Report from the Upper East Side
The mood in the neighborhood is definitely down. My favorite sandwich shop started closing up for two hours in the afternoon since business was so slow. Entire blocks of stores now have “for rent” signs in the window. It’s especially sad when you know the people who’ve closed up shop, many of whom have been in the neighborhood for a decade or more.
My friend who owns the shop has worked like a dog to make a go of it. He came here from Mexico, and worked his way up from a dishwasher, to a short-order cook, and eventually had enough to open his sandwich shop. It took every penny of savings. He’s been in the neighborhood now for ten years, and has worked every day of the week, an average of 16 hour days. Yet he’s always believed in the dream, that this was the land of opportunity. That if you were prepared to work hard, you could get ahead. Now, for the first time, he’s puzzled by what’s going on. He asks the same question that everyone asks – how long can something like this go on.
I tell him that nothing like this has been seen since the 30’s. But that’s not reassuring. Nobody knows how long it will take for a turnaround.
The sign on the luxury housing across the avenue started as a small placard, apartments available. Now it’s a large banner.
It seems as if every other day someone is packing up and leaving this building. It’s a small building with 20 units. At this point, I think there are four empty apartments. No one wants to pay these types of prices anymore to live here. I’m here for many years so my rent is still somewhat reasonable – but for a new person it’s at least twice as much. The people who’ve moved have gone to Queens for the most part. Woodside and Astoria.
And I realize that we are living through historic times now. No – not the great depression – but it sure feels like it’s headed in that direction.
My own money – what there is of it – is in Citibank – which is now run by the government. I think the stock price is about a buck-fifty. Just amazing. It’s like the opposite of the internet bubble that I rode when I was in the programming business. In those days – every IPO that came out was a money-maker. Utter crap would shoot up like gold although nobody knew exactly what the hell it was.
Now the psychology is that nothing is worth buying. And people who used to stand in line to get breakfast at the sandwich shop, make their own breakfast to save money.
My guess is that this downturn hurts the rich more than the poor. It’s not much of a fall for people who’ve been living paycheck to paycheck. You don’t see laborers jumping out of windows during a depression. But if you’re wealthy – it is indeed a long fall to the bottom. I wonder how long it will take for Hollywood to turn out movies that acknowledge these times. Maybe a re-make of Sullivan’s Travels (not that anyone could do better than the original). Screwball comedies were born out of the great depression (Bringing up Baby, My Man Godfried etc., The Lady Eve). Movies that often made fun of the rich, or took a rich person and put them into a poor mileu. And of course the great hollywood musicals. The original escapist entertainment.
So if history does repeat itself – and I expect it will take Hollywood a while to catch up with the times – there will be a slew of movies along the lines of Trading Places. The musical version may already have hit it with those dancing high-school movies.
And who knows – maybe there’ll be another WPA type of program that hires artists. It could happen.