Sunday, September 8, 2013

Send Lawyers, Guns and Money

I've lived in New York for awhile now and theres a few things I've learned about the people here that is causing some concern. Well, perhaps that is a little harsh, but there is something that makes me know that when I planned on living here "for awhile" I was correct in assuming that it would eventually tire me out and though I don't think I've reached that point, I do notice that I'm becoming increasingly disillusioned about what it takes to live here, and how up to it I really am.

They say that when God closes a door he opens a window, and despite my feelings on God being completely moot, I do think that it works the other way around, as in when a window opens, a door closes. If I take anything away from this New York thing, I think, if I had to pin it down it would be that there is a part of your soul that gets eroded away here over time. The people who live here are not soulless, I don't mean to say that, but I think when you emigrate here you are born with a worldview that will eat away at you until you conform or leave.

My cousin and my friends went to Florida a few years ago for a Spring Break that turned into an adventure for all of us, some more than others, but there was a moment when My cousin and I hadn't even gotten there that was telling about how the world sees this place. Our flight was scheduled out of New York during a heavy Nor'Easter that was systematically dismantling street signs all across New Brunswick (where we lived at the time). Our flight got cancelled and the next day was mostly going back and forth between terminal and service counter trying to chase down two seats on a plane to get us to Florida. I remember we had slept the night on air vents and gone to like 7 different flights which were then delayed or cancelled completely, and in a desperate last try we got a flight to Nashville which would then transfer to Florida. I remember distinctly when the woman told us that we would have to run to catch our next plane because we had five minutes to go like 30 terminals or something. She described it as "you're going to have to run." So we made the flight (my first first class experience--paid for through 20 hours in an airport trying to salvage a vacation I could barely pay for before and almost thought I was going to die on at least twice after) and tried to sleep (impossible, despite drinking two free Heinekens), knowing we had five minutes to check in at another airplane in a place we had never been surrounded by people we did not know. Finally the plane landed and we looked at each other--tired, hungry, desperate for the whole fucking mess to be ended--and sprinted off the concourse and charged through the terminal. I remember dodging old people moving entirely too slowly in our paths and pulling suitcases piled higher than they could stand upright, soldiers with their pants stuffed into their black boots, silent as they watched us scramble around them as they waited to get on board. Finally we got to the check-in desk and tried to explain to the woman through giant, rasping breaths why we were there and how we needed to get on the plane because we needed to get to Florida by any means necessary. She looked at us, sweating, tired, haggard, wide eyed and frightened for our "adventure" and said with a kind, understanding smile: "Oh, Sugar, we held that plane for you. You're not in New York anymore." Stunned faces stared back at her and I remember thinking "they held the plane? With all these people waiting? That's so...nice!" We looked at her, thanked her, and sat down on the carpet near the water fountain and waited for them to start boarding. It wasn't so much that I didn't understand why they held the plane, but that they actually did it.

Those word stuck with me, and living here now there is a certain understanding that has completed the circle: I know what she meant by her statement but I also know how she profoundly missed what it was that caused it. She thought (or so I assume) that New Yorkers are heartless, cold and are so uptight that we always leave on time--that New York in general does not give two shits if you are going to miss your flight or how missing this connection fundamentally ruins all the stuff you've looked forward to for the last three excruciating weeks, the time between when Finals were eons away and then POW right-here-right-now-c'mon-it's-everything. But really the issue with New York being seen through that lens is that it ignores that there are too many fucking people here. The only way to truly understand a city where 45 people live in a small apartment building in Brooklyn that occupies less acreage than my father's front yard is to understand that no one could function here without completely ignoring the needs of some of the people around them. It's this fundamental difference that comfounds tourists to American cities and City people when they visit the suburbs and rural areas. It's not that things are slower, it's that there are less people, so you don't have to shove anyone (or at least as many) out of your way to get where you're going.

Living this close to others and going out amongst them every single day is an experience that I think everyone should have, if only to understand your place sometimes in the world. For every person who knows you, there are 243 who do not know you exist, and 45 of them want to shove you when you stop to check Google Maps at the top of the escalator (.002 of them want to stab you and throw your body down an elevator shaft, but those people are waaay rarer than you'd think). This becomes obvious when you see entire crowds buff and wobble when a homeless guy starts freaking out in the middle of a sidewalk. People make a face and run away (tourists, newbies) and the others just move a little faster and stare off into the distance like vietnam soldiers walking past burning villages. This is because this isn't the first, second or 23rd time this has happened, it has just become part of the mentality to ignore the part of your brain that simultaneously shouts "Run away!" and "I should help that other human being." When a person understands that stepping over a homeless guy laying on a vent in the middle of the street will not be viewed as antisocial, or rolling your eyes at someone begging for change, or planting your feet in front of a baby carriage because fuck-you-lady-I-was-here-first-and-the-subway-car-is-almost-full-and-I'm-almost-fucking-late is not wrong, especially in the wider scheme of things. The world is hard and demanding and we have to take it as a fact that not everyone cares about you.

However, open your window to this reality for too long and the door to compassion and understanding, fairness and concern may swing shut. During me and my cousin's endless airport day I can't imagine how many times the same customer service person had to say "I'm sorry, sir/ma'am, I can do nothing to help you." Imagine how many suitcases were lost, how many family reunions were ruined, how many Spring Break shitheads never got to where they wanted to go. And this, I think, is the crux of the biscuit. There are people in my life now that I have had drinks with, had long conversations about the natures of reality, religion, education, politics, reason, logic and philosophy that I counted among my friends, who have become just another rat in the maze after the same cheese I am. I do not find them to be less than people, they are not the homeless man on the sidewalk screaming at traffic, but they are other mice in the maze. And in order for me to get my cheese, sometimes I have to swing some hinges and those hinges may effect others, and sometimes in negative ways. This may not be the state I am in presently, but I know that there are people whom I have come in contact with who do think along these lines, and do so because that is the way you have to live sometimes. Sometimes you have to draw a blade to stay in contention, and sometimes you have to use it. Ask those poor suckers who tried the stock market and had their lives eaten up by better, more ruthless players.

But to do so is to become inhuman, I think. Ethics is a strange thing, and when all the winners are the ones who were quick to draw their blades, everyone learns the game to survive just that much longer. New York is like that--a city of people who have learned to draw their blades, and have learned the game better. But because of that, certain things get missed. The kind touch, the "have a nice day" while meaning it, the not just being an asshole because "hey, this is New York, get used to it." Things are done half-assed here like it's no one's business, and I think it's because no one ever says "Jesus, what if that air conditioner falls on someone?!" There's a lot of "fuck it, it gets the job done." Most of this mentality comes from there being so many people that no one will notice, but also from being in that mental space of "well, the job fell on me to get it done, it's done, let's move on," which is how a city full of 8 million people are bound to feel when if you don't return your bottles the old asian woman down the street will do it for 5 cents a pop, where you can see piles of trash on a roof that just happens to be near a subway exit, where barbed wire surrounds empty lots. People who move here know about these things, but experiencing them is different on a wholly new level. In the end it comes down to the real nature of things: adapt or die, stay or go, repel or become. Evolution of your mind--am I a mouse in a maze or am I a man who needs to eat? Are these really all the same things? Conundrums like these always fuck with my head because they boil down to what I am made of as a person, and the decisions I make always alienate some of the people I have in my life. Send Lawyers, Guns and Money--get me out of this.

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