No, James, New York City is NOT Dead.

19 Aug

Whelp, I just finished reading that whiny article by James Altucher: Hedge-Fund Manager and ooooooh lordy, where to begin? At the very beginning, I suppose.

I have lived in New York City for over 15 years and grew up going to sleep with a view of the sky line from my bedroom in suburban New Jersey. When I moved here right after college, I moved to a city that was very different from the one I had always known. Roughly four years out of the “law and order, kill all the fun” mayoralty of Rudy Giuliani, and about three years into the “make NYC into a playground for the rich” rule of Michael Bloomberg (which lasted at least 4 years longer than it should have), New York City was, I would say, losing a little bit of its obvious grit. And that is not to say that life wasn’t a hustle for the vast majority of New Yorkers, because it was. But the stories and experiences of the work-a-day and struggling New Yorkers who always gave New York City that “personality” that Altucher longs to regain were lost under the layers of tales told by, and about, the wealthiest few, and those striving to become them. They were ignored in exchange for stories about pent house living, a proliferation of expensive restaurants, shiny sky scrapers full of empty apartments bought with overseas cash and chain stores taking over previously awesome places like the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn. Neighborhoods like Crown Heights that have a rich history of Black homeownership have changed tremendously, and not for the better. Helped along by gentrification and deed theft, this has paved the way for places like Dwell, which offers communal living at the low, low price of….$1350 a month. But don’t worry, living at Dwell comes with a weekly professional cleaning service, grocery deliveries and a built-in washer dryer so you never have to learn to live on your own or leave your compound and spend money at local businesses. Another awesome perk: you don’t need to become part of the community when it is created for you inside your own home! What a steal!

Altucher moves on to lament the grab-bag of business opportunities that used to fall from the sky in his pre-COVID NYC. Maybe I was frequenting the wrong neighborhoods and paling around with the wrong sort, but that was certainly not my experience, nor was it the experience of any of the dozens and dozens of people I know who also live here in New York. Opportunities didn’t come to them. They fought like hell to make space in an increasingly expensive and hostile market friendly only to those with deep pockets. I know people who have started bars, helped form the Gotham Girls Roller Derby League, created dance troupes and theater companies, and founded podcast networks. These people all achieved their dreams without large amounts of hedge-fund money. They created things against all odds. Sometimes, they lost money on it but, despite what some people might think, money isn’t the only motivator. They saw an opening where something needed to be made, they had friends willing to help, and so they made it. Those people are still here. They never left during the lockdown because this is their home for better or worse, and guess what, they are still making things. Heard of Roger Corman’s Quarantine Film Festival? I have friends who filmed a 2-minute short on a Samsung Galaxy X10 phone using an iPhone7 for light and it’s going all the way to the Coney Island Film Festival. These people may not become millionaires, but they are making the world, and New York City, better every single fucking day. And my group of friends and acquaintances are not unique. We are all over this damn town. From all backgrounds, with all sorts of different interests, talents, personalities and, yes, stories to tell that are well worth hearing. And, PS, those stories have been here all along, you were just too busy “living the dream” to notice.

One thing this pandemic shut down has taught me is that when the going gets tough, the rich pack up and move to their second homes. Altucher makes a point to say that he was not among the many people who left New York in early March when some “felt it would provide safety from the virus and they no longer needed to go to work and all the restaurants were closed.” (No mention at this point of the people who worked in or owned the restaurants, but I digress). He was big and strong and brace. He stayed here. He did, however, leave when in June the “rioting and looting” started. “Nothing wrong with the protests but…” he has kids. And it is at this point more than ever that I let out a resounding


New York City is not dead, not even close. Your money can just no longer insulate you from the lives that the rest of us are living. The Black Lives Matter marches over the past few months made New York City the most alive I have seen it in years. You think a few nights of looting is worth more of a consideration than weeks upon weeks of meaningful protests? Get out of here. No I’m serious, just leave. Tens of thousands of people – even some children! – marched in lockstep through city streets carrying signs and chanting, demanding justice, police accountability, the end of 50A and that Black Lives fucking Matter. In New York City and everywhere else.

I also want to touch on your Facebook group, and all those friends you have who are currently fleeing the city in fear of a “homeless person losing his mind” and “parents with a child asking for money for food.” The unfortunate truth, and something we need to work hard to address, is that the mentally ill and the housing and food insecure have always been on the streets here because New York City and this country at large refuses to take mental illness seriously, refuses to deal with poverty, homelessness and chronic hunger in any real way. People have been hurting since long before this pandemic struck, your wealth just insulated you from them. Folks need help and people like you and your friend Derek who demonize the mentally ill and who demonize the poor to make some bullshit point about a city in decline are, quite honestly, privileged assholes who probably quietly supported Giuliani’s ban on the squeegee men because they were an “annoyance” or a “scourge,” rather than seeing them as people trying to create opportunities to feed themselves and their families.

I know you think of yourself as some sort of cultural guru, who “owns” a comedy club that famous people used to perform at. And I know you are upset that the police shut down your outdoor show in May – when, btw, we were still in the middle of a coronavirus shit storm. And I’m glad that you think you get why places are closed, because there was a pandemic. Hate to break it to you, Jimbo, but we are not out of the woods yet. You and Andrew Cuomo might be the only people who think they can write a true telling of this crisis. Maybe you’ll get a book deal too if you’re lucky. Truth is if a couple super spreaders make their way back into the city we could, heaven forbid, have another outbreak which means a lot more pain for those of us who never left, who aren’t leaving now and who don’t plan on leaving any time soon. It’s true, those retail chain stores might never come back and with that their deep pockets exit as well. But you know what? Most of those huge companies stopped paying rent the second the city shut down. They will cut and run as soon as they don’t predict endless profit. Sound familiar? They do not care about New York City. They care about making money and enabling the wealthy to trounce around cities, towns and islands with careless abandon. Well I say good riddance to them, and good riddance to you. I truly hope that when we crawl out on the other side of this terrible time we don’t see this city as a shell of its former self but instead as the holder of opportunities and as a place where those of us who didn’t have the option to leave or decided to stick it out can have a go at something. Lowering rents isn’t New York City’s death knell. It means people can afford reasonable housing and reasonable prices. It means maybe we can get some families back on their feet in the city they love. And while I don’t give a shit about places like Barney’s moving out, I am sad about all the small mom-and-pops who weren’t able to weather this horror show. Those were the places that really made New York special. And I am hopeful with corporate-backed businesses moving out and rents going down, people with small bank accounts and big dreams can move in. I don’t think New York is dying, not by any stretch. I think this is hard, it is tragic, it fucking hurts and it shouldn’t have happened the way it did but instead of lighting the funeral pyre on my home, I choose to look forward to the upcoming renaissance. I look forward to when, in the hopefully not-to-distance future, New York City says fuck you to the rich folks who made it their playground on the backs of low income workers and hightailed it out of here when the going got tough. There are so many people here with big dreams and awesome stories who simply never got a real chance. They’ve always been here. We’ve always been here. I’m thinking it’s our time now. I guess the point is, go ahead and leave if you want. That’s your choice. But spare us this nonsense about how the city won’t survive without you and your money. Save the conversations about your exceptionalism for your dinner parties with other self-proclaimed exceptional people. Us normals will just be here rebuilding what your money destroyed. So, James? We will be fine without you. And I’m sorry in advance if you don’t get a welcome home party upon your return.

6 Responses to “No, James, New York City is NOT Dead.”

  1. creatingcarrie August 19, 2020 at 7:44 pm #

    This. So much this. The New York I miss is the scrappy one, not the glitzy one.

  2. Zoë Bean August 20, 2020 at 8:05 am #

    This! Every word. Thank you for this. As Drew & I get ready to re-open in a very changed Dumbo I have to say that as horrible as all of this has been something about NYC feels very 1991 to me and I’m not mad about that. I lived in NY when the promise to the city felt real for artist and immigrants. I’m hoping for that again. Thank you for being a voice that believes in NY and believes in regular people. We are what makes NY and always have been. (Even if I technically don’t live there anymore it will always be my home).

    • FranklyRebekah August 20, 2020 at 12:08 pm #

      Thank you so much for reading. Yeah, it’s sort of a mixed bag, right? Like, the pain that people are experiencing is real and I am so sad to see so much hardship, but I truly do believe that New Yorkers are innovators and creators. Give us some time and we will come back better than ever. And your new shop, which I cannot wait to see, is evidence of that! Congrats again!!!!

  3. August 20, 2020 at 11:22 pm #

    FRANK! THANK YOU!!!!! Thank you for writing this. Fuck this anal pube. “A true New Yorker has seen the New York they love disappear before their eyes… over and over again, and from the old comes the New” pops This weak…entitled…poser. BYE BITCH! Sometimes shit gets ugly and real but What do New Yorkers and Goonies say: NEVER SAY DIE!!! Love you!!! Xoxo Shan

    Sent from my iPhone


    • FranklyRebekah August 23, 2020 at 4:16 pm #

      FOR FUCKING REAL!!!! Miss your face so, so much!

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