With the election close upon us, it seems fitting to republish here Vignette #14, dated July 1, 2012, explaining what New Yorkers will and won't put up with (chapter 17 in the book). At the moment, they won't put up with Donald Trump. He's a native son, and Hillary has problems, but he simply goes too far. So here is that text from over four years ago, when another presidential election was in the offing. You will see how it applies to the Donald.
14. Dear readers, Here, as promised, is Tolerance and diversity in the city: What New Yorkers will and won't put up with, and why. 7/1/12
We New Yorkers are pretty easygoing regarding the morals of our elected officials, which sometimes puzzles non-New Yorkers who read about those officials' misdeeds and peccadilloes. As an example I'll mention again Jimmy (Beau James) Walker, our dapper parade-loving mayor in the Roaring Twenties, a celebrity long before my time but even today a legend in the city. Natty, beguiling, and debonair, he charmed everyone who came near him, and seemed the very embodiment of his age, being fond of chorus girls and speakeasies and rarely showing up at City Hall before noon. Alas, the Great Crash of '29 and the Depression that followed brought a very different age when his charm and nonchalance didn't quite seem appropriate. When an investigation of his administration revealed rampant corruption, Mayor Jimmy resigned his office and, fearing indictment, left the country for an extended stay in Europe, where his show girl lady friend soon joined him. But the investigation never pinned any specific misdeed on him, and when he returned to the city a few years later, a dozen tugboats crammed with well-wishers saluted him in the harbor with horns and whistles, reporters flocked in droves, and 1400 letters and telegrams awaited him in his hotel room. If a rascal, at least he was a charming rascal; all was forgiven.
Fast-forward to today: Though it's common knowledge that Mayor Bloomberg has a girlfriend, this raises no eyebrows here. What does raise a few is the report of her having a six-figure salary as a member of the board of directors of Brookfield Properties, which owes the city a six-figure sum in back taxes. Also, Brookfield is the owner of Zuccotti Park, where the Wall Street occupiers moved in and founded a real community, until Hizzoner sent his minions to drive them out. This too raised a few eyebrows, but to date no torrent of moral indignation has engulfed his august presence; he hasn't crossed the line. (A possibly irrelevant aside: Michael Bloomberg, with a fortune of $22 billion, is the eleventh richest person in the U.S., but we New Yorkers, being, as I say, tolerant and easygoing, have managed to forgive him that.)
The one who truly tried our patience was Bill Clinton, at the time of Monicagate. When he repeatedly denied having an affair with the twenty-one-year-old White House intern and was then proved a liar, we didn't cry out "How wrong!" or "How immoral!" Rather, we said, "How stupid!" For it was stupid to give his enemies such ammunition. And as my dentist's assistant commented resignedly, "He just can't keep his hands off the girls!" But for most New Yorkers the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice that brought his impeachment in the House didn't constitute the high crimes and misdemeanors justifying an impeachment, and in Harlem the whole business was shrugged off as irrelevant. So when the Senate acquitted him, we concurred. And then, of course, Newt Gingrich, leader of the drive to impeach him, admitted to having an affair with a House intern, and several of his fellow solons owned up to the same. At which point, with some justification, we cried "Hypocrite!" Whatever his sins, for most of us Bill Clinton hadn't quite crossed the line.
Rudy Giuliani was a different story. We had reservations about him as a peacetime mayor (more on that another time), but had to admit that as a wartime mayor -- post 9/11, that is -- he came into his own. But when he humiliated his second wife by announcing his plans for divorce to the media, rather than first informing her in private, we found his action to be (to put it mildly) ungentlemanly, a reaction that intensified when he paraded his girlfriend about in public, and his lawyer described Mrs. Giuliani as "howling like a stuck pig." This indeed was hubris and not to be countenanced. Push New Yorkers far enough and they turn out to be conventionally moral with a vengeance. Fittingly, the aggrieved wife got a million in alimony, though the errant ex-mayor was married to the girlfriend in Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York mayors, by none other than our illustrious current mayor, Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg.
Another perhaps irrelevant aside: Rudy at least was deliciously unpredictable. When word got out that he had appeared at a private party in drag, we New Yorkers were thunderstruck. Mr. Macho Get-Tough-on-Crime Giuliani in drag? Preposterous! But photos in lavish color, showing him in a platinum blond wig and appropriately padded frilly pink gown, convinced us, and we chuckled. It didn't help any hopes he had for higher national office as a Republican, but proved he had a sense of humor; his poll numbers shot to an all-time high. "I already play a Republican playing a Democrat playing a Republican," he announced, being a onetime Democrat turned Republican. And, more to the point: "I enjoy having fun." This topped even Jimmy Walker's antics. Ah, Rudy, how we could have loved you, if you hadn't been so monstrous to your wife!
Another brief example: John Edwards of North Carolina, competing with Hillary and you-know-who to be the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, also denied rumors about a girlfriend and even a child by her, saddling an aide with the paternity, until forced to admit the truth. This we could have -- maybe -- overlooked. But the affair was unfolding while Edwards knew his wife had an incurable cancer, and this could not be condoned. I had in fact preferred him to the others but, once the whole story came out, I was totally disgusted and knew his political career was kaput. Sad. Like Giuliani, he had crossed the line.
And Eliot Spitzer (is there no end to these examples?), a dynamic New York State attorney general who was easily elected governor, but whom the media then exposed as having patronized an elite escort service, paying a "petite, very pretty brunette" $4300 in cash for a single encounter, and maybe as much as $80,000 to prostitutes in all. We have nothing against petite, pretty brunettes, and he did seem to have had good taste and certainly wasn't stingy, but this didn't sit well with the citizenry, since as attorney general he had broken up a call-girl ring and locked up eighteen people involved in it. Within a month he had to resign. We New Yorkers might (with reservations) have overlooked the call girls, but we despise hypocrisy. (Thanks to her media exposure, by the way, the petite brunette was allegedly offered $1 million to pose nude for Hustler magazine and finally ended up in Playboy.)
Why do New Yorkers tolerate as much as they do? There are probably many reasons, but surely one of them is diversity: in a city where there are so many different kinds of people, one learns not to judge too harshly or rush into severe moral strictures. (There are exceptions, I don't deny it.) Instances of diversity: my partner Bob's doctor is Norwegian, and our home-care aides are Jacques, a Haitian, and Irena, a Russian from Moscow. If I go out on errands, within two blocks I'll hear at least three languages, often from tourists with their noses in a guidebook, and I may see a turban or a sari. And recently, when I took a walk in the park by the river, I saw a woman veiled from head to foot in a burka. If I go out to lunch on Sunday with friends, our choice of nearby restaurants include the Dublin Pub, the Smorgas Chef (Swedish), or the Empire (Chinese, but serving Japanese dishes as well). And when I last lunched at the Empire, at a nearby table sat a bunch of young marrieds, some black and some Asian, with infants of mixed race, all having a delightful time. (Significantly, perhaps, their elders were not present.) And out the window I could see, across Seventh Avenue, a row of store signs: Fantasy World (offering sexy outfits no respectable citizen would want to be seen in, except in fantasy); Yavroom (jewelry); Psychic Reader; Spa Jolie -- Grand Opening; VILLAGE VANGUARD (a renowned jazz spot that's been there for years); Rivoli Pizza Restaurant; and above them on the second floor, Lose up to 8 Inches in 2 Weeks, and Laser Hair Removal. For all these varied enterprises there are obviously enough customers to justify the high rent paid. Again, diversity.
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My poems: For five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down. To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here. For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.
My books: No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016. For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here. As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Coming soon: As announced, New York moments, sudden revelations, surprises, and even sudden deaths in the city. A space mask, a penguin, crows and ravens, a branch weighing a hundred pounds, and electrocution by steel on the street.
© 2016 Clifford Browder