Here’s a post I started writing in New York City, then stopped writing, then couldn’t re-enter the train of thought I was on when I had initially started writing it, so I abandoned it. Looking at it now, it feels more like a piece about how mood and environment can drastically alter how we process things. But anyhow, here it is, I liked some if it so I couldn’t bring myself to delete it. You be the judge:
A dense fog sits over Central Park as I look out of the window of my 28th floor hotel room somewhere near what I think is called Midtown Manhattan. I would never pay to stay in a room this nice, but that’s one of the benefits of being lucky enough to have friends who can help out with those sort of things. Last night we went to a fancy dinner at a well known and well reviewed restaurant. We split a few entrees, appetizers, and desserts–my picks being a double cut tobacco smoked pork-chop with a cipollini onion jam and a honey-tangerine-pistachio spumoni with brûlée tangerines and pistachio dust. Yes, pistachio dust. It was one of those kind of places…
After dinner we went to see a concert put on by a man who was relatively well known in the ’90s for playing slow and sad music and has now in the 2010s become infamous for long and rambling songs that often take dives into melancholy personal tangents and occasionally break out into short patches of dry humor. He played with the drummer from Sonic Youth. My favorite track of the night was a song I’ve never heard before where he sang from the perspective of a house cat, forced the string section to improvise over a part they’ve never heard before and had lines like, “Trump did this and Trump did that/blah blah meow meow meow/I don’t care, I’m a house cat.” It was fantastic.
After the show, we walked back to the hotel. There were at least 4 halal vendors on every corner and the city air was thick with that mysterious and disgusting smell that always seems to pour out from the cracks in the NYC pavement on particularly humid evenings.
While walking, I made the mistake I always seem to make in New York, or really in any city with monstrously tall buildings–I looked up. I would look up at the spot where the tops of the buildings scrape the sky, where the clouds seem to move faster past the tops of the buildings, almost like a time lapse video on a cinematic environmental science documentary. I’m not sure what it is, I can look down from almost any height and feel perfectly fine, but every time I look upward at the tops of skyscrapers from the ground, I feel like my stomach is going to fall out of my ass. I think it might be that something about it just reads as unnatural and my Primate sub-brain starts firing warning signs at me, “What kind of monstrous hell-world have you entered?!”
Trying to re-ground myself and gain some composure, I traced the concrete spine of the skyscrapers down to their concrete bases, I looked through their crystal glass at the beautiful light shows beaming out from their concrete interiors, I imagined the steel beams holding this concrete up and wondered what type of expensive rugs or even more expensive tiles the interiors of the buildings were floored with, I saw our president as the sultan of this city, his name plastered on so many buildings, his grubby and gross fingers smudging his gaudy style all over so much of its economic landscape. It was in this moment that I started hating New York.
The large beautiful buildings bordering the park were now the walls of a giant prison we had built for ourselves which was suffocating the small patch of green in the heart of the city–which was already scarred over with roads and walkways for human’s sensitive feet. I saw the storefronts as monuments to capitalism and income inequality, I felt like I was running from giant Monopoly pieces which where slowly closing in on me and trying to crush me to death, I knew that if they got their grubby hands on me they’d strangle the humanity right out of me. I knew if I stayed here for too long, I’d become one of them, whatever them might be.
I squeezed out a few blinks and took a deep breath, trying to return to where I had just been a few minutes ago: walking back to my hotel with my girlfriend and our good friend. As I shook the tightness from my shoulders, a phrase floated through my mind as if lobbed by a (friendly?) ghost, “New York is kind of bullshit.”
Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind I hear, “New Yawk is da greatest city in the woyld you un-American Scum! 9/11!”
I felt on that walk home the same thing I feel every time I’m in a Metropolitan area, complete existential dread and incommunicable loneliness. I like that NYC is a late city, it is nice to grab a slice of pizza or a coffee at some random spot on some random block, but that’s about the only thing I’d like to bring back to my little seaside MA city that no one really cares about. The Louis Vuitton stores and the 40 yard long Chanel ads with pictures of elegant women with (apparently) golden skin and the disengaged self-absorbed hordes of people can all stay can stay in the Tri-State for all that I care.
I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing on America’s favorite hub of “multiculturalism” and gentrification. What I’m trying to say is that NYC, to me–and yes, I know I don’t matter and life is meaningless and yadda yadda whatever–I repeat, to me, the city represents a microcosm of most of the things about capitalist consumerist American culture that is just so damn uncomfortable and wrong. By just being present in that environment, I’m forced to reckon with the reality that I don’t hold the same values that many of my peers and fellow countrymen do.
When I’m here, I’m forced to self-analyze, to wonder why I have such a visceral reaction to that stimuli. It almost makes me feel crazy; I was standing in the middle of Times Square after seeing Annette Bening and Michael Moore hug one another on the corner (and presumably give one another the Big-Time-Democratic-Donor Secret Handshake) and I couldn’t help but wonder why everyone else was so happy and excited, while I was feeling a deep paranoia and unease burbling in my gut…or maybe that was just the pizza.
I think what I’m trying to say is that I never feel more alone or more out of place than when I’m surrounded by thousands of people in a city with far too many places. Yes, I do realize that sounds pitiful.
**NOTE** I stopped writing at this point because we were going to go to the Natural History Museum. I really had a great time at the museum, I felt much more suited to that environment and that type of stimulus, so I think when I left there I was in a much better place and that prevented me from crawling back to whatever dark corner I was in when I was writing the first part of this post and calling New York’s “bullshit” like that actually means anything. I know that’s a harsh and cynical claim that many people would disagree with, probably myself included. But, that’s where I was in the moment. Maybe it would be better to say it more politely, “Well, gee by golly that Manzana Grande might just not be for me, old chap!” But anyhow, here’s an afterthought/postscript:
One of my secret favorite parts of the weekend was when I was walking by Columbus Circle and took a vertigo-inducing picture of one of Fuhrer Trump’s towers. I imagined that I could practically see the burning eye of Sauron atop it. It’s such an obvious example of a Villain’s Evil Lair, comically so. It just made me laugh at how absurd life has become in the 21st Century and it reminded me of the reason why we go to places that make us uncomfortable in the first place: because they force us to learn things, and that’s the meaning of life.
Here’s the aforementioned picture: