My Multifarious Array post was, at least subtextually, about things that annoy me about here. It came down, unsurprisingly, to…
People. Oh. Yeah. (In a diner on 6th ave and 14th st. the other day, I heard a female customer say to the Latino waitress: “people are such pigs here. Thay’re just SO freakin’ rude!”) For me, it isn’t so much the rudeness – after all, there’s great kindness and trench cameraderie as well – it’s something else. Here, they love to say: “you should go to L.A.! People are just so superficial there!” As if to suggest that New York’s the centre of authenticity within the west / east coast battle, forgetting, of course, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chi-town (well, of course NYers would forget the whole mid-west), and what many people are describing as the big up-and-comer in terms of counter culture / underground art and music, and cheap rents: Baltimore. (I think in this, New Yorkers are still trading on ’70s and ’80s grittiness, which is fast fading, folks, into a city for the rich and the glammed up. Come on, now, cop yourselves on.)
I myself can’t say, as I don’t have these points of comparison, only external ones: oh, like Ireland, and good auld Europe, me love, me precious. And in that context, awareness of what I hate most about New York, within New York, has been creeping up on me since returning from Ireland after Christmas (proximity to the kind of authenticity that smells a bullshit artist within a minute of meeting them will do this to you – they’ll smell you, and smile, and you won’t even know it, boys and girls): I hate how people, some people, will pass on you within a conversation, at a party or a reading, a “happening” – like a form of not seeing – if they sense you can’t give or do anything for them – a concentration par excellence, cheri, on the surface, the bombastic and the boombastic arts of self-fashioning and self-presentation (see Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning for a description of life within Henry VIII’s court: a bit like the Politburo under Stalin).
I’ve lost count of the amount of conversations which were the equivalent of, “ok, you have 10 seconds to do your pitch – of yourself – go.” And I grow tired, I grow old, should I wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled? (Is that a good look, with in-built rockabilly referentiality street cred.?)
The women come and go, saying, “have you read Roberto Bolaño?”
And, I can’t do it. I couldn’t be bothered. I won’t. Maybe you could find out about my genius if you took the time to hang around for, say, 10 minutes, and actually listened? (Sorry for Californian question at end of a sentence which is not a question.) (I’ll be listening more than talking.) Which is why it was refreshing to meet a woman from Ohio at the launch of Electric Literature’s 5th issue at Housing Works bookshop / café in SoHo. Lookéd she not at her smart phone, she did smile, was present, and it was pleasant because it was, well, real. And, I’m simply describing a conversation, here. You remember these things here, which has long been the thinking person’s L.A. in all cultural spheres – well, in everything but the film business, and how to get ahead in advertising, and that, too.
A certain demographic of NYC denizens want you to be big, loud, funny, a character – to make an impression upon the surface of the moment, like an ice climber, with your ice picks in frost-bitten hands. But, sometimes I’m not interested or up for that.
It’s like A. Ginsberg said, “no point writing when the spirit does not lead.” My soul gets tired. And when I eventually listen to it, I go home and feed it some good treats, some designer cat food mixed with warm Foie Gras, in solitude, or with the ones who let you be who, or how, you happen to be in that particular moment’s process field: tired or unhappy or frazzled, or simply with the need to vent. What’s the name for someone who holds the moment for you like that? Oh, right, Miley, it’s called a friend. Shite, right you are there, I’d forgotten.
(Photo of Roberto Bolaño, one of the saints of smoking, nabbed from here – looks like quite a good blog.)