A friend of mine from Columbus, OH can’t afford tape for his cleats, let alone new cleats. At home, there is a surplus of duct tape. The shiny material winds immortally down the concrete pavements. It’s trafficked and cherished with more reverence than the familiars of the homeless. It is the holy grail of livelihood.
This friend was always wealthy by our standards. His household had two cars, two parents, and shiny smiles that turned out liberal thinkers who never had to worry what drugs would do to them. And he doesn’t. He does cocaine off-handedly, but he doesn’t “do-do” cocaine. Just when he’s at Bars. Just when he’s about to do something athletic. Just anytime he needs a thrill.
In the same vein, he is thrilled to be in New York, on the Lower East Side. He can’t afford to tape his cleats, but he is thrilled, because he is poor now too. This inescapable phantom lurking in the Blues — the tearstained muse of every artist, revered for her savagery and the pain and the panic she summons — is now his greatest prize.
New York, the grand equalizer of fantasies. Where the rich and white come to play at Poverty.
My friend isn’t the first I’ve come across with the bizarre observation of economic struggle as a gilded treasure.
In fact, it’s too common. The Nosferatu by the name of Gentrification assures us that it will be here eternally, feeding on the blood of the poor, sustaining itself on a bleeding wheel of oppression. It’ll cast out the weak and broken-backed many and then it’ll dance in our homes.
I walk these same streets with people who hold more wealth in their phones than my entire family has sustained for generations. My shoes are well catered and cleaned.
I ensure that they are. I scuff them during the day, I polish them during the night. I shine my sneakers bleach white and raw with my washcloth.
I’ve been trained by my hood to watch the ground. At first, it was always an attempt at invisibility. And now, it’s to measure Power in strides.
New York is filled with such ugly feet.
So much money.
Such poor feet.
I’m surprised that I just walked past a very affluent painter in the Lower East Side. Their shoes are clunky and ugly. In my hood, Sketchers are disgusting. As condemnable as Shaq’s. Balenciaga sold the same designs to wealthy whites, and now they’re everywhere. I can’t tell if they’re well kept or horribly attended.
The fact there is now unobtainable price-tag on something I once ran from in my past thanks to a brand is infuriating to me.
In Columbus, the Poor are leveraged to companies. We’re the Amazon factory workers that lug boxes so big they set our lifespans back a decade with one lug. How else can we clean our shoes? How else can we shine our own status?
Drugs are remedies for mental instability because we can’t afford the actual medication. I’ve met anxious people on Molly and the oddest strands of natural kush mixed with something extra perky. They’re not for fun. They’re for necessity.
We’re poor for real. We’re so poor, that the concept of brushing shoulder to shoulder on Public Transport with a millionaire is inconceivable.
And yet, in New York City, they make memes about it. The advertisements here market goods and services no one traveling among common-folk should be able to dream of!
Luxury is flaunted in front of the un-luxurious.
These shoes aren’t the only thing reminded me of this contempt.
Hip Hop Concerts are too expensive for the demographic they once embodied. I’m told Nas’ Illmatic is the best album of all time on Television by a white boy. On Twitter, a YT gatekeeps Caribbean culture. Basquiat hangs in the den of Trump Tower businesses men. A white man in a Café asks me if I’ve ever even heard of Toni Morrison. A white woman rejects me from their Marginalized writer initiatives because my Black work just isn’t literary enough, It’s not speculative enough, I mean, a Black man writing about the magic inherent in Blackness? What? I should be more like Octavia Spencer, that’s a Black who did it!
And the Vampires lurk just outside of Harlem, sniffing at my Schomburg Center. They want to raid that temple, trample on Langston’s revered grave.
Post-post Modernism is white people loathing their whiteness. They shed it like the cicada sheds its carcass. It flicks its wet wings, soaked in the blood of so many ancestors and dries them with purpose. But, what escapes is only the illusion of a post-racial entity, a chimera. A creature of parts and pieces stolen from so many other worlds that it shouldn’t be its own thing.
It is an Anathema, disgusting and unnatural.
I wish I could be hopeful.
As I write, German barista eyes the Black boy and Dominican teen — discussing nudes and sexual conquest they’ve probably have had but understand very little about — as they walk in. He threatens to throw them out, despite this being an open Café. They’re loud, arrogant and vicious. I like them, they remind me of me and my friends, when we were loud, arrogant and vicious. They’re not Lower East Side, maybe, but certainly New Yorkers. A “Proud to serve the Community” sign hangs just beside a sign discussing the effects of gentrification in New York as he speaks to them.
I want to be hopeful.
But in New York, the Whites will suck that dry, too.
I’m too Black to not conduct myself better.