For two days in November, I was the 1 percent. While the Occupy Wall Street protesters’ tents were being cleared away, I stood high atop a hotel tower, in a studio half the size of my house, staring out over the concrete canyon that is Manhattan.
When I first started coming to New York City in the late 1980s, my college friends lived in dark, paneled apartments in Queens. When we’d visit, three or four of us would bunk up in their living room, so we’d have more money to spend at the TXTS booth. To get to the city, we’d spend an hour rattling along on the subway, avoiding the greasy head spots on the train windows. We’d schlep off the train and trudge past the Kenny G wannabe wailing away in the tunnel. Then we’d climb back up to the lights — the bright, blinking lights of Times Square.
Some people see the journey as the adventure. If it involves subways, those people aren’t me.
But somehow, I grew to love New York anyway.
Fast forward a generation. My friends have moved to Hell’s Kitchen. I quit acting and started writing and doing oddball freelance jobs. One of them pays me to evaluate places like this — rooms outfitted with Brazilian hardwoods and granite counters. Places where a two-night stay will set you back my mortgage payment. And I bought my house in 2005.
It’s a different world up here. For one thing, it’s quiet.
This is Manhattan. At my friends’ apartments — anywhere else in the city — you hear sirens and horns. The scraping of a trash can into the back of a garbage truck at 3 a.m. Foot traffic. Voices.
In the last hotel I stayed at, in Orono, Maine — a visit to scout colleges, paid for on my dime — I could hear the couple next door having sex. It didn’t sound like particularly good sex, but when that’s as close as you’ve gotten to it for awhile, you’re envious anyway. Across the hall, a kid was throwing a big, loud, screaming fit because his parents turned off the TV show I could hear, but didn’t recognize. I wasn’t envious of them. I was thankful my kids have aged out of Nick at Nite.
My point being — in the 99 percent, life gets loud and messy and spills over into other people’s lives.
Up here in the glass tower, there are signs of life, but you’d think the city was holding a Quaker meeting.
Loud and messy happens — it must, right? — but I can’t even hear my neighbor’s door close. Big, thick plaster walls and mountains of insulation insulate me from the world.
I can’t help but think about the occupiers. Here’s my life in a nutshell: A few days a year, I pretend I’m part of the 1 percent. The rest of the time, this is my elite group: I actually got a mortgage modification.
But I’m still pretty broke, and am facing down college tuition in the fall. So beyond the complimentary crusty bagels at breakfast, and the complimentary wine, cheese and crudites at the manager’s reception at night, I stick to the high-fiber cereal bars and Diet Cokes I brought from home, supplemented by a couple of rounds of beer, courtesy of the college friends.
This trip, I had too much to do in Midtown to trek to the financial district, but as I worked, news tickers on 6th Avenue and in Times Square told me “99 percent empty – Zuccotti Park largely unoccupied as day breaks.” What I dubbed “Occupy SNL” (the Friday morning camp-out outside Rockefeller Center for SNL tickets) looked like the place to be.
But the occupiers haven’t given up.
Why aren’t the 1 percent listening?
Based on my experience, they can’t hear you. It’s “Horton Hears a Who” up here, except in 2011, the big elephant isn’t keeping a big ear tuned to Whoville.
They probably can’t see you either. From my room, I look into the offices of the skyscapers across the street. I can see over tall buildings and the tops of trees – all the way to the Hudson River.
But day or night, I can’t see the ground, unless I make a point to wait an hour for an elevator, so I can be whisked down 40 floors to the street.
From this vantage point, my bet is the people in the towers will outlast the occupiers, just like cockroaches will survive a nuclear attack. It’s climate-controlled up here. And, like I said, quiet. And there’s a reception every night, with lots of wine and cheese and crudites.