James Altucher — a wild-haired darling among the post dot-com entrepreneurial cyberset — got into a bruising spat with Jerry Seinfeld, best known for his long-running eponymous television series of the 1990s — over whether New York City has any future.
Basically Altucher said “I’m out of here,” noting how Gotham has been rendered a ghost town by COVID-19 in a LinkedIn post (Altucher is a big wheel on LinkedIn).
Seinfeld, for his part, answered “don’t let the tollgate smack you in the hind side,” in a New York Times op-ed (warning: paywall is active (although the NYT some time ago claimed that all COVID-related content would be free for all to see. Thanks a lot, Grey Lady!).
It’s morbidly amusing to see these two funny guys fight, name-call, and somewhat opportunistically make their personal brands relevant to a traumatized public. Here’s my $0.02 on the issue:
- New York City has seen far worse days in the recent past
After 9/11, many right-thinking New Yorkers fled the coop for ostensibly safer quarters, only to rush back within a decade. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that the majority of escapees will be begging to be let back into Gotham once they realize that 2nd-tier cities like Schenectady, Scranton, or Utica have just as many creeps and malcontents (proportionate to population) as New York City does.
Worse, these 2nd-tier creeps have very negative attitudes towards newcomers that you’d never find in New York City. At least one friend of mine — fleeing from a city to “a nice place”– is now in jail because of a violent dispute with his newfound neighbor that was precipitated by a dog fight. Face it folks — when you’re out in the woods you can easily revert to a kind of cruel violence that you’d never see in New York City — not even on Fordham Road.
- Manhattan is NOT The Outer Boroughs
Both Altucher and Seinfeld are Manhattanites whose awareness of the Outer Boroughs (Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island) is likely limited to references on subway maps. Nightclubs? Outside of a few gentrified hipster zones, we haven’t seen a nightclub out here since 1946. Comedy clubs? Again, you might find one or two, but the only people who seem to go to them are from Manhattan.
The Outer Boroughs are not without their charms – quite the opposite. The boring nature of these places, overlooked by trend makers, influencers, and even City Planners – is what gives them their timeless appeal. We don’t watch people out here; we watch birds (usually pigeons). We don’t suit up and put on our “game face,” we lie back in our pajamas and watch whatever happens to be on televlsion. We don’t seek to be “masters of the universe” (a uniquely Manhattanian obsession), or do we seek to “make it” in any sense broader than “make it through the end of the month.”
We’re a different breed that’s less articulate, more insular, but arguably more resistant to the ebbs and flow of fashion, paranoia,and greed. That doesn’t make us any better than our brethren in high-fallutin’ Manhattan; it just means that we’re so used to being marginalized that apocalyptic speculations about the ultimate fate of New York City don’t clang very loudly out here.
- Manhattan Has Been Dead For Many Years
I lived in Manhattan during 70s and 80s, when boarded-up storefronts, burning cars, muggings, municipal strikes, and smoldering racial resentments were natural elements of the environment. The only nice thing about this situation was that rents were affordable, music venues were everywhere, and the ma-and-pa stores that gave neighborhoods character had yet to be replaced by banks and chain drug stores.
It took about 30 years to reverse the decline, but the cost of reversing it was horrific for anyone but hedge fund managers and trustafarians. For these people — the bedrock of the middle class, Manhattan has been dead for a long time. Sure, it’s been great for those with the means to view it as a gilded 24×7 playground — and for the tourists — who drop billions here each year – but outside of that, it’s been a damned mausoleum of broken dreams for at least a decade, maybe more.
The only thing that COVID will kill off is rapacious real estate development, randy Times Square Muppets, and recycled Broadway shows with terrible sound systems. I say good riddance to all of them.
For my part, I intend to stay — not because I don’t have the means to flee to Oswego, Hornell, or Rapid City — but because I’ve given up chasing safety, serenity, and peace of mind; all of which I’ve concluded will never exist as long as there’s an Internet.