A city’s culture is what you see when you walk from a cab to your door. Now it’s all plastic prefab, much of it involving banks, the red glow of Bank of America, the men atop their two-wheeled blue Citibank ads, riding by one of the city’s 500 Dunkin’ Donuts locations. When I moved to New York City, the East Village’s ATM was on Broadway by 9th Street. You had to get there before it ran out of money or closed for the night, or, on Fridays, the afternoon, because it used to be that all the banks closed shortly after lunch on Fridays. (It sucked.)
Maybe New York is so warm, so cozy now that it gives people nothing more to want. Stars went from actually famous to local fameball to the current age of fame-for-all, the whole city a town-shaped step-and-repeat backdrop. The marketplace of hearts and favorites squeezes out just enough adulation to go around. Brooke Astor, the last of the Old Guard, died as Alex Rodriguez signed his $275 million contract (and each mayor gets the star ballplayer he deserves). Anderson Cooper became really famous, but then he came out and became less famous. Andy Cohen was never in and yet became more and more famous. I always wonder what they talk about on Barry Diller’s boat.
Everyone’s been styled for their Instagram shoot-a-thon for a while now. Bloomberg’s first term was trucker hats; the second term was men buying women’s jeans. The third term was Uniqlo slimly smothering everyone, except for the waiters and the beer-gut junior-dad brigade all in their suspenders and stupid hats—the hot-immigrant-wharfie look. Retrograde masculinity retrograded back. And bedbugs replaced muggings. Bedbugs are a private experience, something that happens just between you and your bloodstained sheets. Muggings require human interaction, in public.
Barely into Mike Bloomberg’s third term, which was the term when we entrenched a permanent underclass in the city, Duane Reade hit 257 stores in the city and then was promptly sold by Oak Hill Capital Partners and purchased by Walgreens. Oak Hill Capital Partners is headquartered at 65 East 55th Street. Oak Hill is Robert Bass, who is the brother of Sid Bass, who was the husband of Mercedes Bass, who were all once famous, none of whom now regularly ranks among the top-twenty richest New Yorkers, but only because everyone else has gotten richer, or because the financial reporters have gotten less good at counting. Probably they have to blog too much now.
The Core Club, at 66 East 55th Street, opened in the final year of Bloomberg’s first term. Membership has a onetime fee of $50,000 and dues of $15,000. It’s proper to imagine that New York City rotates around 55th Street and Fifth Avenue, like a terrible spin painting always being made, recording our time in thick, sludgy overlays. Here was the moment when the shops of Madison Avenue panicked, selling velvety midnight-blue suits at pennies on the dollar. Here was the moment when the Chelsea galleries almost all failed at once, then rebounded grandly, and then, devastatingly, flooded. There too was the moment they turned off the power in public housing and somehow couldn’t turn it on again for weeks. Here were the five minutes that everyone was just so worried that people would be ashamed to work on Wall Street!
That was the surprise reveal of the Bloomberg era. What we know now is that the people with the money and the buildings don’t actually have the slightest idea how an economy—or even a business!—works.
Minimum estimates now put the number of New York City millionaires at around 400,000; there could be as many as 650,000. New York City wasn’t the inventor or progenitor of wealth inequality, the great national trend of the last dozen years, but we do it best. It’s a bedrock pillar of nickels and dimes all the way down, a billion fees a second, a burn rate, a waste, a dick joke, a $40,000 storefront in Brooklyn, one more year of fat bonus before you say you’ll finally quit, one more “space” disrupted, a Balthazar breakfast, a billion uniques, a whale, a Citation X, an acquisition, a bomb, a deposition, a bust.
I couldn’t help but wonder, like an aging Carrie Bradshaw: Does everyone else daydream about the New York That Got Away? An afternoon in an art dealer’s enormous apartment, when he carelessly shuffled Warhol Polaroids, and they were all a grand. The apartment in the West Thirties was $380,000, but there were hookers. Now New York seems like every little thing in it is beyond priceless, and nothing will ever be yours. That’s absolutely true, and you never will have the things that you helplessly crave—but also it has always been like that.