[Marxism] Woodridge journal

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 19 06:59:26 MDT 2004


One of the first things I want to do when I return to New York City is 
investigate "online" banking. Before leaving the city last Friday, I paid 
my mother's back debt to MCI through Chase online banking. When I arrived 
at her home in rural upstate Woodridge to begin an immense cleanup job 
(she went into a nursing home in early June), I discovered that the phone 
had been disconnected. I called MCI (the parent company is Worldcom, a 
bunch of Enron-style criminals) to find out how long it would take for the 
service to be restored and had to wait a half-hour before speaking to a 
representative. (I know the insipid tune they play to calm queued up 
customers by heart. By comparison, it makes airport music sound like 
Beethoven's Ninth.)

It turned out that it could take up to SEVENTY-TWO hours for the money 
drawn from my checking account to be reflected in my mother's MCI account. 
And then, it might take an additional 24 hours for service to be restored. 
A total of NINETY-SIX HOURS. Obviously, what's going on here is Chase 
Manhattan making interest on the float at my inconvenience. If it took 96 
hours for an account to be transferred from one department to another 
*within* Chase or MCI, heads would roll. Trust me. I program the computers 
that manage such transfers at Columbia University and would be crucified 
if I were responsible for such an outrageous delay.

Service was finally restored on Wednesday around 2:00 AM in the morning. 
In keeping with the surreal aspect of my stay here, it was an obscene 
phone call out of the blue. "Yo, dude. You want to get laid. We gotta 
party goin' on here. Lots of broads." I answered, "No thank you. I am 
opposed to carnal pleasure on principle" and hung up on the presumably 
mystified prankster.

The next morning when I was buying an extra-large coffee at the village's 
only grocery store, a Latino struck up a conversation with me. Since the 
average Latino immigrant is wary of strangers, I was curious to see where 
the smiling, friendly young man was from. It turned out that he was from 
Chinandega, Nicaragua and was forced by poverty to relocate to my village, 
which is like jumping from the fire into the frying pan. He had taken a 
job in the local commercial steam laundry that serviced restaurants, 
hotels, etc. and which had exploited southern Blacks when I was a kid. Now 
it had found a new pool of wage slaves to draw upon. The place was "muy 
malo", he said. I agreed. The laundry was once owned by the grandparents 
of Laura, a high school friend, who along with me constituted the 
hard-core bohemian element back in the late 1950s. She went on to become a 
video artist and Hollywood "leftist" whose husband Frank Cavestani had a 
bit part in Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July". You can see him 
pushing Tom Cruise (playing Ron Kovic) around in a wheelchair during the 
protests scenes late in the film. He is given a credit as "crowd scene" 
coordinator.

The house was an utter mess. Most of it was the accumulated detritus of a 
packrat mother who cared more about writing columns for the local 
newspaper than keeping a house tidy. On July 20th, I had the local cops 
throw "Bill" out of the house. He was a 45 year old handyman who had moved 
in with her about a year ago (he got a free place to live in exchange for 
shopping for my mother, etc.) and had gradually taken over. He was 
verbally abusive to her and had taken her car for days at a time. Before 
the cops came, Bill had seized an antique liquor cabinet in our dining 
room and was holding it for ransom. It would be released when I paid his 
back wages for abusing my mother. I decided to let him have the ornate 
Italian provincial monstrosity since I hated the way it looked, plus I was 
not interested in an ongoing vendetta.

In addition to his finely honed skills at intimidating 83 year old women, 
Bill had run as a candidate for the Green Party in the next county a few 
years ago. As wretched as he was, I would prefer him to David Cobb.

I had hired "Ali", a twenty year old local youth to help me clean out the 
house. After he and his older brother "Youssef" had been arrested for a 
purse snatching 3 years ago, the District Attorney characterized them as 
the worst criminals since Al Capone and demanded a fifteen year sentence 
that the Jewish judge seemed only to happy to enforce. My mother, an avid 
Zionist but friend of their parents, had called me in tears asking for 
advice. I urged her to contact an Arab-American legal support foundation, 
which she did. They were very helpful, as was my cousin Joel Proyect who 
defended the youths and succeeded in winning a far less punitive sentence. 
Unlike most lawyers, Joel knows what life behind bars is like. Around 10 
years ago, he was arrested for growing marijuana and received a five year 
mandatory minimum sentence. He became a 'cause celebre' for those fighting 
NY state's draconian drug laws. Anthony Lewis of the NY Times wrote an 
op-ed piece defending Joel and Willie Nelson considered putting on a 
benefit to raise the money he needed to repurchase the house that had been 
seized by the state.

When I first met Ali, I was not sure what I was getting into. He had a 
pierced tongue and skulls tattooed across his arms and back, with a large 
"Krips" tattooed across his abdomen to top things off. As it turned out, 
it was all show and the result of watching too much MTV. It turned out 
that Ali had not even participated in the purse-snatching but had only 
given his brother a ride to the crime scene without knowing what was about 
to happen. From his Moslem father, an Egyptian who ran a local pizza 
parlor and who worked 15 hours a day until a stroke forced him into early 
retirement a few years ago, he inherited a truly impressive work ethic. I 
can say that he has been a godsend.

Speaking of god, I've spent some time getting to know my new next-door 
neighbor in between hauling out furniture into the driveway. He is 
"Shmuel", a fiftyish Satmar Hasidic Jew who purchased the house from a 
couple who had moved into housing for the elderly themselves. With the 
economic decline of the tourist industry, the village has not been able to 
provide a livelihood for young people and many homes are owned by couples 
in their eighties.

The Satmars are one of the two major Hasidic sects who are distinguished 
from their Lubavitcher rivals on a number of counts. To begin with, the 
Satmars favor fur hats and knickers when they walk to Synagogue on 
Saturday morning. The Lubavitchers prefer wide-brimmed Borsalino hats and 
do not wear knickers to my knowledge. More importantly, the Satmars regard 
Israel as something of a fraud since a Jewish state can only be created 
after the advent of Moshiach, the Messiah. The Neteuri Karta, a subgroup 
within the Satmars, has marched alongside Palestinians in protests against 
Israel. The Lubavitchers, unlike the Satmars, try to convert people, but 
not just any people. They target unobservant Jews like myself. A few years 
ago, you could spot them at the front gates of Columbia University where 
they would approach oncoming men with Semitic features (like myself) and 
ask, "Excuse me, are you Jewish?". The goal was to entice them into a 
nearby truck where they would be assisted in putting on Tefilin, a leather 
strap that is wrapped around the arms in ritual fashion. I never took them 
up on their offer since it was this very idiotic ritual that persuaded me 
to abandon Judaism back in 1958, shortly after being Bar Mitzvahed. I saw 
my Bar Mitzvah as something like getting a high school degree. Once you 
got your degree, why would you ever step foot in a high school again?

The Satmars have begun to take over the town. This is a spillover effect. 
Their nearest enclave is Kiryas Joel, which has over 50,000 residents and 
which is embroiled in controversy over tapping into NY State reservoir 
water. Non-Satmars are afraid that this will allow even more accelerated 
growth. So, in the meantime, Kiryas Joel residents like my next door 
neighbor, have been moving further away from New York City. Kiryas Joel is 
about fifty miles from the city and my village is ninety miles away.

I'll be up here until early September getting things in order. I'm sure I 
will have more to say about this very unusual place.




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