Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Human and Alive

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There’s a passage in Garreau’s The Nine Nations of North America that typifies New York City as the Exception: The part not like any other. It framed that argument with an anecdote about downtown night life. This was on my mind when I was bar-hopping with a gay friend for New Years in the East Village, dancing like a maniac to 80s R&B and trolling fruit flies – as perhaps “fag hags” would be too offensive a term – for their festive headgear (we were successful two times out of three.)

One moment I’m breaking into the reverie of a Black girl in four-inch pumps and tiger print pantyhose who was speaking fluent Japanese to her heavily made-up friends, the next moment I’m plying a lesbian couple with cheap booze with the intent of swiping their pink feather tiaras (or, more accurately, apologizing with cheap booze for having been the accessory for multiple unsuccessful attempts to do so), the next moment I was dancing with an Arab girl from Pennsylvania married to a Jewish skinhead, the next moment I was having an argument with a subway station attendant in Harlem over the PA system at five in the morning. It was a good night.

The occasion coincided with the midnight swearing-in of our new mayor, which we talked about in a stuck Lexington Avenue train half an hour from the ball dropping while a Russian party took lewd photos of themselves. I admitted initially supporting Weiner but knew that no matter who got on top, we’d be seeing a marked liberal shift in city politics. This was a sense that had swept through almost everybody I came across that day, as the mood was consistently high-spirited and gregarious, despite the frigid weather. From the crosstown bus driver who gave me a free ride to the Tina Turner lookalike my friend competed with for the title of “queen” (prompting a dance-off that was as outlandish as it was embarrassing, or would be were we not all three sheets to the wind) to the man who wouldn’t give us his party hat for fear we had lice and in turn was mock offended when we rattled out the list of STIs he was clearly suffering from, it was an air about as electric as the first election of Barack Obama: A night where nothing could go wrong.

It didn’t take the papers long to start positing about Bloomberg’s future political prospects, but the most interesting feature was a New York Times series of essays from various experts asking why New York mayors rarely if ever get elected to higher office. Their answers were more or less either “because the rest of the nation hates New York (and we hate them right back)” or “mayor of New York is the highest office available; I don’t know what you’re talking about.” In either argument, the core message was the same: New York isn’t like the rest of the nation, and to be good at New York politics is to eschew the rest of the nation. This was true at the founding of the country – where the city wasn’t allied to the Democratic-Republicans or the Federalists and went through a series of attempts to secede – and it’s true now – where our Democrats are too elitist and our Republicans are too liberal to be seriously considered. In short, they stink too much of New York.

After all, how could they not? To be seen as acceptable for a city where stores are still open at 3am on New Years’ Day (or, for that matter, Christmas morning), where wall street banksters and communist pinkos rub elbows in gay-friendly straight bars and straight-friendly gay bars and the subway cars that ferry folks between them seem to do more for promoting international relations than the United Nations, where openly defying the Man is often-times condoned by the Man – it requires being larger than life, and that drives people up the wall.

I made a fool of myself last night (and would do so again) yet I was only grabbing a corner of the craziness that this place fully and gleefully engenders. Bloomberg would do best sticking to the city and working through his media empire and NGOs. De Blasio got sworn in by Bill Clinton, because Clinton headquarters in New York; in his words, it’s “human and alive.” To make it here and then think about going anywhere else is, to quote Ed Koch in a Playboy interview that deep-sixed his bid for governor, “a joke.”

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