Tis the gift to be simple.” As a lifetime New Yorker, that’s one I have no use for. While the President pulls his Ponzi act with our Sept. 11 aid and his Attorney General wants to make it perfectly clear just who is in charge of our deaths, while visions of military tribunals dance through our heads and the sweetest people I know are talking about extracting someone’s fingernails, I’ve been thinking about what I really want from Michael Bloomberg in the near future. Above all else, I want him surrounded by first-rate lawyers who can recognize a con when one comes knocking. I want him to be a triple-dealing, postmodernist, introspective, brooding, fleet-footed, irony-riddled, alienated, film noir type of guy, because that’s the only kind that will help us survive the times with our skins in place.
I want him to surround himself with folk who have vocabularies longer than their pinkies. I want him to be that fellow in a suit who can strip in a telephone booth, change into his running clothes and find his way to the Throgs Neck Bridge in case the Triborough gets blown up. I want someone who can imagine that the dear little guy with a drooping mustache selling hot dogs on the corner might have anthrax in his mustard bottle. I don’t want humility in our civic leader. Humility is for hermits in their caves. I want arrogance and confidence and rudeness galore-otherwise we are going to get rolled.
What about honor and goodness and caring for the poor and the wasted? What about remembering the million neediest cases and the saddest sacks and America’s promise to the huddled masses? And what about just plain decency and respect for differences of style, skin color, religious inclinations, etc.? Of course Mayor Bloomberg needs all that-or at least he needs to convince us through many photo ops that his heart is good and that he loves firemen and policemen and homeless men as well as financial wizards and Broadway stars. Civic survival depends on a fiction of emotional connection, one to another. Just show up, please, and look sad when you should and happy when you should and, like a good master of ceremonies, warm up the audience for the acts to follow.
I don’t care what troubles Mayor Bloomberg’s sleep. If his heart is threadbare, I don’t want to know it. I want him to convince us that a moral being is at our helm. A few gestures in that direction will do. I’ll get worried if he begins to act like a saint and takes off his winter coat and offers it to an unprepared tourist from Florida. I don’t want him bringing medicine to AIDS patients; I’d rather he figured out which hospitals are bloating their take and which are doing the right thing. I’d rather he found us the money to reduce class size in schools than bounce children on his knee.
I don’t want him to go soft on crime. I want him to seem stern to criminals, as well as to greedy unions and racial flacks who would have us at each other’s throats given half a chance. I don’t want him to be nice to teachers who aren’t doing their job or parents who ignore their kids or school custodians who mope instead of mop. I don’t want him to be thinking about who loves him all the time. I don’t even want him to be lovable. The mayor of this city should be able to shed a tear for the cameras but never descend into bathos or excessive affection for one pressure group or another. Don’t favor the bird-watchers over the runners, the Korean grocers over the Thais, or the Orthodox Jews over the black Baptists. Think of them all as hungry mouths snapping at the empty air. Feed them in turn when you can, fool them into thinking they are getting more than they are if you have to, listen to their complaints about each other, then go to the opera or the Hamptons, eat a good meal, clear your head-it’s money and management that matters. Dream money dreams; be a money man. Think high finance, and jobs will follow. Leave the poetry to the experts.
I have my doubts about the small quality-of-life issues being such a big deal. I don’t really see how imprisoning the squeegee men or the turnstile jumpers changed our crime rate. It didn’t seem to effect the number of crazy men who got into the subway and pushed women in front of trains. But this is not a political issue for the barricades. If Mayor Bloomberg wants the police to get the litterbugs and squash them, that’s all right with me, but he shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the guy who drops his half-eaten chalupa in the park is the same fellow pushing cocaine in the projects. Don’t worry, Mr. Mayor, I don’t think you can ever get all the guys with powder in their jacket pockets from pushing and pulling at the dark side of urban life. The porn theaters will thrive whatever you do. The needles may or may not be exchanged, but they will be used. The kids will not do well on standardized tests next year (or the one after that), and the shelters will be full, and life in our city will continue to teem with grief that no politician can cure.
Urban life has always been perfumed by the smell of the sewers. Broken hearts have always been more numerous than roaches in the pipes. The parades are sure to be tacky, and the police are not all beyond corruption. The people going to the opera in their finery may or may not have embezzled, cut corners, been cruel to their children, betrayed their wives or husbands. There are flophouses and brothels, and places where your child can gain an advantage over a less advantaged child on her SAT’s. There’s gay-bashing and just plain bashing and snobberies enough for every citizen to feel superior to his neighbor. The city is not manageable like ancient Athens. We lack slaves, and women also vote (which probably screws everything up). So enjoy the spectacle, keep the books, push back if someone pushes you, but don’t expect to cure what ails us. Recognize that we are disreputable and not very nice, but notice that we have a strong pulse along with our chronic high blood pressure.
This time of year, the schoolchildren begin their journeys from the far corners of the city to midtown to view the Christmas windows, to see Santa and make a wish. There they are, in lines, getting on and off the subways, teachers trying to keep order, stragglers rounded up, a lot of yelling and orders to be quiet, stay in line, etc. Name tags on strings dangle wistfully from each child’s neck, and somehow the sight saddens. They are paraded into the glitter, and single file they take in the Rockefeller Center tree, lights blinking. Think of it: There is no way that the Mayor could make this pilgrimage truly happy, the children moving freely on the crowded streets. There is no way that most of these children can ever have the dream world offered on Fifth Avenue. A good Mayor knows that going in. He can play Santa at the Christmas party on the cancer ward, but he can’t make chemotherapy a picnic.
All I want from Mike Bloomberg is that he work without illusions, think of himself as a money manager for an entire metropolis, bring Washington and Albany to heel and be friendly to tourists. Welcome and bienvenue , life is a cabaret….