The One Percenters
----- // -----
by Christopher Ketcham *
[Income inequality and the death of culture in New York City]
For my daughter’s benefit, so that she might know the enemy better, know what he looks like, where he nests, and when and where to throw eggs at his head, we start the tour at Wall Street. It’s hot. August. We’re sweating like old cheese.
Here are the monuments that matter, I tell her: the offices of Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon; the JPMorgan Chase tower up the block; around the corner, the AIG building. The structures dwarf us, imposing themselves skyward.
“Linked together like rat warrens, with air conditioning,” I tell her. “These are dangerous creatures, Léa. Sociopaths.”
She doesn’t know what sociopath means.
“It’s a person who doesn’t care about anybody but himself. Socio, meaning society—you, me, this city, civilization. Patho, like pathogen—carrying and spreading disease.”
Long roll of eyes.
I’m intent on making this a teachable moment for my daughter, who is fifteen, but I have to quit the vitriol, break it down for her. I have to explain why the tour is important, what it has to do with her, her friends, her generation, the future they will grow up into.
On a smaller scale, I want Léa to understand what New York, my birthplace and home, once beloved to me, is really about. Because I’m convinced that the beating heart of the city today is not its art galleries, its boutiques, its restaurants or bars, its theaters, its museums, nor its miserable remnants in manufacturing, nor its creative types—its writers, dancers, artists, sculptors, thinkers, musicians, or, god forbid, its journalists.
“Here,” I tell her, standing in the canyons of world finance, “is what New York is about. Sociopaths getting really rich while everyone else just sits on their asses and lets it happen.”
* “The Reign of One Percenters” – by Christopher Ketcham, November/December issue of Orion Magazine.