Occupy the Upper West Side

By Michael J. Smith on Sunday April 15, 2012 10:07 PM

Here's a wonderful piece by one Charles Young posted at This Can't Be Happening.I read Charles' piece laughing like a fiend. He lives in my nabe, and he has a good eye and ear.

Maybe there was a time when the Upper West Side was really radical. If so, I missed it; and I definitively arrived on these shores, after a lengthy flirtation, in August of 1978. To be precise.

There were lots of old CP types to be found when I washed up from the provinces; but even then, most of them were also pretty interested in making some kind of a killing in real estate. And they were all deeply devoted to the Democratic Party. Even then.

There were some Trotskyites too, but not many; the Upper West Side left, such as it was, was a very Stalinist enclave. The Trotskyites were a sad bunch; very second-order; the critics of the critics:

So nat'ralists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller fleas that bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
The old CP types are nearly all gone, though the Trotskyites seem to live forever. Perhaps they're ahistorical enough to be downright timeless.

People seem to think that the Upper West Side is some sort of elite enclave. It is not, for the most part, though there are some elite types to be found here. The real elites are mostly on the other side of the Park, or way downtown.

But it is a neighborhood where the more or less ordinary people who are left have been more or less spared from the worst depredations of neo-liberalism and the New Austerity. Hence they are all, or nearly all, still Democrats.

Just slip those awful Republicans a roofie -- they believe -- and tinker a bit with the tax code, and all will be well.

Partly this is a generational thing. My son, who's 28, moved out of the neighborhood some years ago because he couldn't stand seeing wall-to-wall alter-kakers on the street -- meaning people of my vintage and older: white-collar types who can still afford to live in Manhattan, either because they're clinging to a floating plank from the wreckage of rent control, or because they have managed to keep making a decent middle-class income somehow, or because they retired when people still could. Such people aren't hurting nearly as bad as people in their 20s. We may not be elite, but we're certainly relatively well-off.

The distinction matters. Real elite types may be Democrats -- hell, you've gotta pick one horse or the other, if you go to the track at all. But they are not Democrats for the same reason that most of my UWS neighbors are. The latter are Democrats because we live in a bubble. The great class war of the last 3.5 decades has not, for the most part, been fought on our turf; it has swept past us and encircled us, though to be sure we haven't been entirely insulated from it. No doubt it will get around to mopping us definitively up too; but until it does, we will mostly continue to believe that the Democrats are the same folks who gave us Medicare and Title Nine.

Comments (23)


Pushing this sour songsters column pretty hard father S

You must have been laughing at your own projections between the lines

Nothing makes one laugh like a hated close neighbor lampooned
Even if in a most scetchy fashion

You can flesh it out in the mind's virtual 3D studio

I left the upper upper west side in 1981 and have never looked back

In fact only returning once
To a memorial service for a great if obscure man
who happened to be A good friend of father's and mine
and an even better friend To the squashed elements
Of manhattan's tenant class


The impression I've always held of the UWS in my time and since
has to do with a very grim and labored trudge toward gentrification of sorts

The gradual replacement of residents and store fronts like so many bad teeth replaced with cheap fakes that are only costly at the time of implantation

If we were transported back to the UWS of the mid 1950's
When the musical was hatched
What would we find ?


Oh, Owen, what a Gloomy Gus you are. Young's piece rang very true to me. I remember going to some of those tenant meetings, with the great man you mention, and nothing has changed; Young could have been talking about 1980.


You nailed it MJS. I write as a lifelong NYer, though not of your and Old Man Paine's vintage. Nor as a UWSer. But the insight that UWSers and many others have been relatively spared neoliberalism's depredations is unnervingly accurate. We brownstone types and UWS types do in fact live in a bubble.

Huge swaths of this fine land (you know: the land that's your land and my land) are swiftly moving into Steinbeck territory. Those swaths include parts of our fair city that shall not be mentioned, lest Herr Bloomberg hear us. But us brownstone types know nothing of it. And so it's donkeys now, donkeys forever.


though the Trotskyites seem to live forever.

It's the r-strategy reproduction.

michael yates:

I lived in Manhattan for but one year. We had visited many times and loved it, but we knew within a month we would leave soon. The left there was in as bad a bubble as your Upper West Side Democrats. I used to argue with them, saying that much of the rest of the nation didn't see things the way they did. To not much avail, however. Still, though, there are plenty of people in Manhattan hurting. I used to be shocked at the way leftist friends would just ignore the most painfully down and out panhandler. Generosity was not one of their strong suits.

Since leaving, we have traveled nonstop around the country. It's a tough scene out there. But I can't imagine living in Manhattan or anywhere in NYC now. The noise, pollution, the feeling that you have when you are scurrying around like a maniac to make the rent money. MJS said on an email list that he would trade all of the works of Plato for a cathedral in France destroyed during the French Revolution. I'd rather see NYC burned to the ground than see the canyons and deserts of southern Utah destroyed.

Trotskyists don't live forever. It just seems that way because they are born old.

I'd rather see NYC burned to the ground than see the canyons and deserts of southern Utah destroyed.
I don't disagree. If it came to that. As long as I could get out in time.

On the other hand -- and there's always another hand -- last weekend I went on a little walkabout in the South Bronx with some neighborhood activist types there. I should really report it in more detail, but it left me with the strong impression that maybe NYC wasn't a lost cause after all.


I tend to prefer humans to canyons and deserts.

michael yates:

MJS, perhaps I should have said certain parts of Manhattan!

michael yates:

There have been humans in these canyons and deserts for a very long time. And, of course, I favor evacuation before the fire. Also, perhaps you should be more decisive. "Tend" suggests that there are times when you do not prefer humans. Out of curiosity,have you spent much time in canyons and deserts? They are probably being destroyed at a more rapid pace than NYC. I am confident that that matters to you.


We need to be even-handed about this stuff: our honor as rational beings requires it. Rationality -- to the extent that we possess it -- requires us to eschew the privileging of rationality. But neither should we underestimate it. Let's have a level playing field: Homo Sapiens (or rather, Insipiens) or Dry Gulch? Flip a coin. Something will be lost either way, and what finite mind can say which way the loss will be greater?

michael yates:

We can and certainly will have both. But will we change the relationship between the two? This is not just a matter of human beings but of what sort of social relationships we develop. Also, a nonlethal fire in NYC only means that the city has to be rebuilt. This isn't possible for destroyed deserts and canyons. At least not nearly so quickly.

When you're a Pwog,
you're a Pwog all the way --
from your first Liberal vote
'til your last dyin' day!


Uhhmm, uhhh...sorry about that, Fadduh Smiff. Couldn't help it.

But, aaaaaaaanyway...

Medicare? Title IX? Yeah, and how long ago was that? Christ.

That just proves that the Democratic Party is like an Eagles reunion tour -- the place is still packed with old fans, but how long has it been since the Eagles had a hit, or even released an album, for that matter?


M.Y.: I hedged because, well, you're right: there are some times that I do not prefer humans.


.... Including a good number of humans in our very own "canyon of heroes"....

michael yates:

Chomsky/Zinn, you seem a good man!

One problem with my stay in NYC was the timing. We had just spent four months living and working in Yellowstone National Park. I was a hotel desk clerk, and I really got to like my fellow clerks. NYC seemed so cold by comparison. And after being a gym rat for so many years (I used to say that a day without basketball was a like a day without sunshine), it was so amazing to hike in such an astonishing place. In NYC, right after 9/11, the air was so foul where we lived that it was difficult to breathe. I was in good shape, but we would come back to our apartment after a long waslk and I'd be gasping for breath at the top of the stairs. Between that and the insular attitude of so many people I met, I didn't have much patience. It was something like when I returned to teach after a few months with the farm workers in California. My students seemed like pathetic whiners to me, and I lost my temper all too often.


New York has much to recommend it, but a lot less than it used to.


Gloomy Gus ...me ?

And u want to burn the city down

I'd settle for beating up the UWS free democrat clubs executive board


I'd force to live with ketch up or what ever that winkle fingered
carrot top gal nerd's name is

But hey ...I'm looking on the bright side saying all that


The point over looked
The article claims
Does that not suggest
These dusty figments wanna burst their bubble

If not whip Jack asses at least tell them

"enough!....out of our way ......A higher muster calls us "

All there in this line :

"It was sanctimonious. It was supplicating before power. The audience looked
like it wanted to puke."

That suggests these UWS fossils want to regenerate pink flesh
Get down
disobey the authorities
In public and in the company of living flesh

But noooooooo

Mr young has to feature the great lampoon of his neighbors

The crapulous farce of the UWS free democrat club
running the local spring 99 training camp

and it's more then simply odious
Large haired manipulator

Deserve a far more direct and hotter fire

They present
A real electric Al type target

This master of satire
seems more interested in mocking the painful knees and scrawny shanks
Of these morally wretched
nose haired Would be volunteers

Brian M:

My, oh my...you guys don't like anybody.

You remind me sometimes of particularly dour fundmanetalist Calvinists, sneering down thier long noses at the damned who have not been granted a view of The Truth.

Pheme N. Otsi:

What incredible irony, Brian M whinging about people "not liking" anyone while Brian spends most of his commenting space here disparaging people onto whom Brian has projected his most-hated enemy qualities.

I'm chuckling. It's nearly as funny as Paine's tortured pseudo-poetry that somehow serves as Paine's projection of royalty.

Brian M:

Just riffing off the overall tone, Otsi. Mea culpa.

Still...I may dig at specific "enemies". I sometimes think OP and crew don't liken anybody at all.

Except for maybe Berea. LOL

Brian M:

and, I'm sorry, but "Karl" can be a dickhead. As can we all.

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