OId Man Joe
Old Man Joe
When I was 13, in 1964, my mother, father, brother and I moved to Rochdale Village, a Mitchell-Lama co-op housing complex in South Jamaica: twenty apartment buildings, each thirteen stories high. The complex had two supermarkets, its own power generator, athletic fields, playgrounds, and a massive community center (where I got to see an elderly Muddy Waters playing to maybe seventy-five people on folding chairs).
In Rochdale, my brother Russ and I had our own bedrooms for the first time, with heat/air-conditioner convectors and doors that we were permitted to close for privacy whenever we wanted. We had our own bathroom, too, and my parents had theirs. There was a brand new high school nearby; I was in the first graduating class, which meant that everything we accomplished was a “first.” The school was racially integrated, black and white, as was Rochdale, although only moderately so; New York City, like the rest of the country, was still new to integrationist consciousness.
I lived there for only four years; once I was attending City College, I found the commute aggravating (a bus and two subways), so I got myself a job on the night crew of a supermarket, saved some bucks, and moved into an East Village apartment ($69 a month!). Those four years in Rochdale comprised my adolescence, however, and the luxury of having my own room and easy access to all the basics of a safe, fun life was unforgettable.
I thought of all this while Old Man Joe Biden was making his first White House speech to the country last night. He’s signing the American Rescue Plan today, which is predicted to lift nearly 50 percent of poor kids in America out of poverty for a while (which takes only $300 a month for each kid), reopen our schools, save millions of families from eviction and millions of businesses from bankruptcy, expand health insurance for millions, and bring Covid-19 vaccines to everyone.
It’s a big step towards enabling everyone to move into a Rochdale Village.
I felt very happy watching the Old Man speaking in his old-man voice, broadcasting patriotic, can-do sentiments from the lectern, emphasizing class-based politics without a whisper of identity politics, and then toddling up the long red-carpet surrounded by fifty state flags.
I felt happy to have a president who was born while FDR was still in the White House, and who has fulfilled all of his personal ambitions as a politician and can therefore focus his experience on the salvaging of our country through good old liberal policy, without worrying about getting reelected. And I felt confident that Biden knows who put him in the White House — the black community — and that he will not fail to keep the movement for racial justice and equity firmly on his agenda.
I felt delighted at every one of Biden’s three or four near-stuttering moments, and I felt moved to tears by his humanity. This guy loves our country — its diversity, its capacity, its endless inventiveness, its crazy, mood-swing democracy — and he doesn’t want America to be suffering for no good reason. You need money? Here, have some money, we have plenty of it! And that’s just the start.
Hang in there, OId Man.
—Lawrence Bush for Alte: Getting Old Together
P.S. “The House I Live In” is the theme for the next print edition of ALTE, which is also what got me to thinking about Rochdale Village. Deadline for submissions is March 15th. Please also save the date — April 1 — for an Alte evening Zoom, details too follow.