For months preceding the presidential election, pundits left and right feared the idea of Donald Trump becoming president, and no one more than I. Not because of his politics or personality, or his controversial career as a real-estate mogul / reality TV star, and now his supposed connections to Russia. No, I dreaded Trump’s ascendance for an entirely different reason. He’s from Queens—like me.
Few outside that much-maligned borough of New York City can appreciate the anguish. We’ve heard every joke about Queens accents, our lack of panache vis-à-vis Manhattan, and—this really hurts—Queens’ unhipness compared with Brooklyn. I’ve learned to live with my borough’s underdog status, but Trump’s young presidency—it’s hard to believe that it’s only been a few months—foretells a new torrent of anti-Queens quips.
Don’t get me wrong. Childhood in Queens was perfectly pleasant. I didn’t live in upscale Jamaica Estates like The Donald, but my modest Whitestone neighborhood was tree-lined, comfortable, and just a block from a golf course.
I didn’t hear cracks about Queens when I was growing up. After all, everybody I knew was from there. It seemed entirely normal, like gold-plated toilets in Trump Tower. But once I moved into Manhattan, the putdowns came faster than a pitch thrown by the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard in Citi Field (a Queens landmark).
I sublet a room on the Upper East Side from a theater-director friend. One night, we were headed to a party, so I slipped on a nice jacket and a swell pair of shoes; he wore a careless shirt and scuffed boots. “Aren’t you going to dress up?” I asked. “I don’t have to,” he said. “I’m from Westchester, and you’re a guy from Queens, so you have to try harder.”
Ouch. Matters didn’t improve when I landed an editorial job at a publishing office. On my first day, a staffer showed me around, pausing to look out the 42nd-floor window and say, “And that’s . . . Queens.” I did my best to imitate his smirk. I was eager to fit in.
Dating was even more problematic. Not only did I hear the usual references to Archie Bunker, but some women said that if they’d known where I was from, they wouldn’t have gone out with me in the first place. “I didn’t move to New York just to date a guy from Queens,” decreed one ex–Southern belle.
The halls of academe were no refuge. During a panel discussion at Columbia called “The City in Literature,” a prominent writer was asked about the representation of Queens in The Great Gatsby (where it’s referred to as “the Valley of Ashes”). She said, “I don’t consider Queens New York City.”
I slumped in my seat.
I’ve valiantly tried to defend my borough, even when I was trying to hide the fact that I’m from there. Queens, I told doubters, is home to more than 2 million people, the most ethnically diverse place in America. Great movies like Goodfellas (directed by Queens-born Martin Scorsese) were set there. Reclusive artist Joseph Cornell spent decades making his shadow boxes on Utopia Parkway, but he didn’t care what anyone said about Queens because he never left the house. Simon & Garfunkel hail from Queens. So do Tony Bennett, Susan Sarandon, and Christopher Walken. Did no one remember that the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, great celebrations of the future, were in Flushing Meadows Corona Park—in Queens? Not unless they were Jeopardy! champions.
Leaving the country provided no escape, either. In a London pub, a local chap asked where I was from.
“Whitestone,” I mumbled into my pint.
“Where’s that, old fellow?”
“On Long Island.”
“But where on Long Island? I grudgingly said it was slightly east of LaGuardia Airport.
“Oh, you mean Queens!” he scoffed.
Even a guy ruled by a queen had no use for Queens.
Now a person born and bred in my borough is in the White House, a first. But instead of succumbing to zingers about how uncultured and uncool those bridge-and-tunnel people from Queens are, I’ve decided to own my identity.
Be on notice. Queens may have been small in the eyes of the world. But now, under President Trump, Queens is gonna be yuge.