I recently stumbled across a real-estate listing for my old apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with an asking price of $4,000 a month, which is double the rent my sister and I were paying when it was still rent-stabilized many years ago, and we were paying 50% of our income toward the rent. The apartment lasted all of a week on the market.
The listing describes the apartment as “huge” (it wasn’t); as having an “eat-in kitchen” (it did, if you were standing up); and as being in a “classic” building. I find this last term needing some kind of redefinition, now meaning “amazingly still around having survived more than 50 years of real-estate speculation”.
We lived in “Manhattan Valley” (the “low” looked-down-upon place between the landmark districts bordering Riverside and Central Parks), dominated as it was by housing projects. Outside of landmark status areas, the landlord could, for example, remove the entire cornice of the building instead of rebuilding it to landmark specification, leaving the building looking like a pie with its edge removed. Which he did. Classic..
One day during my recent trip to the States, I walked from Columbus Ave. and 59th Street down to Broadway and E. 7th Street, in a rather desperate attempt to find at least one of the old magazine stores that I used to spend so much time in when I worked in that industry. Out of the seven I knew of, mostly located near centers of publishing such as the Hearst and Condé Nast buildings, as well as in the old magazine district of Park Avenue South (Look, etc.), only one was left. And its pickings were scanty.
Talking to friends still working in the business, these are horrifying economic times [ link ] and [ link ]. The most recent casualty was Newsweek, now gone digital, under the baleful watch of Tina Brown (whose Talk I worked at and lasted at for about three months).
I worked 16 or so years in magazine publishing as a technical support, as a designer, and as an art director, torturously climbing my way up the ladder. I’m not going to moan about what some simply consider to be the vagaries of a competitive economic model weeding out the weak and useless. I won’t talk about the feeling of having “aged out” of the job market were I to even consider returning to the States, with my friends of equal or greater experience moving back in with family members, or else leaving the City for one reason or another after years of unemployment, and with our assistants hired at half our age and half our salaries.
I won’t mention the years spent without pay increases despite the inflation rate; I won’t mention one magazine owner based in Florida exhorting us New York employees to get back to work as soon as possible after September 11, 2001 since then-president Bush was keen on keeping the economy moving. I know I had it better than many, and I’m not complaining…
…but a thought did enter my head the other day that caught me off guard. I was talking to a former student now studying in New York and here on vacation, and she was upset because she didn’t want to return there, feeling that her ability to express herself was limited if not nonexistent in the States, and wondering in general about her possible future there. I explained all of the above, and said: “What if I were still in New York City? What would have become of me? I’m better off in Beirut.”
At which point I stopped, because this “better off” line has been thrown at me on numerous occasions, basically stating that I was “better off” for having not lived through the Civil War; that I was “better off” for having gotten my education; “better off” for having worked all those years “making a name” for myself. Better off for having not been here.
And now, I have to ask: What does it mean that the culture that gave us this economic model as well as adoption as an institution based within that model has not held up its end of the “bargain”? Like the “one-percenters” who adopt, is there a “99%” of adoptees who are not expected to “make it” in terms of this grand social experiment? What if like others dispossessed and displaced, adoptees were able to seek reparations, based on the “false premise” and “false promise” of that initial transaction?
Let’s turn the question around: “Are we really better off?” And if not, how does that reflect back on adoption as a cultural practice?