High life | 28 March 2019

High life | 28 March 2019
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New York

This place feels funny, a bit like Beirut, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Druze and encamped Palestinians live together but separately, with one or two million Syrian refugees completing the mix. Over here the once-ruling Wasps are now irrelevant, having moved to their country clubs in the suburbs. The Chinese are creeping up, having bought more real estate in Manhattan alone than Islamic State has lost in Syria and Iraq. (I now get nuisance telephone calls in Chinese.) On the bottom of the ladder are the Hispanics and the African-Americans, the former doing all the heavy lifting in the construction business, the latter, sadly, being the majority in city jails. The Koreans are more or less hunky-dory, working 25 hours per day and then some. But their Stakhanovite work habits have not improved their language skills.

As in Beirut, there is a malaise about the place, with an enveloping fog of uneasiness. The city is no longer a melting pot but a landscape seething with frustrated hopes and dreams. The only happy people I see are midwestern tourists gaping open-mouthed up at the sky, and people with ten-gallon hats from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. When I was young, there was Germantown uptown, and Chinatown downtown, and Little Italy in between. Hell’s Kitchen, where the Irish were, was on the west side. Everyone mixed fine and the gangsters who were uptown and in the Bronx killed each other but never us. There was Harlem and the Cotton Club and Spanish Harlem, too; crime scenes in the past, now residential boroughs with yuppies thrown in for good measure. So, where does all the angst come from?

Why do so many feel like strangers in a strange town? Many New Yorkers have cut themselves loose from the ties that bind them to the customs of their parents and the people around them. Others have become trolling sociopaths whose frustrations are clear to see on their faces and in their body language. A recent manifestation of this malaise is men openly masturbating in crowded subway trains. Various offenders have been identified, photographed and publicly shamed, but few are arrested. Mayor de Blasio is the worst, or second worst, ever, spending like mad without results. The murder rate rises daily.

The great sociology professor Taki believes that all this angst derives from the fact that many New Yorkers are confused about their role in modern society. Globalism, multiculturalism and socialism have led to the destabilisation of traditional family values. There are new mores such as same-sex marriage, gender-neutral bathrooms and prepubescent transgender rights. But, above all, they feel mocked and marginalised by the elite who run this town; those in City Hall and the media and the hatchet-faced women of glossy magazines. Pseudo lefty-trendy magazines like the New Yorker fail to address the fact that Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, even African-American societies are conservative by nature. These phonies pretend to speak for the underdog, but converse only with each other.

Otherwise, always according to the good professor, New Yorkers have attached too much importance to dreams that were destined not to be — the American dream and all that. My friend Mark Brennan has just written a brilliant piece in Chronicles about his Mexican maid, and how she escaped her country for the land of plenty and is now scared to death that after 40 years of hard work her daughter might be slaughtered by illegal immigrant gangs that are running wild in Long Island. The trendy media types ignore the gangs and their victims because their archenemy,Trump, has made it part of his campaign to get rid of them. Feelings of personal powerlessness and a sense of futility make for a strange-looking bunch of Big Bagelites.

And yet the US has more rich folk than any other country, including China,which leads the world when it comes to creating billionaires. There are more rich people in America than the total population of Greece and Portugal. Just think: 12 million households in the United States have a net worth of more than $1 million; 3 per cent of Americans are millionaires (250,000 became millionaires only last year). Yet there’s a wealth of evidence showing that earnings don’t produce happiness. Some disagree, saying that money does make you happy; others, without it, say the opposite.

My oldest wrestling teammate in school, Anthony Maltese, was undefeated and among the best ever wrestlers in the country. We’ve been close friends for 65 years and Tony, a very rich man, is as generous as they come. He and his wife endured the worst fate ever — they lost a son in his athletic prime to cancer — yet they have never passed their grief on to their friends. They remain cheerful and helpful to everyone, and Tony finds reasons to send me gifts non-stop just because we were on the same team so long ago. The point I’m trying to make is that intelligent people can overcome any disaster, especially if they have religious faith. New Yorkers are in trouble because the phonies they listen to on TV and the scribblers they read are agnostic lefties who know as much about the common working man as I do about advanced algebra.

Start reading conservative stuff and happiness will follow. Yippee!