At 6 in the morning the city is lovely, the traffic has started, it never stops, but there are fewer people and most of the ones there are seem as bewildered as me. The homeless, for instance, have it good here: there is food and half finished drinks all over: the police don’t seem inclined to bother them and, when they decide to approach you for a cigarette or change, they sidle up unassumingly like a vicar at an English garden party. They should go to Moscow homeless school and learn how this shit is done in the old world.
The radio paints a portrait of a world where nothing is fixed: every politician is described as being either fairly safe or in fatal danger from public outrage, all of it supported by polls and vox pops. This is local public radio: W.N.Y.C. It is intelligent and wide ranging, but far more lake woebegone than the BBC. Lots of people come on to talk about their books, yesterday they spoke for 2 hours about some Boston gangster, this morning we have a mother and son alcoholic pair who have written a joint memoir. In the interview they blame each other for everything while insisting that writing the book was a healing process.
Out on the street now 9pm. Saw an elegant looking Korean lady in a faded, red evening gown sitting in the small corner park by the building. I sat on the other side and settled down to watching folk, and after a minute or so I noticed she was speaking, loudly, though the traffic was drowning it. Every 30 seconds she would say something in Korean. and clearly it was not just random words because her voice was full of feeling and of meaning. I tried not to stare, and feared to get involved. And then she wept, floods of tears came out and yet she didn’t move or even sob, just tears. A korean lady of 50, in an old red evening gown weeping at sunset on a busy street corner.
Behind me a dark skinned bald guy plonked badly on some weird coffin shaped guitar. I turned to see what it was, our eyes met, and he smiled, coz he figured he’d landed another chance to tell whatever damn story he had to tell: they all have a story here. And the eagerness in his eyes suggested he had to tell it in the way that the ancient mariner HAD to tell it. I turned away and broke his heart, he sang blues then for five minutes, sang them badly in a clichéd fashion: none of the hellhound on my trail about it at all.
Later saw a Chinese kid on a step/stoop, she was dressed in a bright red and white monster design jumpsuit and trainers, wearing star shaped plastic sunglasses and watching a cartoon on a smartphone, with the sound hitting her brain through big yellow headphones. Bout 6 years old, more like a cartoon character than a little girl herself.
Guy running up the avenue, in front of the central post office: he’s going at full pelt, but his gait is uneven and I am waiting for him to fall. As he passes me I see that his right hand is tied to the back of his trouser belt with a piece of blue rope. This is what has unbalanced him, but why? An escaped hostage, a sex act gone weirdly wrong, some new fangled fitness regimen, or just care in the community for the mentally ill?
So we ended up, after another vaguely harassed walk through this shouting fucking city, in subway buying sandwiches. The service was, as it has been almost everywhere, incompetent in a way that would seem excessive in Modern day Moscow and surreal in London.
Two African American New Yorkers were trying to buy sandwiches with everything, and the Indian or Pakistani server, who could neither speak nor understand spoken English with any proficiency, turned every single exchange into a comedy routine. When he had done it with me I had just patiently worked to overcome the barrier, the two black guys went the other way. When the owner asked them: “Huppety parapta froloduk Ketchup?” One turned to the other and asked:
“What da fuck he say?”
His colleague said:
“Who da fuck knows?”
All of it out loud, indifferent to what the owner or his son standing beside him might think.
Then another walk to a deli/sandwich shop, run this time by an angry Asian man and a bunch of Latino guys who sneered at him when he turned his back. When a young mother rested her shoe on the back of an empty chair to tie a lace, while her little toddler fell around, Angry man snapped “Why you put foot on my seat?”
She apologized but he had already gone into angry stare mode and glowered with fear and rage as she left the store, as though she might suddenly abandon her baby and lunge around putting other body parts on inappropriate items. He looked like an angry songbird watching a crow too near to its chick filled nest.
I say to K this must be an aberration, maybe New York is just being all: “Hey, I’m thinkin here.” But, no, apparently it’s shite service coast to coast.
It doesn’t seem to be a melting pot of tolerance and
mutual respect so much as a vague miasma of humour, discomfort and poorly disguised contempt. It can also be really funny.
There is a growing suspicion that this entire city is a fake. I don’t mean that it lacks sincerity or is overly hollow, though both are true in parts. I mean that everybody here is a beautifully designed and perfectly tuned robot, endlessly carrying on the myth that is New York.
No one could really live here, not with all of these sirens, growling Harley’s and shouting. So they set about creating a simulacrum of New York and when they had it just about perfect, they all left and went to live in Normal Illinois and Terre Haute Indiana and such places, and who can blame them?