I love New York. I hate New York.
That pretty well sums up the feelings of just about everybody I know who ever lived there even briefly about the place. New York is more than just a city; it’s a mindset, an attitude. I know what a cliche that is, but anyone who ever stepped off a bus at the Port Authority terminal or off a train at Penn Station or out of a cab from LaGuardia or JFK or Newark (and I’ve done all of those) knows what I mean, what all those Chamber of Commerce brochures mean. The very first time your feet hit those filthy sidewalks and it slams you right in the chest that you’re on Broadway – yes, that Broadway, the REAL one, not the optimistically-named one in Kansas City or someplace – you get this giddy, now-I’m-truly-awake-and-alive adrenaline rush that even years of battling traffic, lines at the post office, grocery stores that smell like spoiled milk and rotting meat, and obnoxious people (most of whom aren’t from New York, by the way) can’t ever completely erase. There’s a fundamental energy to the place that comes over you like a wave, one that you aren’t even aware has just knocked you on your previously-complacent ass. It just ain’t like any other place on earth, and I’ve been to a lot of those other places myself and can say that with authority.
New York isn’t just a city in the classic civil-monolith sense either. Most people around the country and the world know New York as a symbol of America’s greatness and success, even while they decry its corruption, its crime, its expensiveness, its insufferable smugness about its status. You’ll find that while just about every last damned sitcom on network TV seems to revolve around young single New Yorkers, most people outside New York don’t really care about life in New York as it is actually lived, whether they watch those shows or not. Most people wouldn’t live there if you paid them by the hour, and will gladly tell you so whether you ask them or not. The old New Yorker magazine cover that depicts the rest of the country as a small mote of cultural desert when compared with the big city on the Hudson is a pretty accurate representation of how New Yorkers have always seen the world, but that’s where the accuracy stops. That cover is very well-known in New York, but the majority of folks elsewhere don’t even know about the New Yorker in the first place, much less that (or any other) cover. New York doesn’t have the kind of influence on American life that it once did, and given the creeping socialism of its government that’s no doubt a good thing. People there accept restrictions on their personal liberty that would never fly in other places. But the trick is, they accept them knowing that in the end they’re going to do just as they please anyway, and civil authority be damned.
But in my opinion anyway, New York still is America, in the broadest possible sense. New York is awash in hopeful immigrants who have come here seeking the better life for themselves and their families promised by the old American dream, and that dream still lives and attracts there like nowhere else. Sure, plenty of those people come here with the express intention of doing nothing more than attaching themselves to the generous welfare teat mandated by the state’s Constitution and sucking for all they’re worth, but many more come here and drive cabs sixteen hours a day or open little bodegas and work themselves to a frazzle trying to make good. And that’s what it’s supposed to be all about. It’s what built this nation in the first place.
New York is full of magic, both the simple kind that you barely notice and more complex varieties that require a little thought to fully appreciate. When you live there for a while, you find yourself murmuring the old mantra “only in New York” to yourself with surprising regularity; sometimes it’s in disgust, but more often it’s because something wonderful and entirely unexpected just happened. I’m always kind of surprised and amused by the near-universality of the phrase “a perfect New York day” to describe the kind of cool, sunny spring or fall afternoon that makes your heart beat a little faster as soon as you find yourself outside in one. You New Yorkers know just what I mean by that: a temperature that feels good either with or sans jacket, bright sunshine, the sky a kind of beautiful blue that you only ever see in paintings, a nice breeze blowing that might as well have originated in Heaven as the breath of God Himself. It’s the kind of day that makes you feel inside as if you can never be defeated, disappointed, or dismayed.
And that’s just the kind of day September 11th, 2001 was shaping up to be, ironically enough.
We’ve all seen the video footage countless times, and speaking for myself it still is capable of producing the same shocked disbelief as it did that morning. Those planes seem to just float into the buildings as if they were coming in for a gentle landing at one of the airports a few miles away. The violence, the horror, the evil still sneaks up on you and hits you in the gut as if you’d never seen that particular movie and didn’t already know the ending. Watching those planes come in, it’s easy to tell yourself the same thing that we all did that awful morning: what are those planes doing there, this isn’t real, it isn’t happening, they’re going to turn away at the last second. And they never do. Then the fire, the smoke, the people falling a hundred stories to their deaths, and at last first one tower and then the other tumbles to the ground in a nightmare cascade of dust and rubble and destruction. Watching it again feels like one of those opium-and-alcohol fever dreams that produced all those Edgar Allen Poe stories. Just like it did the first time.
And then we saw the Arab world dancing in the streets, honking car horns joyously, handing out candy to kids in celebration.
New York itself was badly hurt by the attack, and it still is suffering. A good friend of mine who runs a family business in the city estimates that the attack cost him personally to the tune of around 30 grand over the last year. And I’ll tell you something else: in spite of the fact that I haven’t lived there since 1996, New York is still MY city. There’s a part of me that will always be a New Yorker, even if I never set foot there again. And the terrorist scum who brought down the Twin Towers a year ago weren’t just attacking New York – they were attacking me.
And, apart from making those terrorists and terrorists everywhere tremble at the thought of ever unleashing such a deadly assault on this nation again, I want vengeance, plain and simple. I want them to suffer mightily and for all time. An eternity in Hell isn’t good enough, because that eternity is too far off and constitutes too nebulous a threat. I want their personal Hell to begin right here on Earth, just as soon as we can find a way to inflict it. I have a friend whose aunt died when she was hit by flying shrapnel – she was in a building across the street. I know someone whose good friend was a singer in a local punk rock band; he was also a firefighter and died when the first tower crashed down on his head. I know people I’m close to who lived nearby and will never really be able to shake the terror and despair they felt that day.
You knew the profane rant was coming, right? Well, here it goes: I want the goatfucking cocksuckers responsible for all the suffering and pain to pay in unfathomably agonizing ways, sure. But I also want those Arab cocksuckers who celebrated our pain to share that agony in absolutely full measure. I want those people here in this country who insist on “root causes” and who demand that we all attempt to understand something not worth a moment’s reflection to shut the fuck up and think for a moment about what it is they’re really saying. I want the rest of the world to stay the hell out of our way if they’re unwilling to help us, in defiance and contempt of all the times we’ve helped them.
I started this website on September 16th, and it’s been successful beyond my wildest expectations. The reason why I started it is – well, I just told you. I might just be pissing in the wind here, but I want this war on terror fought, and fought to completion, with all the fury and rage we can muster. I want people to remember exactly what happened to my city on 9/11, and it bothers me not in the least if it takes a million maudlin television specials to make sure we never forget. I don’t share the pessimistic view of many out there that Americans have gone back to the lazy complacent fog so many of us existed in on September 10th. The people I talk to every day unanimously remember, and they’re all still just as befuddled and annoyed by vacillation and wavering on the part of our leaders as I am. New York, love it or hate it, belongs to all of us, IS us, and the will to do the necessary is still there. All it requires is the same power of recall and a little leadership to unleash it. If Bush and his team turn out to be lacking, well, we’ll all be looking for someone who has it.
Victory will be ours.
Update! It occurred to me that some of you might get a bang out of seeing some pictures of my own personal New York, which mostly means people rather than places. CLICK HERE to see ’em.