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The International Writers Magazine: SnowYork SnowYork

Let them eat snow
Dean Borok digs his way out of Manhattan.
I have a low tolerance for appreciating cringe-inducing behavior, particularly after having indulged in it myself during so many periods of my life. It’s all very tedious sitting through a movie, watching some dork destroy his life in a painful sequence of humiliating scenes.



Sometimes, if you’re patient, a punch line at the end justifies all the pain, as in French director Claude Lelouche’s masochistic comedy “Robert et Robert”, where, after enduring 90 min. of pain, watching these guys systematically destroy every aspect of their lives, it emerges that the worse of the two has a talent for stand-up comedy and movie acting, with the last scene featuring them motoring up the Champs Elyssées in an American convertible full of beautiful starlets.

Now that imbeciles have cultivated a persona of digital geniuses, their maladroitness is perceived as a social asset. Nevertheless, as long as there is a rump population of people like this writer – who still remembers what cool people used to be like – there will always be somebody around to remind the public that the emperor has no clothes. A dork is still a dork.
This fact was brought home as never before during Mayor Bloomberg’s press conferences concerning the city’s efforts to dig itself out from Christmas Snowstorm Blast that covered the city this week. This storm, while not as severe as the terrible inundations that regularly plague upstate regions like Buffalo, reached a maximum level of intensity in a very short period, dropping two feet of snow in practically no time at all. When we went into the restaurant, it was clear. When we emerged it was Winter Wonderland. New York, which barely functions even in the best of times, came to an immediate halt. The next morning, the Upper East Side of Manhattan looked like a photo on a freakin Christmas card with holly and berries.

As for the vast stretches of Bridge- and Tunnel Land, where people need to drive ten minutes even to find a drug store, fuggedaboudit! Those places looked on TV as though they had been hit by a white shit bomb. The TV ran pictures of 80-year old women trying to dig their cars out of a snow bank, and if they did, so what? You couldn’t drive anywhere.

New York is so vast, and with so little snow removal capacity, that a lot of neighborhoods were snowed in for days. This is a big problem if you live in Shitstone, Queens, and you have a houseful of kids and pets to feed, and the nearest Gristedes is only accessible by dogsled.
If this were Finland or Canada the population would take the climate into account and patiently make do until conditions cleared up. But New Yorkers possess all the emotional continence of a mob of drunken, rogue Brazilian diamond miners on Saturday night, who are rioting because the bars have shut down.

It’s a funny thing. New Yorkers endure power blackouts like little lambs. After the 2003 blackout, people just meekly accepted the mayor’s excuses that everything was being done that could be done blah blah blah. Then came the announcement that rates would be going up, not for infrastructure upgrading but because shareholders had the entitlement expectation that dividends would continue to stay high.

Then, three years ago, the Astoria section of Queens got hit with a weeklong blackout during the hottest part of August, causing people and businesses to lose all their refrigerated food, reducing them to sleeping in their cars for the air conditioning and causing senior citizens to die from the heat. This time, when faced with criticism about his ineffectiveness, Mayor Bloomberg showed his teeth, asserting that the electricity grid was antiquated (whose fault was that, considering that Con Ed was still sending out fat dividend checks to shareholders?), that everything was being done that could be done, and that, most outrageously, the boss of Con Ed was doing a “fine job”.

This is the problem, an oligarchy of bosses. Bloomberg bought the mayoralty. He never could have gotten elected based on his charm or public service qualifications. He’s like a Jewish mother who won’t shut up. And he’s too much on the side of the bosses all the time, asserting that the head of Con Ed was doing a fine job while people from Astoria were withering and passing out like flies, even though that utility charges the highest rates in the nation for maintaining an obsolete infrastructure. It’s Thatcherism minus that lady’s indefinable charm.
Unfortunately for Mayor Mike, this time he ran up against an impenetrable wall of snow. If New Yorkers are relatively supine on the issue of electrical outages, they go bonkers when it comes to equitable snow removal, which means that the far reaches of Staten Island insist on demanding the same service that Manhattan gets, which is never going to happen, baby!

The class resentment over snow removal takes the form of concentric rings of fury tightening around the neck of Manhattan, with the most voluble complaints deriving from the outer reaches of the city, where the inhabitants, stewing from cabin fever after being stuck in their houses for three of four days, swell up and explode like the zits on a teenager’s face. Unlike the wiring and conduits of an electrical grid, which are concealed underground and out of public view, the mechanics of snow removal are accessible to anybody who has eyes. You need a truck with a plow to push the snow. End of story.

As of Thursday, four days after the snowfall, vast areas of the outer city had yet to see a snow removal crew. Imagine what must be the reaction of an inhabitant of Laurelton, Queens, stranded for days, when he sees televised images of Manhattanites skating in Rockefeller Center or preparing for the big New Year’s Eve blow-out in Times Square.

Naturally, the borough presidents, fearful for their own positions, are taking the biggest whacks at Bloomberg. “This is an outrage,” fumed Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, who never shuts up, precisely echoing what he was hearing from his own constituents.

The problem is that New York does not get hit by heavy snowfall more than once every five years or so, and it is not economically feasible to array an army of equipment, which would have to be maintained year round, in anticipation of an eventual blizzard that might come later rather than sooner. Pretty soon, people would start to complain about that as well. Imagine how much indulgence a council member would enjoy if he brought up the subject of snow removal during a meeting in August, when everybody is soaked in sweat. He would get laughed out of the room!

That doesn’t mean that the city is helpless. For instance, a theoretical Office of Snow Emergency could be charged with maintaining rosters of hourly workers with shovels for each neighborhood. Sure, it would cost money to maintain even a basic network like that, but the decision is whether you want to live in a civilized city or just a chaotic freefall situation resembling a Three Stooges comedy, which is what you have got now. For all of Bloomberg’s touted abilities as a problem solver and a manager, he sure don’t know shit about snow.
But how much do you need to know? Municipal politics is one part theatrical promotion. Witness the public relations triumph of Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Corey T. Booker, who rushed from location with a Twitter device and a snow shovel, and actually himself put his back into helping people shovel their sidewalks.

Mayor Corey OK, it was just a photo opportunity of mayoral involvement, but the citizens of Newark unanimously acclaimed him, “What a guy!” Imagine if, instead of flying over the New Orleans flood in Air Force One, Bush would have made them land the plane so that he, dressed in work clothes and a hard hat, could participate in loading sandbags for a day or two. The American electoral landscape might look a lot different today. Yeah, fat chance of George Bush doing a day’s work!

Newark’s Mayor Booker obviously has higher political ambitions, which were measurably enhanced by his day of playing in the snow. I’m sure that Mayor Booker didn’t have to work that hard, just get the pump primed. One thing that I learned from many years of managing workers is that if the boss picks up tools and starts working, it motivates them. I’m satisfied that after seeing the mayor pick up a shovel, every young dude on the block rushed to do the job – a contemporary art tableau of gold chains and ear studs sparkling against a background of fluffy, driven snow. It’s Tom Sawyer whitewashing the white picket fence all over again. All politics is local.

While Booker was working out with the shovel, to the delight of the viewing audience, New Jersey’s Tea Party governor, Christopher Christie, who has invested so much into enhancing his reputation as a tough guy, was sitting his morbidly obese butt on a Florida poolside barstool, refusing to cut short his vacation for something so insignificant as a snowstorm. It’s amazing how politicians can grow tone deaf to the realities of retail politics. When Christie finally returned home on Thursday, he told a press conference, “I made a conscious decision to [stick to my vacation and] be a father to my family.”

Christie could have excused himself by pleading, “I tried to get back but all the airports were closed”, but he was instead defiant, announcing, “I had qualified appointees in place and saw no reason to cut my vacation short.” Maybe he’s right. A snow blizzard is not something this governor can make disappear, like demolishing an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast at the IHOP in Piscataway Township. What could he have done, use his voluminous girth to crush the snow like a giant Transformer Leviathan?

See how Christie’s line plays to the lady who got stuck in her car for ten hours, finally having to abandon it on the highway and check into a motel, even though she was only two minutes’ drive from her house. Not that she would have had it any easier if Christie had been in the state, pretending to do something, but by taking such a defiant attitude of insouciance, Christie is setting himself up as a lightning rod for the very palpable electoral fury and resentment that he exploited to elevate himself into the governor’s mansion.

But nothing sums up the comedic aspect of this snowstorm more than Bloomberg’s insistence at showing off his mastery of the Spanish language during his snowstorm press conference. He told the reporters, “I’ll take questions after I address some remarks to our Spanish-speaking citizens,” then proceeding to fracture the Spanish language so atrociously that to this viewer the incomprehensible mess was worse than scratching fingernails across a blackboard. Who was he trying to impress? Nobody Spanish, that’s for sure! Naw, the mayor was impressing English speakers who are even more ignorant than he. You don’t have to be a genius to get elected. You just have to be smarter than your constituents. After ten seconds of listening to this abomination, I wanted to join the worldwide chorus that incessantly implores North Americans to “Please, SPEAK ENGLISH!!'

©Dean Borok Jan 2nd 2011

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