The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Upstate, or Concerto Grosso in A Flat, not by George Frederick Handel

Upstate. What is Upstate? Why is Upstate such an important concept for those of us who live here in the Vampire State? And, most importantly, where is Upstate?  This last is a very important question, as many people in the Vampire State would rather have a body part removed without the benefit of anesthesia then have anyone they know think that they live or know anyone Upstate, and there are others who think wistfully that maybe they would be better off if somehow or other they could just get out of the New York City rat race and move Upstate, where the grass is always greener and the picket fences are always whiter and life is just easier somehow.  Sometimes, the same person can have both of these ideas about Upstate on the same day, but not usually at the same time. An event that cognitively dissonant will often cause apoplexy in laboratory rats, although whether it would have the same result with New Yorkers is unknown. Ingesting large amounts of caffeine is supposed to protect against such things, and if there is anything New Yorkers do better than almost anyone else is ingest caffeine. All right, maybe people in Seattle ingest more caffeine on a per capita basis, but there is no Upstate in Washington, so they’re not probably not the best people to ask about something like this.

Before we start defining Upstate, let’s define what Upstate isn’t.  The people in Buffalo, for example, do not consider themselves Upstaters; they live in Western New York, thank you very much, and they will have nothing to do with a faux geographical controversy that takes time away from them stuffing their pie-holes with spicy chicken wings at every opportunity. Similarly, the people of the Southern Tier don’t really consider themselves Upstaters either, given that they aren’t upstate from anything; you can’t really be an Upstater if the downstate involved is Pennsylvania. On the other hand, the people in Malone do consider themselves Upstaters, a choice forced on them by geography; you can’t go any further upstate than Malone without actually being in Canada.  People who live in Lawn Guyland are definitely not Upstaters and whether or not Westchester County is Upstate seems to be a matter of some debate, especially if you live in New York City; for Upstaters, on the other hand, Westchester and most of Rockland County are Downstate. Given that no one seems to know just where Upstate is, what is this upstate place that you hear New Yorkers go on and on about?

First, you must remember that Upstate is a state of mind. If you live in Greenwich Village, then everything above Fourteenth Street is Upstate. If you live on 125th Street, then the Bronx is probably Upstate, even if your cousin Rosie lives there. Your cousin Rosie, of course, will argue that no way does she live Upstate and the people on the Upper West Side would probably agree with her; living in the Bronx makes you one of the bridge and tunnel crowd, which is the New York equivalent of the flyover people the coastal elites in this country don’t like to think about. Your cousin will think that the people in Westchester are upstate, largely because they don’t live in New York City, an entity that includes all of the five boroughs, as opposed to The City, which everyone knows means Manhattan. If you don’t know that The City means Manhattan, then very clearly you are from somewhere not only west of the Hudson River, but west of New Jersey as well, if such a thing is possible. But your cousin Rosie would be wrong about Westchester. The people there consider themselves Downstaters; Westchester and most of Rockland County are the city’s suburbs, filled with people who come from New York City and / or work in New York City and therefore cannot believe that they could be Upstaters themselves, not after spending their lives hearing that the people Upstate routinely hunt deer and rub deer dung on themselves to make it easier for them to hunt deer. They are commuters, after all, and not at all the sort of people who would gun down Bambi without so much as a second thought, even if Bambi is eating their hedges and their flower gardens and defecating all over their front lawns while knocking over their garbage cans. You know you’re an Upstater when you regard Bambi and his friends as a bunch of oversized hoofed rats and you have the will and the means [i.e. at least two hunting rifles, one for you and the other for the missus, or one carbon fiber hunting bow] of turning Bambi and his friends into venison meatballs, which are delicious with your spaghetti and a nice home-made tomato sauce. Yes they are.

After many a long year trying to figure this stuff out, the consensus of opinion among moderate people of all races and creeds hereabouts is that Upstate either begins north of Interstate 84 or north of Poughkeepsie and that we should all learn to live together despite where we believe Upstate begins. Unfortunately, the debate between the fanatical adherents of each point of view tends to be loud and vicious in the extreme, with the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Police often called in to quell the violence with truncheons, water cannon, and tear gas. The conflict arises because Poughkeepsie and the other towns along the river have many people who work in The City and so don’t really think of themselves as Upstaters, whereas almost everyone who doesn’t work in The City thinks of themselves as Upstaters. This is a very tricky situation for our local political class; they don’t want to alienate the commuter vote, who tend to have some money in their pockets, but on the other hand do not want to alienate the non-commuter population because they know that no Upstate politician has ever lost an election by running against The City. This is because all true Upstaters believe, in their heart of hearts, that New York State would be a much better place if someone in Albany could just figure out how to get rid of The City altogether.  This is economic nonsense, of course; the state would collapse completely without The City to prop up its finances; but many people believe economic nonsense; how do you explain the persistence of Marxism otherwise?

For my part, I think Upstate starts north of Poughkeepsie. I believe this for a number of reasons, none of which makes sense to the I-84 believers. First, the people in southern Dutchess County watch the New York City television stations. We are familiar with what goes on in The City whether we want to be or not. Second, Poughkeepsie is the northernmost station on the Hudson Line; if you want to go further north than Poughkeepsie, you have to take Amtrak. Third, the increasing suburbanization of southern Dutchess tells me that this area will be as firmly Downstate as Rockland County in a few years and we all may as well face that reality now. The idea will stick in the collective craw for a long while, no two ways about it, but some things, like death and sweaty underwear, are inevitable whether you like them or not. And so it goes.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Exculpatory note

Just to let you know, yes, I am working on the second installment of the adventures of Mr. Doherty and I do have something else on the griddle, which I will put up just as soon as I've typed it up. In the meantime, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Part one of a very occasional thing

I have posted an earlier version of this before, but I am in the process of rewriting it and I'd thought I'd upload a very occasional update on Mr. Doherty's adventures. This is the first installment. Enjoy, and once again, my apologies to Nikolai Vasilievich.


Francis Doherty was thirty-seven years old and the master of most of what he surveyed.  He was the golden boy of a venture capital firm, a man whose ability to spot winning entrepreneurs and turn their sometime crackpot ideas into stock market gold earned him the favorable notice of the business press and a seven figure income. Those seven figures, in turn, allowed him to indulge a taste for expensive clothing and even more expensive sports cars. Doherty owned an entire floor in a very tony condominium building, the floor and the building selected for him by his equally tony girl friend.  She was a graduate of Harvard Law, a descendant of a signer of the Mayflower Compact, and a real blonde, a fact that she brought up every so often to remind herself that it was true in a sideways sort of fashion.  Doherty thought about marrying her occasionally, but he’s always been able to suppress the thought.  With so much going for him, Francis Doherty could not imagine anything ruining the perfect tenor of his life, except for this: Francis Doherty did not want to be bald. 

No, he did not.  Baldness was, he felt, a proletarian phenomenon and not at all something a man of his means and position should have to endure. Unfortunately, Doherty’s genetic inheritance overruled his personal preferences. His father, a policeman who’d spent thirty years in a patrol car without ever taking the sergeant’s exam, was bald by the time he was twenty-five and Doherty was determined to avoid his father’s fate.  He tried the various chemical solutions that promised to relieve his embarrassing condition by growing a new head of hair and the various chemical solutions were a collective flop. Instead of hair, the chemicals usually grew a large rash, which was not the point of buying the chemicals in the first place.  Doherty had a closet full of hats and toupees, the increasing lifelikeness of the latter providing a reliable guide to his rapid rise in the financial world, and he had considered surgery.  He had considered it and then shoved it down the same mental hole where he put the idea of marrying his girlfriend. Knowing that people would see the hair plugs in his scalp and know for a fact that he was bald was an idea almost too horrible for him to contemplate.  That just about everyone in his life knew that he was bald did not seem to make a difference to him. Doherty did not want anyone to know that he was bald, even if they already did.

So he needed a new toupee, a perfect toupee, one made to his specifications, and at length he found the people in a very exclusive and incredibly discreet men’s store in New York who could make it for him for a little less than five thousand dollars.  The toupee was a thing of beauty, woven strand by strand from the hair of a Chinese woman from Szechuan province, and when Doherty put it on his head for the first time he knew that the craftsmen in the backroom had created a work of art.  The toupee was as perfect as anything could be in this imperfect world, and so it therefore came as a considerable shock to Doherty when he woke up one morning to find that his new toupee had rifled his pockets and run off with his wallet, several suits, one of his Italian sports cars, and a small fortune in cash that Doherty kept hidden from the tax people in a small safe in the back of his clothes closet.  This disturbed Doherty a good deal, as he was an optimist at heart and he could not believe that the toupee would do such a thing to him; the toupee had not shown any previous signs of dishonesty and had no cause for unhappiness, as far as Doherty knew.  It was enough to make anyone, even someone as optimistic as Doherty, bitter at the fallen nature of his fellow man.

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