A Letter to New York City

NOVEMBER 17, 2016

 

New York City is built on love.

OK, look, don't freak out—it's not a wholesome love.

It's a love of strolling, running, art, commerce, absurdity, seriousness, parks, secret societies, public performances, drinking, sex, bookshops, comic book shops, record stores, mockery, reverence, graffiti, health, running, intimidation, sympathy, smoking, fashion, power, games, everything that is in contradiction with itself. Everything that makes up a life.

November 8th, 2016 feels like the start of a death many things that meant a lot to me.

So let me tell you about some other times in my life when I thought all was lost.

On September 11, 2001, I spent making sure that my friends and family were still alive on a bulky phone that was big enough to cook a ham and had the sound quality of that same ham. The long march out of Manhattan; the cheap jokes that strangers traded in the days after; the memorials that sprang up everywhere; the American flag pin that I was afraid to take off for two years, these are all awful moments that I keep close to me.

For a year, I walked forty blocks to work because the subway gave me panic attacks. In that time, I discovered things about the city I'd never noticed before, mostly that we all cared about each other.

I was scared out of my mind during the 2003 blackout. Early reports, and just conventional wisdom suggested that terrorists, and not Con Ed, might be at fault. People were terrified. I was supposed to be reviewing Le Verte Chien that night and my refrigerator was empty, the elevator was dead, and I decided I couldn't walk up nine floors in the dark.

It ended up being one of the best nights of my life, even if I did pay three times the price for the most watered-down Mister Softee ice cream in the world, and I had to sleep on the steps of the New York Public Library. Which reminds me — thank you, stone lions Patience and Prudence, for watching over me that night. I wish I could give you a big stone steak.

During Occupy Wall Street, 2011, I was supposed to review some overpriced hamburger place where people wear suspenders, one of the many that entangle our city like a poisonous vine. And as I left the subway station, I saw a group of people marching, holding signs, and I realized, "Hey, I don't have to do this." I marched over the Brooklyn Bridge with millions of people who were fed up with bailing out Goldman Sachs. It felt great.

I mention these events because they are times when a lot of people predicted that of people would be at their worst. And many of us were at their best. This isn't a call for complacency, consider it a critic's insistence that our city keep our stars and our rating.

I haven't been reviewing for Tables for One in the last few years. I've been despairing at seeing so many of my favorite restaurants and local businesses closing all around me, despite all my efforts to stop that. I thought about leaving the city, because it didn't feel like my city.

Today I know better, because looking at the voting results, I know that New York City wasn't taken in by a bunch of cheap promises and threats. We lead the charge for what's right, mostly because California is three hours behind us, and they always will be.

Over the summer, I went to see the Coney Island side show, because at least that's still there, even if there is a Wahlburgers where a clam shack or a DIY tattoo parlor should be. And in many ways, it's the same show it's always been, but it felt different to me. I watched a man half my age trying to escape from a straight jacket, a trick that is not particularly interesting to me, while dancing to Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, a song that I thought I was totally immune to because I'm pretty sure it's used to sell cereal, or cars, or something like that.

But the minute he was in the jacket, this performance stopped feeling like a trick to me. It felt like art. It felt like someone was trying to do something extremely foolish and difficult for not that much applause or money. The straightjacket is intended not just to restrain the person, it's also intended to humiliate them—the straps around the crotch, the hunching over, the useless arms.

When the performer dislocated his shoulder and threw the straight jacket on the ground, it felt like the story that so many of us have. The story of how we escape from the world we thought we knew, as someone different, someone injured, maybe even damaged, but someone stronger than we were before.

That is who we will all be for the next four years, for the rest of our lives.

 


 

Back: Sab Back: Index Next: Frank Smells Like Smoked Meat