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The "Real" America? - Riffs and Licks
The "Real" America?
This morning bobhowe pointed me to a Daily News story in which Mayor Bloomberg described my birthplace, Staten Island, as "more real America, in many senses, than any other part of this city." Staten Island was a haven for Tories during the Revolutionary War and has not improved its outlook since. The Island votes consistently Republican in national elections and most Democratic pols in the borough run on the Conservative and Right-To-Life party lines as well. And growing up there in the 1960s and 70s, I lived in a segregated neighborhood and went to segregated schools until I escaped to Brooklyn when I went to college.

This, apparently, is the "real America" to the Mayor, despite the Island's continual bleats about seceding from New York City. (Apparently, some Islanders think their property taxes are too low and their police and fire services too professional.)

And now Bloomberg is parading around in a cowboy hat celebrating his capture of the Country Music Awards from Nashville. Now, I play a lot of (traditional) country music, and it's tremendously popular in the city right now, but I think Nashville probably has more of a claim to that music than New York City does. And I think a billionaire who lives on the Upper East Side has no business in a Stetson.

When are Bloomberg and Giuliani going to figure out that no matter how much ludicrous posturing they do, and no matter how many boots they lick in the national Repugnant party, they'll never get over being ethnically, religiously and politically at odds with the red-meat Christian Taliban types who run the GOP nowadays?

Current Music: The Clash, "Wrong 'Em Boyo"

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steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: October 5th, 2004 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
we are totally popping popcorn and cracking open some beers for the debate tonight.

I started my songwriting class/workshop tonight, and in any case I don't have a TV, so I guess I'll read about it tomorrow. I sorta wish I'd watched the presidential debate, but I'd end up spitting my popcorn all over the place screaming.

But turn it up loud; maybe Cheney will scare off the mosquitoes. :-)
bobhowe From: bobhowe Date: October 5th, 2004 03:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would much prefer to see Bloomberg in a hardhat, on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, preparing to blow the span in two so that Staten Island can drift out to sea on the outgoing tide.

Here's a little more ITF* for you, via Newsday, All fired up over election: Firefighter unions that have endorsed Kerry are angry over New York local's campaign for Bush:

New York City firefighters working for the re-election of President George W. Bush in swing states have drawn outrage from local firefighters who have endorsed John Kerry.

Locals from Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states say New York City firefighters have turned their backs on firefighters from around the country who supported them after 9/11.

*Irritating Tabloid Fodder
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: October 5th, 2004 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would much prefer to see Bloomberg in a hardhat, on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, preparing to blow the span in two so that Staten Island can drift out to sea on the outgoing tide.

Well, if he blew the bridge, most of Staten Island would cheer. And in some ways it's understandable; I was born the month the bridge opened, and the population of Staten Island was about 50,000. It was certainly insular and conservative, but it also had a strong sense of community and a lot of very nice little towns and fields and places to play. All those places are gone now and I don't know what kids growing up now in my neighborhood do with themselves. The population is more than half a million now, it's still insular, still conservative, and infested with strip malls and New Jersey-style housing developments. I don't know that the bridge brought any improvement.
bobhowe From: bobhowe Date: October 5th, 2004 07:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, yes: Staten Island the Bucolic; Staten Island the Unspoiled; Staten Island, the Mayberry of Garbage Dumps. I remember hearing about the Verrazano opening in school—the obligatory "longest suspension bridge in the world" caught my second-grade imagination, and I imagined something really long, like miles long. When I finally crossed it, enroute to a camping trip with the Boy Scouts at the dismal Camp Pouch, I wasn't all that impressed. The bridge grew on me: it's a beautiful, beautiful piece of art, and I never fail to get a little thrill when I look at it. I think I might have had a greater sense of loss, aesthetically speaking, had Mohammad Atta flown his plane into the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, instead of the World Trade Center.

Though I haven't been back to Pouch in three decades, it remains in my mind a malarial swamp reeking of decomposing trash from Fresh Kills landfill. The only thing louder than the drone of mosquitoes at night was the sound of traffic on the streets that bordered the camp. That's putting aside the young thugs-in-training who populated the Boy Scout troop I belonged to, and for whom the wonders of nature mostly involved chopping, crushing, or burning it as expeditiously as possible.

On the other hand, I have some very fond memories of Staten Island: teenage trips to the skating rink, and the Staten Island Zoo, including one hilariously indelible image of my high school girlfriend crossing paths with an onanistic monkey; and taking the ferry to Borough Hall, where my ex and I were issued our marriage license.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: October 5th, 2004 07:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was never a scout, so never went to Pouch Camp, but there are still large unspoiled sections of the Island (Gateway, Great Kills, High Rock) and hints of what used to be. I would never go back, but I'm glad to have grown up there because otherwise I wouldn't know a thing about it. The zoo is wonderful (though one has to wonder if it's a coincidence that it specializes in reptiles; I sometimes wonder if the specimens there were not once Democratic Party functionaries in Borough Hall) and so is Clove Lake Park just down the street.

And to be fair, the landfill was a valid reason for the Island wishing to secede; every other trash dump in the city was closed thanks to political pressure, but not that one. The Island also has the distinction of being the site of Robert Moses' Waterloo; you can still see the exit-ramps-to-nowhere on the Staten Island Expressway that mark the highways he wanted to plow through the middle of what is now Gateway.

The Verrazano is a beautiful bridge, second only to the Brooklyn Bridge in my book. If only that bastard Moses had allowed for trains to go over it! I drive around some of the old Victorian neighborhoods on S.I. and I think, "If there were a subway around here these would be million-dollar houses."

The ironic thing is tha the brownstones that the white-flighters ran away from are mostly worth more than the houses they're living in now.
bobhowe From: bobhowe Date: October 5th, 2004 07:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
The zoo is wonderful (though one has to wonder if it's a coincidence that it specializes in reptiles...

Actually, the Staten Island Zoo at one time had the most complete collection of rattlesnakes in the world, and was known internationally for its herpetology department. The department's longtime curator was Carl Kauffeld, author of Snakes: The Keeper and the Kept (if you are very nice to me I'll let you touch my ragged old copy someday). When John F's reticulated and Burmese pythons became too big for even him to manage, they joined the Staten Island Zoo's collection.
rednoodlealien From: rednoodlealien Date: October 6th, 2004 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't resist joining in. With respect to everything but the people on it, Staten Island was a fabulous place to grow up when I was growing up. I was six blocks from a beach, a few houses from Miller Field, a few blocks from a bus, 20 mini-blocks from the train, a few blocks from my church and grammar school and basic stores, a walk across the field to clothing and record stores. (K always bitches that things were different for me because I had the SIRT and apparently better buses, but still.) My neighborhood had a little department store, a hardware store, a print shop, groceries, a pharmacy, & a pizzeria. I walked to school in a few minutes. As a pre-teen I would walk across the field with my friends to go to the library, get ice cream, shop for make-up. As a teenager I would get on public transportation and travel further to do more unspeakable things. We played wiffle ball in the street. Mothers would visit each other in the afternoon for coffee & cigarettes. It was the perfect balance of open space, backyards, and green, with close neighbors, public transportation and civilization.

It's weird how communal my neighborhood still is. Everyone on the block still knows each other and talks when they come outside for their smokes and says hi when they walk down the street on the way to 5:00 mass.

Anyway my point is that apart from the political leanings, aesthetic taste, and educational level of the population, considering geography and infrastructure and amount of civilization, SI is tops. I feel sorry for children who can't walk to the library and play in the street.

I know new construction is just through the roof these days eliminating some of the nicer features. There used to be a cute little amusement park in South Beach. Now they build row houses on top of row houses and behind row houses. The house next door to my parents has been replaced with three. My Dad is always eager to point out and re-point out the new construction and triumphantly tells me about the new zoning laws they got passed against any new houses without at least one side detached. He's also against the proposed new high-speed ferry leaving from Midland Beach because it would increase traffic in his neighborhood. I hate the NIMBYism, but back to the point of my previous post: my father is 69 (today!). That generation is fading away and who knows what the future will hold? Almost definitely something different - the sheer number of new houses and new population implies that the current demographic mix is unlikely to stay exactly the same.
shunn From: shunn Date: October 6th, 2004 09:15 am (UTC) (Link)
God knows it's dangerous to get in the middle of a union civil war, but the Pennsylvania rep strains analogy when he talks about how well the New Yorkers would like it if he came to New York to oppose their mayoral choice. Well, the presidential race is national, not local. Suck it up.

(Not that the New York local is particularly smart in endorsing the man whose administration could maybe have but didn't prevent the attack that killed all those firefighters.)
rednoodlealien From: rednoodlealien Date: October 5th, 2004 04:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Didn't you go to Port Richmond high school? Weren't there a lot of minorities in your school, or was it simply in a crappy neighborhood without being non-white? I'm a former South Shore brat who just tends to think of the whole North Shore as something like Harlem. I'm also a former Catholic schoolgirl brought up with deathly fear of those public schools where they write on the desks with impunity and don't even wear uniforms.

Don't you think Staten Is has changed tremendously since we lived there? I don't have figures but I wouldn't be surprised if Irish-Italian Catholics are no longer the majority. The new houses on my old block are all populated by Russian immigrants. I see lots of ethnic storefronts. My little sister always hung out with Puerto Ricans. (But let's not get into her choice of milieu.) My old grammar school certainly has significantly more black students than it did when I was there (i.e. more than 2). I'm sure things have changed and continue to change, and I'll bet we see that Republican tendency eliminated during our lifetime.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: October 5th, 2004 05:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I went to Port Richmond. The student body was racially mixed but the classrooms were not; everything was divided into "academic" and "vocational" classes which meant "kids we want to send to college" and "kids we couldn't care less about" and of course you can figure out what the racial breakdown was. Except for gym, my classes were entirely white.

And I heard the same stories before high school and junior high school, of how Those People would beat us up and steal things and so on. They never impressed me because the white kids in my own neighborhood were more than enough to worry about.

The demographic is certainly changing on the Island, although influxes of Russian immigrants won't necessarily turn things more leftward. My parents still live in the same house I grew up in, and my block hasn't changed a bit, in demographics or in attitude. You may be right about the change, but I wouldn't bet on it.
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