To have and have not

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

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New York

My last week in the Bagel, and just as well. Things are heating up. Mind you, the last two weekends have been great. Noo Yawkers are very predictable, almost lemming-like. Come late May and June, everyone heads out of town, packing themselves into overloaded cars to travel on gridlocked highways to the Hamptons and down to the Jersey shore. Some even head for Connecticut and upstate New York, where poison ivy and lime disease are eagerly waiting for new city suckers. Never mind. It’s a well-known fact that the Bagel is never more pleasant than on the weekends, when the place slows down and relaxes. The streets are empty and navigable, taxis are everywhere and their Indian drivers looking for business, and the place feels like a small town with very large, empty buildings. When the city is kissed with sunshine and empty of its rude denizens, the ones who’ve stayed behind have by far the better deal.

Owning or renting a place by the sea seems to be the sine qua non of having made it in the Bagel. Class and its distinctions are still powerful forces around here, so strong, in fact, that the New York Times has run a series on ‘class in America’ throughout the past month. ‘Class matters,’ thundered the paper, and, adding to its great hold-the-front-page discovery, followed up with a ‘shadowy lines that still divide’ exclusive. Duh! Shadowy lines that still divide? How shadowy can money be? Very. Let’s face it, America in general and Noo Yawk in particular is only about money, and, as far as most New Yorkers are concerned, more moolah means more class. It’s very simple really.

In 1982, according to the US Census Bureau, there were only 12 billionaires in America. By 2003 there were 262 billionaires — with 48 of them making their home in the Big Bagel. By 2001 there were — get this — 6.5 million American millionaires, and ten million millionaire households. Talk about the poor inheriting the earth. The word millionaire is in fact so downgraded that it’s better to pose as an Irishman, or even a Turk.

But back to class, or the lack of it. It’s no secret that the rich are increasingly isolating themselves. This is normal. Manhattan is a tight, vertical place, with only 22 square miles of land crammed with 1.5 million souls. The have-nots live in Queens, the Bronx and in poor sections of Brooklyn. The almost-haves live in good parts of Brooklyn and in Staten Island. The have-a-lot-but-not-enoughs live in sidestreets of the upper east side around 1st and 2nd Avenues, and the lower east side and Hell’s Kitchen. The true haves live on Park and 5th Avenues and the left-wing haves on the upper west side. The bohemian haves are all near the Village, Tribeca, SoHo and west of Chinatown.

There you have them. The shadowy lines the Times busted our you-know-what with all these weeks. They could have done it in 750 words, like the poor little Greek boy has, but, no, they’re obviously trying for a who-put-more-people-to-sleep Pulitzer on this one. Back in the good old days, class warfare made it fun for newspapers like the Times. No longer. The moment one makes it big, they move to Manhattan, employ one of those real-estate brokers who would scare Hasso von Manteuffel shitless, and — presto — they’ve got class. So why cut down half of Finland’s forests in order to bore us silly? Money is class, and class is getting into the right building in the Bagel. Punto, basta, as they say in the land of pasta.

Mind you, the easy part is making the moolah. The hard part comes later, when the nouveau tries to get into a building where previous nouveaux are entrenched. The latest trick is for a luxury co-op, as they’re called, to install a Jewish person on the board so he or she can blackball other Jews trying to get in. One of the most disgusting human beings on the planet is the fink who also happens to be the toughest board member to get past in his rather crappy building off 5th Avenue.

A friend of mine lived on the floor above him, and her two sons would play basketball in the living room when their mother was out. One day the fink stormed into her apartment screaming the F-word, effing this and effing that. And the begging and crawling goes on as if ownership was to follow. But people who live in co-ops do not really own the walls and floors of their apartments — they own the stock in a private corporation that owns the building. It’s almost as good a racket as the one Cadogan and Grosvenor rip off Londoners with.

Oh well, at least I own my own house here, but next week I’ll be in Cadogan land, and being ripped off like the rest of the Bagelites over here.