Happy Days Are Here, For a Few of Us

What spoilsports they are at The New York Times ! Why, smack-dab in the middle of all the fashion fun in Bryant Park–a place that certain unfashionable types (i.e., taxpayers) will recall was once a public space and not a private playground for the rich and brainless– The Times chose to remind us how difficult this grand and glorious metropolis can be for the middle class.

This, of course, was a case of insensitive timing, for what is fashion week if not a celebration of the triumph of glorious style over the dreary mundane? To talk about the plight of the fuddy-duddy, off-the-rack middle class while the cream of the meritocracy was watching substance abusers cavorting about in their underwear was, like, totally gauche.

In successive days and in stories that were not treated as part of a piece but are, The Times took note of the following developments: First, it apparently is occurring to certain ungrateful types that it’s rather insane to dispatch monthly checks of $3,000 or more to the landlord while simultaneously putting bread on the table; second, many heads of families and their children from the complaining classes will bear any burden, fight any foe and support any friend in the effort to get into Stuyvesant High School–a public, as in free, institution that offers the sort of education generally reserved for the scions of fame and fortune who dream of the day when their talents and fine educations will earn them their rightful place with the underwear-wearers of Bryant Park.

What a drag! To hear the complaints of these losers, you’d think there was something, like, wrong with outrageous rents and insane competition for elite high schools! Aren’t $100,000-per-year rentals, like, a good sign? Doesn’t that mean that the economy is, you know, booming? Isn’t it great that the meritocratic elite–you know, those well-dressed and handsomely compensated people upon whom fate has smiled, thanks to the purity and vastness of their talent–is making money hand over fist? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

Like, who really cares about the plight of some icky loser in Queens who’ll never parade around midtown dressed in a five-figure frock, who’ll never have reason to consult some bit of glossy pornography for interior design hints? [Editor's note: Is there any evidence that such people exist? Explain.] [Columnist's note: Who do you think is paying for the Condé Nast tower, etc.] [Editor's note: Oh, them ! Glad to hear they're still around!] And isn’t it time we stopped pretending that those who can’t pay $15,000 a year for private school are somehow worthwhile?

To the fashion week crowd, of course, the complaints of the middle class are mere background noise, drowned out by ironic exchanges concerning celebrities, media colleagues and late-night television. So these citizens of the new New York, the New York of the information age and the Wall Street boom, will be astonished to discover how much their prosperous little world depends on those $3,000-a-month renters about whom they know nothing.

This is not the first time the city’s middle class has cast its eyes elsewhere. New York lost nearly a million people during the 1960’s, and it is fair to say that most of those exiles would not have inspired John Steinbeck to tell their tales of woe. They were a part of the escape that took place in nearly every urban area during that tumultuous decade. It was called “white flight,” which it certainly was at the time but now is no longer, as any glance at the moving vans making their way east and west would indicate.

The exodus of the 1960’s contributed to the fiscal crisis of the 1970’s. Those self-satisfied folks who believe they have found their city on a shining hill should, but no doubt will not, pause to reflect on a new set of troubling numbers: The infamous and crippling exodus of the 60’s has been repeated in the 1990’s. This time, though, there is no social upheaval, no hard times, no racial discord (at least no more than usual). Our great civic leaders and media giants assure us that New York has never known such sweet times. And yet a million people have left. They can’t afford the real estate. They can’t send their kids to decent high schools. Nothing else matters: Unlike the waifs and naïfs who attend private parties in public parks, they have lives to lead, and this city, with all its glory and newfound safety, can’t or won’t make those lives worth living in New York.

Some no doubt will wish them a crude farewell, for there are among us small-minded people who believe that anyone who leaves New York is, by definition, a failure.

In a few years, however, those satisfied citizens may see failure writ large, thanks in part to the missing million who found the new New York an inhospitable place.