Voice in the Crowd

Staying Sane in New York City


Air-conditioning systems rumble, fans whirl, and bathtubs are plugged to keep unwanted cockroaches at arms length — could there ever be such a thing as a wanted cockroach? — because while summer may be officially over, the beginning of October remains hot and sticky here in New York City.

But the Autumn will be here soon, at which point I will wander up to Central Park at my own sweet pace and watch all the leaves die.

I like living in a place where we get all the seasons of the year. My idea of hell is living someplace with high temperatures and dry heat which shows no pity and which never, ever ends — places like Reno, Riyadh or Dubai. No thanks. If I wanted to live somewhere where the temperature is always the same I’d move into one of the aisles of a supermarket.

Presently, I don’t live in one of the aisles of a supermarket but in a shared, rented, rundown first-floor apartment surrounded by non-stop construction of luxury high-rise buildings. We are literally being dwarfed by multi-millionaires. The other day I took a look at the artists impression of what will eventually become of the skeleton of the building opposite our place. On the right hand side of the sketching is a seven-floor luxury condominium surrounded by beautiful green trees in full bloom. Then to the left of it, just across the street where our building should be standing, there’s nothing but rolling green pastures with a laughing couple with child walking hand-in-hand on it. What a way to find out you might soon be facing eviction.

Greed. It is the cancer of the earth. The man sitting in the White House right now is the very definition of greed — he’s the natural conclusion of Twenty-first century capitalism and all of its worst excesses. He is the living embodiment of the Greek deity Narcissus, fixated on himself, his own reflection and the beauty he sees within in it. How much longer must we wait before he morphs into that other deity of Greek folklore — Icarus? Until he finally destroys himself and his unfeasibly huge ambitions by gliding just that little too close to the sun? 

But all of us must be grateful that the world is not governed by the man who runs the sandwich shop I go to whenever I’m in the West Village. We’d be probably be hanging children. There’d be a ban on unemployment benefits, tattoos, cyclists, street performers, women who wear headscarves, women who don’t wear headscarves, and just about anybody from Cuba, the Dominican Republic or anywhere to the south of Mexico. Supposedly also there’d be a total ban on freedom of expression — the right to which he obviously holds so dear while he’s chatting freely with me.

This apartment that I languish in and write from — where the noise of seven floors of gentrification being drilled and hammered into place surrounds me — rests on a street named Hope, something I take great solace in from time-to-time. Flat-sharing at the age of forty was never meant to be part of the plan, but life seems to lead us and not the other way around. 

My flatmates (in the United States they use the term roommates which makes it seem as if you’re all sleeping in bunk beds or something) are certainly prime examples of being led by life and not the other way around. One of them says he wants to bring down this government but he doesn’t even know which days of the week the bins need to be taken out. Today I spotted him across the road, worse for wear, sitting outside the neighbourhood Deli wearing a sailor’s hat embellished with the words Kill the Rich — written in permanent marker pen— while pointing at the clouds and trying to start conversations with random passers-by. There but for the grace of God if there is one.

Yes, it would seem this week that life around me in New York City is going to the dogs. But occasionally a hero will emerge among the crowd, to rise up and give you hope that might is not always right. I recently saw an elderly lady in an electric wheelchair, cruising up First Avenue in a traffic lane on her own terms, with a long line of cars honking their horns behind her. She comes all the way from Couldn't-Give-a-Fucksville and the rest of us could do with more of her.

This madness, of course, is not exclusive to this side of the Atlantic. The last time I was home in England, I was told of somebody who makes himself a cup of tea not by boiling the kettle but by running the hot tap onto the teabag. Then I found myself chatting to a man who told me he once broke his arm while playing a game of darts. Then later that day in the pub, during the half-time break in the football, I met a man from Cornwall who boasted that he used to be a football hooligan but didn’t actually understand or enjoy the football but went just to get involved in all the violence. 

Yes. I woke up today and reassured myself that it is I who is perfectly level-headed and it is all those around me who are climbing the walls of insanity.

Published in Gorilla Arthouse, October 2017.