New York Not So Shitty

Nov 1 2012 @ 12:21pm

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A reader writes:

You’re in a Starbucks, connected to the Internet. You have a bed to sleep in and your husband and pets are with you. You’re doing pretty well. Think of it this way: You could have moved to Breezy Point.

That much I don’t dispute. We’re fine, and I’m now blogging at Patrick’s way uptown. My only real issue is my CPAP machine, which is trivial compared with goodness knows how many old folks trapped in high-rises, with more vital medical needs. This time I’m not complaining. Last night, the moon came out and the deserted dark streets of the Village were lit just from the sky. It was surreal and serene. At this point, I think of my initiation into New York has a kind of baptism, where they’ve kept me below the surface long enough for me to be extra-grateful when we get, say, electricity. Another:

You said: “Well, it cannot get any worse, can it? Can it?” I grew up in Manhattan and lived there for 25 years of my life. I never experienced anything close to what New Yorkers are going through now. There have been blackouts, but nothing sustained like this. Even 9/11 wasn’t this bad – quality of living-wise. That was obviously deeply, mortally traumatic, but it didn’t involve a lengthy period living in what are essentially third-world conditions. What I’m saying is, this is the worst it has ever been in this city. I’d love to say that it can’t get any worse, but I didn’t even think it could get this bad!

Another:

I’ve still got a friend in Queens I can’t contact. I hope she’s okay and I don’t really have reason to think otherwise, but worry isn’t always rational. You may already recognize that for many New Yorkers seeing Manhattan hobbled and emergency workers endangering themselves rekindles a collective 9/11 PTSD. But one of the things that makes NY great (I’m from the West Coast but moved here 15 years ago) is the way New Yorkers, for all of their faults and divisions, relate to each other in the midst of disaster. I know how trite this will sound but I must: This great and flawed city is not the problem, Andrew, and the more we confront adversity together the stronger we’ll be. Yeah, sometimes it sucks – a lot – but being able to see the imperfect beauty in each other amidst the filth and rubble is part of what makes life worth living.

Indeed. Several friends have offered us an air mattress uptown, a hot shower, and the little neighborhood restaurant, Moustache, even served dinner by candlelight, since their ovens are all gas-based. The soup was gratis. Outside on a usually busy street, a young man was throwing a lacrosse ball against the walls of a construction site. To wit:

We’re all used to the Hollywood idea of post-apocalyptic America–men in fatigues roaming around with guns, looting and killing. What happened when my little village of Pelham was struck by the worst storm in its history–trees down everywhere, a dozen homes destroyed, vast damage–no power or phones. Although we sit on the water of Long Island Sound, the surge was pretty modest, so no flooding–that was the blessing. So what happened? As soon as the storm subsided, neighbors were coming by: are you okay? was anyone injured? do you need batteries, milk, eggs? Tom down the street has a generator and anybody who needs to recharge phones or laptops can hook up. (Tom set up a charging station for neighbors in front of his garage.) On day two, when a few houses got power back, those who had it were advertising their services to neighbors–come by and take a hot shower! We’ll hold your freezer things. You’re welcome to sit in our living room and read–no flashlight required! That afternoon, the local pharmacy and grocery reopened–handing out bags to customers–put your freezer things in this bag with your name, and we’ll freeze it for you! Phone company, fire, police crews out at once, working hard. People stopping by giving them a thermos of coffee or some fresh baked muffins. Spirits very upbeat. People extraordinarily kind and friendly. Now that’s the America I want to think about. In times of disaster, people share and come together. And that much maligned government? It works, and it’s there for you when you need it.

Another:

Maybe you should go back to D.C. or P-Town.

After weathering the storm here in Harlem with my family (where we, despite some sketchy moments, retained electricity and hot water throughout), I set out downtown to check on my below-ground storefront business, located in the East Village. I was worried about flooding, even though I had prepared. I knew I did not have electricity. I didn’t know what to expect. Before I even left my building, I was greeted by neighbors, asking if I needed anything.

I got into my car and turned on the radio, but sick of NPR and news radio I decided to switch over to Hot 97, the urban/hip-hop station. A tribute to Run-DMC’s slain DJ, Jam Master Jay, was playing (this at about 9am). DJ Enuff, a NYC mainstay since the ’90s, had been DJing for 21 straight hours – none of the other DJs could make it in.

As I drove slowly through Spanish Harlem, the Upper East Side, and down into Midtown, I rolled down my windows and turned the volume all the way up as “Hard Times” blared through the speakers. I nearly wept. This, I felt, was the New York I fell in love with. The DJs, so long a cornerstone of our culture, were still at work. The radio was still on. And as confused tourists wandered the streets, New Yorkers got down to the work of putting their lives back together.

At 39th Street the traffic lights turned dark. I got downtown and parked my car in an illegal spot with a policeman’s blessing. The streets were flooded with people. Everyone was caring and obliging. I checked on a friend in the neighborhood, who I hadn’t heard from since the day before. We had a smoke and decided to walk around. He told me that the night before had been a blast. It seemed like the party was rolling on.

We’ve done this through 9/11, The Blackout, and countless blizzards. This city is at its best in crisis. When life gives us lemons, we make lemonade and spike that bitch.

The fact that you are crouching in your apartment, put upon by events and wed to a Starbucks (of all places!) says to me that you are not cut out to be here. And we do not want you if you do not want us. Love the blog and read it multiple times a day. Just calling as I see it, as my fellow NYers are wont to do.

Another:

I love that you’re blogging from a Starbucks in Midtown. I love how you’re suffering the storm right alongside all the folks who don’t have a world famous blog, even if it’s not a choice. New York is an intense, hyper-competitive, loud, dirty, and difficult place, and the best thing about it is that the guy with the turban, the drag queen, the stockbroker, and the big fat black lady all make it through the daily difficulty alongside each other. At this moment, my Brooklyn neighbors are handing out Tilapia to trick-or-treaters. So there’s that too. Rich, poor, or in-between, everyone here is crazy.

All of us will bitch every day about the difficulties of the city, but we’ll all end up helping each other at one time or another too. And helping here is different than helping in other places around the world, because the variety and chaos makes it harder here. It’s harder to help because so much angst and resistance builds inside of us, as New Yorkers. It’s harder to help because we’re often ‘other’ to each other, in a different class or ethnic group, etc. So when the shit hits and it’s everyone in, and you help, there’s no place on earth you’ll feel more connected. The money, race, lifestyle boundaries come down, the seething hostility is overcome, and god mutherfuckin’ dammit, we are one!

By the way, all your complaining about New York is essentially turning you into a New Yorker. You are not alone, brother. We all hate it and that’s why we all love it.

I think I’m beginning to get it now.

(Photo: East Village residents enjoy a bonfire on October 31, 2012 in New York City. Superstorm Sandy has claimed several dozen lives in the United States and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. By Allison Joyce/Getty Images)