Feb 082003

American story really. The New York part is that the poor bastard had to pay $220,000 for a cab license. It’s lovely notwithstanding.

  8 Responses to “New York Story”

  1. I agree with Aaron designation of the story as "American story". New York doesn’t have a monopoly on patronizing sentimentality produced by good digestion.


  2. Come on Vladimir. The guy saves up for fourteen years and buys his own hack license and cab so he can go into business for himself. The author’s happy for him. I’m happy for him. Aren’t you happy for him?

  3. Oh come on this is your typical web drivel brought to you by one of those hopelessly insecure middle class saps wanting to reassure himself that everything in his pathetic life is just fine. A man from Haiti gets to drive his own New York cab, he reports. Now I understand why I am patriotic, he reports. Now I understand why we go to war. Need it be said that this seems like a lot to conclude on the basis of a single $1.50 taxi ride (the meter starts at $2) from Manhattans famous (read middle class exclusive) upper west side food store?

    So what kind of transcendental event are we celebrating? What is the event that has shocked this upper west side gourmand to his senses, and has made him fall in line with Americas great project? The answer as implausible as it may seem is the chance meeting with a great taxicab entrepreneur. Thats right. A man from Haiti making the big league, after only fourteen short years in the United States of America, by shuffling people into his cab and by driving around all day long pretending to be calm while his passengers yell and mutter and fidget– why hes not on the fucking FDR I said the airport, the idiot driving only a foot away from the people only in the back seat, but lacking any satisfying relation with them or human interaction. Dont believe it? Think about it: when was the last time you got into a cab and had a white guy for a driver? Cant remember. Why not? Its the same reason no white people sew for Nike. Its a shit, race specific job with no dignity and no prospects. Either Beniste owes $220,000 or arguably more pathetic, has saved up all his meager earnings from the last fourteen years to buy himself into his so-called profession outrightin order to perform the job he started fourteen years ago, a job requiring no skills and if this is the case obviously responsible for shriveling any native entrepreneurial imagination Mr. Beniste may have had upon arrival to Americas shores in the late 80s– back when Reagan was president.

    And I guess the French-speaking, imported cracker and value domestic caviar munching west side Zabars crowd doesnt watch Scorsese. For who having seen the movie can forget the line from Taxi Driver: Every morning I come back and wipe the cum and blood off my seat. Hard to reconcile the Bach fugues the Mozart cantatas, that this wonderful New York story– What a beautiful day! What a beautiful story!– calls forth, the story of a man climbing to the dizzy height of a Taxi cab driver, with the blood and cum of Scorsese. The description of Beniste lifting himself up, btw smacks of a phrase spoiled by association with Booker T. Washington, yes-man to Southern plantation owners, and sounds to me more like its opposite– a flailing to hold himself above water while toiling, trying not to drown, trying not to succumb to indebtedness to his car and the industry of cabs.

    But what makes this story truly depressing is that the Zabars Kleinburgher is inspired and enlightened because not because Mr. Beniste is a shining example of success but because he is a shining example of knowing his place, and thereby affirming the relatively higher cultured place of himself and his rusty French-speaking (though rusty and aligned to be sure with our current relations with Paris) wife. Yes, Beniste is exactly where and exactly what he is supposed to beon the bottom of the heap. Had Mr.Beniste had actually lifted himself up– say to the position of boss of the Zabars Kleinburgher– well then there would be no story at all. Because Benistes rise could not be so easily managed and condescended. Mr. Benistes story would cease to reassure the Kleinburgher from Zabars of the rightful place of everything in the world.

    Thank goodness then that there are still hard-working immigrant cabbies out there ferreting insipid sightless value gourmands back and forth to pick up their individually-wrapped brushed and blackened red peppers. Now we know what all this silly patriotic stuff is about. Now we have a reason for war. Now America is united. Look out Iraq.

  4. Let’s see: Taxi Driver is a realistic portrait, Zabar’s is an enclave of privilege, no whites drive cabs in New York, and taxi medallions are an insidious plot to keep the blacks in their proper place.

    You ever been to Manhattan, or just seen it through binoculars from the Circle Line?

  5. Take another look. You misread my point about Zabar’s.

    But one thing truly puts Aaron Haspel a head and shoulders above the crowd of boorish "inspired" writers such as our patron of Zabar’s– when he’s wrong he knows to keep his mouth shut.

  6. Oh I don’t know. I’m perfectly willing to open my mouth when I’m wrong. For instance, it’s true that I misread your remarks about Zabar’s: they’re nastier than I gave you credit for. Since everyone in this country describes himself as middle class anyway, including, what exactly is your problem with the place? Are there not enough proles among the customers, or not enough idle rich?

    In the original comments Capitalist Lion ran the numbers. Beniste already makes a decent living and will probably manage soon to buy another medallion and make a better one than I do. Which beats hell out of Haiti. So whence all this about "Kleinburghers" and Booker T. Washington and keeping minorities in their place and "hopelessly insecure middle class saps" and their allegedly "pathetic lives"? What’s eating you anyway?

  7. Okay fair enough. I have no beef with Zabars, obviously. Its a fairly typical place. But I guess I found it interesting how crucial it seemed to the authors story of his enlightenment. And it struck a cord with me. Zabars, like his wife with her rusty French, frames and sets the stage for your authors final affirmation of the American model. He clearly wants to feel good about himself. And thats fine, and yet he thinks that this is a story about something and someone else. He brings in politics and follows with a disturbing conclusion. Is this really why were going to war? I shudder to think so, and yet I see that though deceived he does speak truly, it is probably truly so. We are going to war because we feel good about immigrants pulling themselves by their bootstraps in the way that they are supposed to do.

    I dont think anyone would disagree that there is more economic opportunity in New York than in Haiti. Clearly there are thousands and tens of thousands of entrepreneurs all over the city of New York. Most probably the author gets his clothes laundered at Chinese entrepreneurs, dry cleaned at a Korean entrepreneurs, eats at restaurants owned by Mexican, French, Thai, Indian entrepreneurs, etc. But he didnt see these people. He never noticed. Coming out of Zabars he notices a guy in a cab. He articulates his sophistication vis a vis this particular entrepreneur (his wife speaks French). This is an immigrant entrepreneur he understands, with ambition neither too high nor too low. The author can understand this. The point again is that if Beniste were program manager and our author were his subordinate, this would not just be a less edifying narrative. There would be no narrative at all.

  8. Jack: you’re overreading. It beats underreading, but still. They shopped at Zabar’s because that’s where they shop. Kramer’s wife spoke rusty French to Beniste because French is his first language; I speak rusty French when in Paris for the same reason. Kramer wrote about a cab driver, as opposed to a dry cleaner or a restaurant owner, because he happened to strike up a conversation with a cab driver. You say Beniste’s ambition is neither high nor low, but how do you know? It took him a long time to buy his first medallion. So what? By the time he retires he may own a fleet, or more.

    We’re not going to war because an immigrant bought himself a taxi medallion but to rid ourselves of a dangerous and hostile maniac, as Kramer, I’m sure, would be the first to agree. But it’s useful to be reminded, when on the verge of war, what exactly, besides a piece of territory, one is defending.

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