing classical violin concertos on a subway platform, and I’d see people miss their train just so they could sit and listen to her. I did that too, because when the hell would you see something like that, if not right then and there? Or what about the ragtag-looking trio of high-schoolers, two tenor saxophones and a drummer, with a sign of “Need Money to Record Album” blasting into it on the L-train platform with a skill that I’d see at a jazz festival of a far grander scale? These things are unique, they come just in the moment that they happen in; there is no way to repeat them. And each of those moments makes me smile, and file them away into the recesses of my memory for the next time I need to give my day a little oomph of alive.

Today was sunny, I was a guest caller on Talking Smooth Jazz with Oli Silk, a most brilliant young pianist with a new CD in stores on August 31st – iTunes, people, iTunes!!! – and thought to myself, screw it. I need to be out there.

And when that mentality hits, I absolutely have to get the hell to wherever I’m going.

So today, I boarded the train and hightailed it to…Brooklyn Heights.

*cue Down to the Bone song of the same name*

…c’mon, you guys knew that was coming. :)

On the real, my connection to Brooklyn Heights – the neighborhood, not the song – comes from when I was working nightshift and finishing my degree. I also wrote my first book during that time – the first draft of it, in all its imperfect glory, was finalized while I was working at night, would come back to my place and couldn’t sleep. So I’d stay on the Promenade to do nothing but watch the sunrise.

I can’t even begin to tell you how utterly beautiful that sight is. I can only hope that one fine sleepless night, I will be able to stay up and capture that. The colors are inimitable, and I don’t think photos or words do it justice.

So, here I went, and the sun was out in full force. So were the tourists, but you can’t win ’em all.

Without further ado, here are some choice sights.

The Promenade.

The skyline of Lower Manhattan, as taken from the Promenade.

Cadman Plaza Park, right at the foot of the Bridge.

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge – a walk I do not do very often, but ought to.

Brooklyn Bridge – a mile and a quarter of walking delight :)

Right off Wall Street, there’s a little square with a patisserie…and a lighted fountain. I love coming to this fountain; it’s a nice place to settle in and just…relax and think.

I do these photo-walks often. I’m not sure where the hell I get the images to, but these walks, for me at least, are a way to just get back in tune with myself. My ears are full of music, my feet are carrying me to various place, and after a while, I just stop worrying. Work, stress, ambition – all of this melts away when I’m confronted by a street overgrown with trees, or amber lighting in Madison Square Park at night, or the fiery colors of a sunset – or sunrise – on the Promenade. It just all takes a vacation, and for a couple of hours, I’m left to simply be me. Slow down, enjoy the music, and sniff at the wafting cinnamony smell from a nearby bakery. Or something.

I do love New York. And I will be showing you much more of it as I go about things.

K.G.