On July 5, the New York Yankees were up 6-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning in an away game against the Cleveland Indians. Orlando Cabrera snapped the quiet with a sharp grounder between second and third that looked to be an easy base hit for the home team. The 37-year-old Derek Jeter, in his second game back after more than two weeks on the D.L., grabbed the ball as he spun in one fluid motion, like shine off a diamond, thunder-bolting a cross-field throw to Jorge Posada at first.
Mr. Cabrera was out by an inch.
A few days later, I tuned in comfortably, from a couch in Brooklyn that reclines on both sides, to watch, along with a hefty chunk of the rest of the city, Mr. Jeter chase his 3,000th regular-season career hit in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. I anticipated a lot and did not expect much. The matchless eggheads in the sporting press had been pooh-poohing much of his performance this season, assuring us that his best days were well behind him (he was running his worst batting average since his rookie season in 1995, for one thing). He should still be thought of as a future Hall of Famer, of course—just, you know, don’t settle in for fireworks.
Then: whack, WHACK, whack, whack, whack! The Yankee captain went 5-for-5 on the day, his second hit—No. 3,000—a cinematic homer into the left-field stands.
I leaned forward on my couch. Right then, I developed a theory that hinged on Mr. Jeter’s run to the hitting milestone: He is the prototypical New York Schlub. He is a man written off in his early middle-age after a youth of accomplishment earned the hard way—through actively being good at things; the defined establishment of his field allows him to coast as he chooses; and he is always dutifully applauded when sparks of the old fire flash.
It has nothing to do with physical appearance or prowess, though few other cities would allow flip-flops, a loose shirt and corduroys in August to count as professional wear as it does here. The New York Schlub is a subspecies—no corpulent dudes couch-surfing their weeknights through TiVoed Family Guy episodes, the detritus of Chipotle takeout sluicing through flesh folds. In New York, a schlub might hit the gym early every morning and spend evenings, after a day of suitably long hours, dutifully poring through Outliers, The Tipping Point and anything else Malcolm Gladwell can write his way. (Mr. Gladwell, in fact, reigns as perhaps the king of the Ur New York Schlubs, now a couple of years past the cut-off date of 45ish. One’s mind, traveling the same gestational lines, trips quickly to other, slightly older writers like Adam Gopnik or David Zinczenko; or saltier heads like Graydon Carter, he of the shorts in the office in the summer; Jon Meacham, with his publishing sinecure punctuated by that earnest forehead furrow on Charlie Rose; and David Brooks, who shows the full career potential of the New York Schlub in every held-together-by-chewing-gum maxim he pens for the World’s Greatest Newspaper about how the young and the affluent, some of them already schlubs, should tender their ambition.)
In New York, a schlub might wear Brooks Brothers and Bexley; or pinstripes and cleats; his wardrobe is, in fact, as immaterial as his physicality. In New York, a schlub gets away with things a woman would never get away with.
“I applaud the schlub!” emailed professional matchmaker Amy Van Doran. “I think it’s great anytime anyone has figured out a way to be successful on their own terms.” She quickly turned to the rub, though, as far as her field goes. “It bums me out that there is a double standard; a female schlub is a slob, and I don’t have any schlubs that are seeking slobs.”
The New York Schlub oils entire industries here. Finance, law, advertising, P.R.—the very designs of their trajectories for success (put in the years, reap the perks) invite schlub life; some, like real estate, require even less time investment. New York magazine six years ago declared Michael Shvo a “real estate mogul” at the age of 32, when he had done little more than slap “lifestyle” on condo marketing materials and pissed off his elders (he has since tellingly disappeared from the propertied scene).
Government? It brims with coasters—that’s kind of the point. Where else would the 33-year-old Joel Rivera, after his initial election at age 22, be able to twiddle his thumbs long enough to become majority leader of the City Council and then take a sweetheart real estate gig on the side? Adam Clayton Powell IV? Same, though a little more in league with other Ur New York Schlubs; ditto, Anthony Weiner, a coaster from his late 20s on the City Council right on through his collapse just past 40. Foodies? Rocco DeSpirito, 44. Tech? Dear god. Media? Entire middle mastheads here teem with the schlubbiest schlubs, bouncing from one title to the other (yeah, I know).
At some point, a guy can just stop trying that hard after he has worked that hard. There are numbers to prove it.
A day after Mr. Jeter’s cynicism-stopping spin move against the Indians, the Pew Center was out with a jobs report that showed men were basically gaining back jobs at a much faster rate than women during the economic recovery.
The report by Rakesh Kochhar, an associate director at Pew, culled statistics since June 2009, when the recession ended (though no one told us). The key finding? “From the end of the recession … through May 2011, men gained 768,000 jobs and lowered their unemployment rate by 1.1 percentage points to 9.5 percent. Women, by contrast, lost just 218,000 jobs during the same period, and their unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage points to 8.5 percent.” The kicker: “The recovery from the Great Recession is the first since 1970 in which women have lost jobs even as men have gained them.”
Why can’t New York women who toiled their 20s and early 30s away be New York Schlubs themselves, riding hard-won accomplishments while striving less?
The Pew report punted on a reason for the discrepancies, though floated a few possibilities. There are more men out there applying for jobs. Women just can’t hold jobs as well as men in a variety of fields for a variety of reasons. Men have more flexibility than women in accepting jobs. The suggestions were the usual suspects, set against economic calamity.
Pundits took the report as a chance to pound out the words “hecovery” and “mancession”—as in a “hecovery is under way from the mancession” (we get paid for this). Annie Lowrey broke in a different direction.
In a July 11 column for Slate, the economics writer cited the Pew report, including the important caveat that men suffered more than women during the recession (thus “mancession”). “[T]he picture remains worrying for women, who continue to lose jobs even as the economy slowly, very slowly, gets better.” She then wrote that she hoped for a “shecovery” to accompany the “hecovery” soon. Neologisms abound!
I called Ms. Lowrey in her D.C. office a few days after the column. We talked about the Pew report and its mere theories for why men are coming out of the recession more strongly than women. We also talked about the dearth of data, really, on all this: men, women, hiring, firing, the recession—there has not been an economic calamity remotely comparable to the current one since the 1930s. There are few apples in American history to set against our current bushel.
“What was weird,” Ms. Lowrey said, citing the Pew report, “was not that men were just gaining in sectors where they normally have a lot of jobs, like finance, like construction. They were kind of taking a bigger share of jobs across all sectors; and there’s not a lot to explain that. It seems like employers are just choosing to hire men.”
Ah-hah! And after they do? I called Emily McCombs, the managing editor of xoJane.com, the Jane Pratt vehicle “where,” it explains, “women go when they are being selfish, and where their selfishness is applauded.” What did she think of the Pew report and my theory?
“Gender undoubtedly plays a role in hiring and firing, and what sector you’re likely to be working in in the first place, which is not really a surprise to anyone,” Ms. McCombs said. “Certainly, when you get to a management level you can sort of kick back in that way, and I think it’s pretty well-documented that there are more men on that level than women.”
Get to that level then, men, and quickly. It’s not a bad thing, not at all. It is to be aspired to, something to work toward. Schlub life, with its desultory blips of flair amid a genial coasting, will make you the envy of your pals and your women. Who would not want to be Adam Rapoport or Jay Fielden, their respective 41 years splayed across Times Style profiles that fawned over their natty wardrobes, ambrosial cuisine and desirable real estate? Or any of the duditors, all gelled, French-cuffed and jauntily secure in their jobs?
As for Mr. Jeter, he batted a media-softball-league-worthy .176 in the week after going 5-for-5 against the Rays (he also skipped the All-Star Game, angering fans who voted him in). Does it matter? Nah. He spent the past 15 years killing it. And then he had that salubrious 3,000th. And the Yankees, besides, have settled into that familiar autumnal pennant sprint with Boston—a city that, much like our kind of schlub, continues to trade on its most consequential days, way, way back when: “Take the T to where the Declaration of Independence was first read!”
email@example.com :: Follow on Twitter @tacitelli
Follow Tom Acitelli via RSS.