In Which The City Has Ceased Its Singing
Friday, March 6, 2009 at 11:50AM

City Sleeps


New York's been gray for months, and citizens grow concerned. It was spring for a day, but that day was forgotten. I came out of the L Train in Bedford yesterday, and five people in consecutive order came to ask me where to go. Lucy set up a sign that said 'Information'. In order to deter this, I am considering some kind of jewelry, perhaps a necklace that says, "Thug" or "BroKilla" or "MollyLambert.Tumblr.Com."


When Danish came to New York, I went out to JFK to meet him, lest he become seamlessly absorbed into the greater Queens' area's Pakistani community. He was upset when I asked him if we should become doctors like in Scrubs.

An airport bathroom attendant screamed at a German woman for not flushing her loose stools, and we just laughed and used the word tumblr inappropriately (as an adjective). Danish did New York the right way. But this was before the crash.


I realize now that I took my hectoring of Wall Street's zombie finest not seriously enough. It used to be fun to yank on squares' ties knowing they had no real recourse, but now that desperate expression already adorns their faces. There is no joy in this place.


New York's affability belies its most prominent characteristic. It is the mood ring of cities. When I came here in the summer women were flushed in the heat, admiring themselves and wearing Adidas tennis shoes and considering taking up the harp.


Here was a fine place, the bright avenues announced. It is where those of meager means can bang, blackmail, or whisper sweet "I love you's" all the way to the top. At one time, in this place, a man could commandeer a sizable fortune simply by giving George Steinbrenner's daughter a particularly strong orgasm.


For every town there is a team, and the Yankees are the bloated winsome echoes of a more flush economic age. New York will rid itself of them, but it will take time. Though this city is a chameleon in its wherewithal, its colors change slowly, and when it's beige it strongly resembles a penis. Above all there is a whispering, New York doesn't belong to you. You're not from here.


Over time, there is a familiarity. Everyone native to this place is such an unremitting asshole, your barest niceties are charm in comparison. Last week I took a cab home from Brooklyn, a rare luxury I afforded myself because I believe we'll be eating each other's brains for sustenance before the decade is out. An immigrant cab driver railed incomprehensibly, and then clearly asked, "you must think I'm an incredible leftist." I didn't know just what to say.


In such a state, outmoded and extreme ideologies start looking rather reasonable. They are heard daily here, because nothing seems terribly real. Stores are closing so rapidly there is not even time to go out of business. In fact, there is no going out of business -- there is just business, and the absence of it.


The history isn't good -- not only did all empires crash, but all successful states lost their power and economic influence eventually. They knew hundreds of years ago that economic power was more important than any other kind of power, but we seem to have forgotten it in our latest loan from China. We are too indebted to defend ourselves, if it came to it, and the people who make the policies seem to think that raising more money for the government coffers is the answer. The Soviet Union felt much the same way.


third avenue car barn

I spoke to an economist friend about the city's problems. "We don't make anything," he said. "We don't produce anything. We're a service economy, and no one can afford the services." What happens after that? I asked. "Anarchy," he said. "Basically, Gaza. If only we had something to rail against except ourselves, as Arab peoples do. What a relief that must be!"


That we're already this far on the pathetic continuum is cause for some concern. But New York acts like it is a place apart from time immemorial. Everything here is beholden to a belief system that no longer applies. New York was America first, a Dutch loosening of the Puritan tie, and it will also be America last. When there is nothing of any substance around it, it will become a museum to excess. A small town can divest itself of the past, wipe the slate. But a city remains.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here.

"River" - James Taylor (mp3)

"Don't Interrupt The Sorrow" - Brad Mehldau (mp3)

"Free Man in Paris" - Sufjan Stevens (mp3)

"Dreamland" - Caetano Veloso (mp3)


Sophie's Choice is meow.

I don't know where we are all going to.

So many reasons why.

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