Please Don’t Blame Queens for Trump
Oy, it’s back – the theme of Donald Trump as prototypical Queens lout.
I gather this from this Sunday’s NYT, a review by Joe Klein of a new book by Maggie Haberman, both of whom I admire greatly. But somehow the lumpen masses of Queens County are still being connected with the disturbed, amoral thug who has terrorized the U.S. and the world since 2016.
As it happens, I grew up on a busy street, about half a mile from the Trumps to the west and the Cuomos to the east. Many of my friends went to grade school with Freddie Trump, older brother of Donald, and say good things about him.
But in the big picture, nobody is typical of Queens, which ranged from ethnic western Queens to the remaining open spaces of eastern Queens. In the middle was Jamaica High, one of the best schools in the city. (Nasty little Donald was sent off to private schools, where, theoretically, money would buy protection if not character uplifting.)
Was central Queens to blame for the criminal tendencies of Donald J. Trump?
That premise annoys me because I could name dozens of friends and acquaintances who worked for success in more socially-acceptable ways.
I will name only a few – Letty Cottin Pogrebin, who grew up a block of so from the Trumps, who came through a hard childhood to become a major voice in feminism and journalism (Letty has a new book), and Steven Jay Gould, a grade or two younger than me, who became a major scientist.
Nowadays, I follow the very public activity of two other Jamaica grads -- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee from Yale, representing an urban ward in Houston, and Jelani Cobb from Howard, a bad right fielder for Jamaica (he says) but a terrific journalist and professor.
I submit that the striving ethos of Queens produced those four above, and thousands more, beyond the larcenous Trumps.
From our little chunk of Queens in mid-to-late-‘50s: the professor and NASA scientist, two civic activists from Jamaica Estates, our Class President-for-Life who has been air-lifted into Alaska in the winter to serve as teacher and community volunteer, and several judges, including one long settled in Washington State.
I could tell you about my Black pal in the Jamaica chorus who had to lobby against being stereotyped into vocational classes, and now has a doctorate and a career in a government agency. (We sang the school song at his recent Significant Birthday celebration.)
I could tell you about the Cleftones, who sang under-the-streetlights doo-wop harmony for decades.
Then there was the Holocaust survivor who played soccer at Jamaica and became a doctor out west. We had five doctors on the Jamaica soccer team. One could also sing. One became a med-school dean. One has been working at a Queens hospital in the worst of the Covid pandemic.
And speaking of doctors, one of the wittiest and smartest kids in Jamaica Estates graduated from college and then realized she could have become a doctor – and she did, years later, and has had an admirable career.
Two guys in the same radio-journalism class with me turned out to be well-known political activists for decades.
And another teammate (a doctor) and his kid sister (an academic) lived next door to the Trumps for a while. She remembers how her ball would bounce into the Trump yard and Terrible Little Donald, 4 or 5, would pounce on it and say, “It’s in my yard. It belongs to me.” Kind of like classified government papers, you might say.
By the way, the drive to excellence was not just a Jamaica High phenomenon. At nearby Forest Hills High, the star jump-shooter, Stephen Dunn, played at Hofstra and became a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. At Van Buren High, which sprung up in our eastern neighborhoods, a future lawyer, Alan Taxerman (the late and lamented Big Al to readers of this site), was sure he was the smartest kid in the universe, until he noticed that Frank Wilczek actually was. (Wilczek later won the Nobel Prize in physics – see Van Buren’s hall of fame.)
And then there were Central-Queens people who went into business, education, government, law, library work. Was there something in the air or the water of Central Queens that led thousands of us to socially-acceptable lives?
Joe Klein – again, a long-admired colleague – mentions elders making snide references to other ethnic groups.
Were we all Archie Bunkers?
I ask this because my household was a meeting place of the Discussion Group, organized by two upwardly-bound subway motormen, one white, one Black, kept at 50-50 ratio, comprised, by definition, of Queens bootstrappers with ideals.
My brother Peter recalls being a little kid, sitting at the top of the stairs, listening to loud voices and loud opinions -- but then refreshments would be served and voices would soften, laughter would commence. It was a lesson for the next generation. You could care – and you could get along.
What was the motivation for we rustics out there in Queens? Were we different from kids in “The City” A friend of mine was running with a fast little group from Manhattan, and I tagged along, impressed by how they knew the music clubs and museums and parks of Manhattan. (One of our new friends, a very nice girl named Gloria, actually lived on Park Avenue, facing the new Lever Building, and went to the very elite and public Bronx Science. I often wonder what became of her.)
As I look back, going into The City (by subway) reminds me of the John Travolta character in “Saturday Night Fever,” when he visits his dancing partner, who has moved up in the world. She shames him into losing a brutish edge to his Bay Ridge behavior. But that, remember, was just a movie.
We in Central Queens were pushed by post-war ideals and ambitions, many of our teachers setting examples of inclusivity. (By the way: New York City could not run Jamaica High in the 21st Century, so the city closed it down, history and potential be damned. See Jelani Cobb’s article: https://www.georgevecsey.com/home/the-new-yorker-analyzes-the-end-of-jamaica-high)
I tend to avoid all books about Trump. Just the journalism and the copious glimpses of Trump on the tube plus half a dozen meetings with Trump in less horrible times are quite enough for me.
I love the reporting by Maggie Haberman, and the many insightful works of Joe Klein. But being caught up in a Trumpian caricature makes my Central-Queens skin crawl.
9/30/2022 01:40:40 pm
9/30/2022 03:06:55 pm
Randolph: Our original Americans had a lot of wisdom.
9/30/2022 04:33:01 pm
9/30/2022 03:22:38 pm
9/30/2022 04:56:50 pm
tom...i read the 'orange jesus' a while ago and thought it a good moniker.
9/30/2022 04:47:57 pm
9/30/2022 04:59:53 pm
Bruce: Jaimz is an Ontario cowboy, eh?
9/30/2022 05:35:20 pm
Edwin W. Martin Jr
9/30/2022 05:47:54 pm
Enjoyed the article.
9/30/2022 06:00:11 pm
I don't suspect the Donald ever cared much about the largest borough in New York City and second most populated county in New York State which you, my journalistic friend, have properly described as "the international borough of Queens".
9/30/2022 06:06:26 pm
walter.....poor old trump, he can't even be the biggest dick around without people taking potshots at him.
9/30/2022 08:02:08 pm
George: I’ve been to Queens a few times. I loved this place. Queens brought you (George Vecsey) for all of us. Thanks for sharing these stories about Queens.
Andrew L. Tansey
9/30/2022 10:08:29 pm
George: Queens? So many thoughts. I live there now, and again. Whitestone, I hear, is one of very few voting districts that went for the actual-and-rightful-but-for-voting-fraud 2020 election winner - or not. We have plenty of bumper stickers saying nothing more intelligent than profanity aimed at good Joe Biden. Fortunately, this neighborhood, which depresses me, is in the minority.
10/1/2022 06:14:16 pm
Well said Andrew, Michael (born in Queens with a dear living in Bayside). P.S. COYS (rough one today)!
10/1/2022 06:15:59 pm
*dear 88 years old mom
10/1/2022 07:50:19 pm
* Just as dear, at 95, mine in Beechhurst. I go to The French Workshop at 39th and Bell to get her tira misu and creme brulee after a shuffle through Crocheron on occasion.
Alan D Levine
10/1/2022 01:24:30 pm
George--It was a wonderful time to be growing up in Queens and going to Jamaica High School. As you have pointed out over the years, new generations have succeeded ours with the same hopes and dreams--and have also produced outstanding people. Maybe it's something in the water. Or maybe Queens attracts families of strivers.
10/1/2022 06:23:46 pm
If it weren't for Queens, I'd had been homeless the minute I set foot in New York. Had taken a job at UPI right out of college, but a fellow U. of Missouri journalism student, Robert Tannebaum (he told us his name was Tucker Tannebaum, because he was a fan of Giants RB Tucker Frederickson) offered me to stay at his family's home in Flushing for a couple of days while I found an apartment. Saved my life. Long live Queens folks.
10/3/2022 10:14:45 am
John: A few days in the charms of Flushing and you moved on?
10/2/2022 12:46:34 pm
The Sunday New York Times has an interesting obituary on Hector Lopez.
10/2/2022 02:23:56 pm
10/2/2022 03:51:39 pm
Hey, synapse just clicked! I mention Louie Carnesecca and his daughter Enes as terrific Queens folks, and their families, but today another Louie came to mind— a real favorite.
10/2/2022 05:07:13 pm
I was on the phone with a banker with whom I work but whom I've never met in person, and she recognized the exchange on the number from which I called and asked if I live in Whitestone. Eventually, talk turned to schools, and yes we'd both attended St. Luke's. There is that tendency, I found especially in high school and especially among the guys who came from the parishes which were the biggest draws to Molloy.
10/3/2022 11:57:29 am
More than a few great jazz musicians lived in Queens. Lady Day, Basie, Ella. Fats Waller, Milt Hinton, Coltrane, Lena Horne . . .
Alan D Levine
10/3/2022 12:06:38 pm
Lester Young also.
10/2/2022 10:04:26 pm
My reaction to these nice posts:
10/2/2022 10:11:40 pm
10/4/2022 11:00:50 am
I grew up in Upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights. I lived at 190th Street and Fort Washington Avenue until my family moved to Teaneck, NJ when I was twelve.
10/4/2022 10:47:15 pm
Upper Manhattan Interlopers! How'd ya get in? The Triboro Bridge was in place, and now it's called the RFK. Landfall in Astoria (which I prefer to pronounce like Archie Bunker - ass-TOR-e-uh - as opposed to more commonly - uh-STOR-e-uh) begins the Grand Central Parkway. Take it past LGA - yellow warning signs "LOW FLYING PLANES" - Mets Ballyard, and as it heads south (eastbound, according to road maps) past the National Tennis Center, World's Fair, its observation towers - the space-alien spaceship in Men-in-Black - you'll soon pass Forest Hills HS on the right, its ballyard renamed after Jackie Robinson. Then you'll get to the Interboro Parkway, now also named after Jackie Robinson. We always goofed about "helping" someone who needed directions: "Take the Interboro!" one of the few parkways that connected with the inner city and no easy way to get through it. (I never actually played that gag, but we giggled about it.)
Edwin W. Martin Jr
10/5/2022 01:23:29 pm
Benfaremo- The Lemon Ice King Of Corona
10/4/2022 12:31:13 pm
Alan, in 1947-48 I had a Chem HS teacher, Miss Biz, whose husband worked for Dumont, and they had an experimental tv at home, she showed us, is displayed a test pattern. The first one in a home, was soon after, 7” inches, we watched Joe Louis fight Jersey Joe Walcott, Heavyweight Championship.
10/5/2022 03:37:25 pm
Ed, great memories.
10/5/2022 08:45:50 pm
Alan, Berg played CCNY in Garden, I was there. Lost by 20 points, They might have been sahving. Names I recall Irving Dambrot, Eddy Guard,
10/6/2022 07:48:08 pm
I grew up in Las Vegas in the 1970s. I'm not a mobster. But maybe Maggie Haberman thinks I am?
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.