Chapter 1 — I Met My Shadow At A Corner Deli
I walked out into the cold air of a January night to get some fresh air. The apartment felt stuffy, and I figured it was a good time to stop by a deli for a midnight sandwich. One of the reasons why I can’t see myself leaving Manhattan.
I live on the 66th floor of the newest luxury apartment built in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. A few years back, some well to do land developer negotiated with city officials and decided to “reinvigorate” and “reimagine” this part of the city.
When you brush aside the political jargon, it means to kick the poor people out so that wealthier people can come in. If wealthier people want to move to the neighborhood, it means more money for businesses, which means more tax revenue, which means more incentives for city officials to give themselves pats on their backs and raises.
I guess you can also say that would be good for the city as a whole, because as more people move in, there will be more social activity and more ‘fun and exciting’ things for everyone to try.
More bread and circuses! More exhibits with candy and ice cream! What a great time for everyone.
Maybe I’m a cynic and a party-pooper (who thought of this word by the way? Does a person who poops at a party truly stop the show and bring gloom to everyone else? Can’t this party-pooper go to the bathroom, clean himself up, and return to the joyous occasion? Who was the first party-pooper, and where can I read about his tragic tale?) because I’ve never allowed myself to try any of these new things.
Maybe I think I’m better than others because I am pompous and refuse to put myself out there, to actually allow myself to enjoy these things.
Because what if I go and actually find myself enjoying these exhibits? Then I am no longer better than the people I judge from my ivory tower. I would finally put a mirror to my own face and show myself what a hypocrite I really am.
But because of my hyper-awareness of this unwanted outcome, I will dig my heels deeper into the sand and continue to philosophize to whoever cares to listen.
I digress — where were we? Ah yes, the gentrification!
So the city decides to negotiate with the previous inhabitants (who knows how the conversation goes), who may range from a variety of rent control beneficiaries and regular working professionals, and they manage to “relocate” all these people so that new buildings can come in.
I guess it’s certainly better than someone forcing these people out. Maybe they were threatened or blackmailed or tricked. Maybe they were offered significantly less money than they could have received, had the inhabitants been more informed or educated.
But what capitalistic man in their right mind would pay more than he was required? He would of course start at the bare minimum that he could pay. This is not necessarily unfair — you would want the other party to know and deliberate on all possible factors that would amount to a fair payout, but is that the job of the man who makes the offer? The burden is simply on the receiving end of a transaction to know what is good and fair for his final outcome.
But to the people who move into these newly built buildings, they could give a rat’s ass how the people were removed, as long as they weren’t personally informed and made to feel guilty (which would leave some morally disturbed, but desiring to continue living their lives without this inconvenience, the worst that could come out was a scathing blog post or an angry text message displaying their moral indignation to a group of friends)
I, myself, am included in this group. Although I feel sorry for the previous inhabitants who might have been ‘unfairly’ relocated (and we must understand that we are hypothesizing that there were malevolence and trickery involved), I enjoy the life I live and would not like to feel bad for choosing to live here. I’d like to think of a scenario where most people came out winning (although it’s truly hard to have a situation where everyone wins, since everyone’s lives are relative to each other)
I would feel like a hypocrite if I lived here and pretended to care about the inhabitants.
I could TALK about how they had been tricked and oppressed, but would I DO anything about it? Would I undermine my own comfort to help people who possibly might have gotten away with a good deal and are living comfortable lives?
I heard from a friend that someone who knew a little about this relocation process knew that he couldn’t be forcibly removed from his home, so the city negotiated a couple million dollars just to have him move out. Hearing that, I am led to think about how some people made it out with good fortune, and others with misfortune.
These were all inevitable steps that allowed me to live on the 66th floor of this new building, along with the rest of the people who have the privilege of living here. If I truly cared, wouldn’t I leave the building and refuse to encourage the system that allowed for the potential oppression and exploitation of previous inhabitants? If I truly cared, wouldn’t I spend the free time I have to study the process, to interview previous inhabitants, to find the truth of the matter so that I could live in accordance to my ethical standards?
But sometimes I just want to say I care so that I can look like a moral being. I know that taking action is way harder than talking or writing about it online.
Am I to feel guilty about my situation forever, then? Am I to be a moral arbiter, a judge of equality for society? Is it wrong for me to try to live my own life in comfort, rather than hold myself to a certain moral standard?
I felt like I wasn’t going to find any answers talking to myself, so I lit up a cigarette and walked down the block. I don’t like walking alone at night in the city, but the blaring police sirens in the distance and honking cabs made me feel a bit safer.
The familiar lights of the bodega at the street corner lifted my spirits. A faint smell of bacon passed through my nostrils and I started to salivate. I walk in and walk over to the sandwich section, where an older Korean man with tired but friendly eyes greet me. He reminds me of my dad, and I think about how hard he had worked for me to get an education and live decently in America.
“Happy New Year’s young man. What can I get for you?” He flashes a slight smile — maybe I remind him of his son.
“Hello, sir! Happy New Years. I’d like a BECOARWHSAK”
“You got it. ECB, SBEOTE, and ACSOT?
A nice bacon egg and cheese on a roll with hot sauce and ketchup would definitely hit the spot. Extra crispy bacon, slightly burnt edges on the egg, and American cheese slapped on top of the two to give it the signature melt.
Another reason why I can’t leave New York — there’s a distinct taste that only New York delis can create. The food isn’t necessarily made with love and the presentation isn’t the best, but the soul of the sandwich tasted like hard work and grit.
How can it not, when you had to commute two hours from deep Long Island to work the graveyard shift inside a small deli corner, where the only source of warmth in the winter was the grill?
Perhaps I was romanticizing or exaggerating the job. But there was no doubt that this job was hard, and I felt grateful to be in my current situation. To have the freedom or opportunity to move toward a personally meaningful job, rather than take a job that requires only your physical body and disregards your creative element as a human being, is a privilege that my parents did not have.
Recognizing this fact, I decided to acknowledge and cherish this sacrifice and resolved to make something of myself. Here I was now, living the life that they could only have dreamed of when they were my age.
How could I ever pay them back, with the material goods in this world? How could I ever show them the gratitude that is impossible to articulate with the limited words I have?
I was pulled back into reality by the ring of the bell. The Korean man had wrapped the sandwich up with aluminum foil and written on the top — “Go call your parents — they’ll be happy to talk to you. $3.99”. I looked up and smiled.
“Thank you, sir! I will. Have a great night.”
I went up to the cashier to pay, but before I could take out my wallet, a homeless man walked in and immediately looked at me in the eye.
“You! I’ve been looking for you.”
Chapter 2 coming soon…