Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Schlub

Not <i>that</i> kind of schlub—a New York Schlub: our subspecies of 30-something men working it just hard enough

This is not a New York Schlub.

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.

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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?

Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Schlub