5.27.2015

Naturalization

Yesterday, I went to a friend's naturalization ceremony, which was lovely and moving.

I felt so proud to be an American, and so dismayed that the process of becoming a citizen of the State of Israel is nothing like the process of becoming a citizen of the US (though that, too, is flawed). It seems almost automatic there, barring odd circumstances, if you are Jewish or even have at least one Jewish grandparent, and almost impossible if you are not.

The speech that the judge gave was lovely, and some parts of it, although not all, would have been impossible in Israel. Other speeches would be possible in Israel that are not possible in the US, of course, and what is possible in the US was built on the backs of land stolen from Native Americans and the free and under-paid labor of many, many generations of African Americans among others--there is a lot not to be proud of here. But there is also a lot to be proud of. (The same is certainly true of Israel. But I feel more embarrassed about the part that I am not proud of there. More culpable. Because I could move there and dedicate my life to making a difference, or trying to, and I feel a bit more powerless to right what is wrong here.)

It totally skeeved me out that one of the people becoming a citizen was a woman who was covered head to toe except for her eyes, but I also felt immensely proud to be a citizen of a country where that was possible. (I later said, "Congratulations!" to her when we were using the restroom at the same time, and I was surprised that she had no accent, although perhaps I shouldn't have been. She could have been Canadian or raised in the US from a young age, or learned really great English somewhere else.) A man sitting next to me said proudly, "It's illegal to wear a mask or any head covering at all in court in [his native country]," and I was proud to live in a country where that was not the case. A statement was made at the beginning asking men to remove their hats that they were wearing for any purpose other than religion, and saying that women could keep their head coverings on. (There were a lot of Muslim and Hindu women becoming citizens wearing various manner of head or hair coverings, plus a sheitel and a fall, among the new citizens.) I felt proud to be a citizen of a country where so many people who look so different from me had worked long and hard with lawyers, learning American civics, and sacrificed so much to become citizens, and they were welcomed with open arms.

People from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, China, and various other repressive (and non-repressive) countries became American citizens yesterday, and I feel like that can only be a good thing for the world.

5.17.2015

Becoming a New Yorker

Growing up in Boston, I was always anti-New York. That's just how it is. New York thinks it's the top banana, or, rather, the ONLY banana. I knew better. Other lovely cities abound. So, even though I've now lived in New York City for over ten years, when people ask me where I'm from, I always say, "I live in New York but I am originally from Boston." Short, sweet, and most definitely to the point.

Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, though, I've begun to feel differently. I was in New York City on 9/11 (doing research at the Barnard Archives for my senior thesis for college) and I moved to New York during the August 15, 2003 blackout (I was supposed to move in on the 15th, but had to move in on the 16th, instead, due to the blackout). I was here for the great transit strike in December of 2005, which had me walking to and from work each day. (An entirely manageable 2+ mile walk each way, but I had to wear a lot of layers because it was a particularly cold week!) I was here during the great bungled-by-Bloomberg snowstorm in the winter of 2009-10, when some streets in Northern Manhattan simply NEVER got plowed. I was here for Hurricane Irene in August 2011, and my bedroom ceiling leaked. (For real. A window leaked on the 6th floor, which leaked down to the 5th floor, which leaked down to the 4th floor, which leaked down to my apartment on the 3rd floor. I woke up to a distinct drip-drip-drip and some soggy things.) I was here for Hurricane Sandy.

And...I feel kind of like a New Yorker. Like it is no longer something to be embarrassed about, since I know that there are so many lovely cities out there and New York is just one among many. New York has its faults, but it is also a city that honestly knows how to pull together and whose residents are mostly extremely nice and friendly, given how many strangers they have to interact with every day. People have pointed out when I've dropped things or my backpack pocket has been open, and I've done the same for others. People have held doors, as have I. Someone held a subway door for me recently for about two seconds and I was so grateful. It allowed me to catch a train that I needed to catch. My neighbors regularly hold the elevator for me, and I for them. It's a city full of anonymity (I don't really know any of my neighbor's names, although I say "hi!" to them when I see them), but also full of acts of kindness both large and small, between complete strangers.

Judaism calls this "chessed shel emet"--kindness that can never be repaid. Typically used to refer to acts of caring that we do for the dead, I see it every day in this little slice of urban living, le'havdil (I'm not comparing my anonymous co-residents to the dead!). I may never hold the subway door for those particular strangers who held the doors for me. I may never again see the woman who pointed out that liquid was spilling from my lunch bag. (Argh!) It's okay.

I do not mean to claim that it is all peaches and cream here. There are inconsiderate people here, too. Fellow straphangers who play games on their phones and DSs without headphones. People who fail to move to the inside of the subway car, despite crowding. People who stand and text or check their phone at the tops and bottoms of subway station stairs. (WHY?!)

It's not just the random, inconsiderate people who make living here hard. It is an awfully crowded and expensive place to live, at least in Manhattan, where I reside. I share a converted one-bedroom with a roommate, and I'm 35. ("No fake walls," I proudly tell people, "so it's not too bad!") It's getting a bit old. (The rent is *really* cheap, though, which is a huge blessing when you are a graduate student or a freelancer.) The streets are full of garbage most of the time. The elevators in the subways sometimes smell like urine and sometimes smell like crack. (I didn't know how crack smelled, but when sharing an elevator with a particularly strong odor that wasn't urine, a fellow rider told me that it was crack. You learn so much living here!) It's very, very loud. Most of the time, in most places. A quiet apartment is a relative term--there are always buses and cars going by.

But it's also not just random acts of kindness between strangers that make this city great. It is also extremely convenient. Public transit runs all the time. I feel safe taking it until midnight, and sometimes even later (just don't tell my mother). Public transit is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to travel between 1-100 miles. (I don't really know the outer limits of MetroNorth, NJ Transit, and LIRR, but it seems to be that or much, much more.) When I've visited friends in other cities with good public transit, the public transit is sometimes slow or doesn't take you where you need to go. That's never the case here, as far as I can tell, at least within the areas that I travel. In other cities, you need a car plus public transit. You really don't need a car anywhere in Manhattan. At all. There are sidewalks everywhere, and most of them are wide enough to walk four across (two people going in each direction). There is live music to be heard, for free, at all times of day and night. Grocery stores and drugstores open early and close late (not as much in Washington Heights as they did on the Upper West Side, but, still--a 24 hour pharmacy is always, at most, a short cab ride away).

So...against my better judgment, I seem to have become something of a New Yorker.

5.14.2015

financial realities and non-realities of life in Manhattan

I am trying to write this from not-my-computer, but rather a mobile device, so we'll see whether it works or not. I've actually been missing blogging a lot. It feels very 2005 to me, but I miss the longer form. I've been having great conversations on Facebook and Twitter, but I am really more of a long-form person, which longtime readers probably know without my explicating it. I have 147 drafts in my drafts folder, stretching from May 2006 to October 2013, so you may seem some of those backlogged posts soon. Maybe. I thought I would start blogging again before, and that didn't happen, so it may not work this time, either.

I recently saw this posted on Facebook:


The outrage is expressed in the tagline, "If you make less than $180,000 a year, you don't exist," because the Wall Street Journal infographic only includes examples of units earning at least $180,000/year. It seems quite...out of touch with actual reality for many people in Manhattan. (See: "Manhattan’s median annual household income is $66,739...where the median monthly rent is $3,100," here.)

It's not just the Wall Street Journal that is guilty of this type of oddly-skewed-to-the-wealthy-while-pretending-that-they-are-middle-class-or-poorer journalism. The New York Times is full of it. In this article ("What Is Middle Class in Manhattan?" 1/18/2013), for example, someone says that "making $250,000 a year is...maybe the upper edge of middle class." Claims like this one, that earning $500,000/year in Manhattan makes you middle class, abound.

I have a hard time with such claims. I think it's really hard for a single person to live on $35,000/year or less in Manhattan, unless (maybe) you manage to find a really cheap rent stabilized apartment in Harlem or Washington Heights or Hamilton Heights and your job comes with excellent medical, vision, and dental benefits. Maybe even $40,000, if you don't have health insurance through your job and don't want to live in a converted apartment (wherein part of the living room becomes a bedroom), in Washington Heights, or in a tiny studio, or if you don't have dental insurance or bad teeth. I am sure that it costs a lot more once you have kids. I don't know if it costs more or less if you're married. (Some people claim that it costs more and some people claim that it costs less. I think it depends on where you're coming from. Two single people sharing a converted one bedroom vs. a married couple sharing a one bedroom seems about the same to me.) But I cannot imagine that a family of four earning $200,000/year is barely squeaking by, or a family of six earning $650,000 is struggling in any way. If they are, move to the 'burbs!