Someone yell Timber, take off your hat

14 01 2009

It’s all falling down. Secretly pleased?

Some of us are. Maybe. Partly. Kinda.

I wasn’t in New York in the 1970s, but to talk to some New Yorkers who were, you ‘d think I’d missed the last, best time in the city.

You know, high crime rates. Graffitti everywhere. Distrust and malaise. Son of Sam. Bankruptcy. The good old days.

I’ve only been a New Yorker 2 1/2 years, but even I curse a scrubbed Times Square and the relentless pursuit of money. Still, I won’t claim nostalgia for a time not mine, and I’m skeptical of those who claim that New York a generation and a-half ago was a period of glorious artistic expression, unfettered by high rents or the (art) market. As if the artists and punks back then weren’t all on the hustle.

New York is a hustling town, mean and generous in turn, indulgent of those on the make and unforgiving of those who don’t make it. (Except, of course, when it does forgive. Crazy place.) So underemployed white kids get shoved out of the east Village and the Bowery and into Queens and Brooklyn and somehow this means New York ain’t what it used to be.

No shit. This city ain’t never what it used to be.

Still, amidst my squints and skepticism, I, only half-ashamedly, admit to a secret pleasure at the fall. Yeeeeaaaaaaah, a part of me thinks, now we’re gonna get real! Let it all fall apart!

Silliness. How nice to get on the train at midnight and not have to worry (except once) about robbery or assault. Air conditioned subway cars in August? A lifesaver. And I’d rather stroll by  store windows full of clothes or food or paint cans than those hidden by plywood or graffitti-ed gates.

I love ruin, I do. I thrill to the old and abandoned, the crumbling and fading. But it is an aesthetic thrill, a delight in these old and sad connections to pasts hidden and forgotten. The delight and the sadness are sincere, but limited: I want to enjoy these unreconstructed ruins, not live in them.

As for that secret pleasure? Maybe we’re (or maybe just I’m) high on our finally-unleashed anxiety. Yesss! We get to worry! Fuck that happy talk. . . .

Angst. Back in style.


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