Sorry. I can’t stop thinking about it. Because it seems everyone is talking about it.
“LAND OF THE FLEE” screamed the New York Post last week. I guess their earlier and more staid headline “New Yorkers flee in droves” wasn’t quite the clickbait they were looking for. They needed a chaser to that “NEW YORK IS DEAD FOREVER” op-ed that even brought Jerry Seinfeld out of his Hamptons hideout to object.
We hosted a small, socially-distanced cocktail gathering last weekend and a gentleman I had just met, gazing out over our California lawn and groping for a conversation starter, led with “Have you been reading about what’s going on in New York City?”
Um. Yeah. As a matter of fact, I have.
The headlines are a little hard to take. Especially when they come from the mouths of babes, as in our youngest, who told us somberly “You don’t want to come here right now.”
Okay, that might be partially because he (and his two cats!!) are lolling about the apartment these days. But I think what he really meant is that we don’t want to see NYC the way it is just now. Down at its heels. In déshabillé.
I console myself with history. Turns out they’ve been ringing New York’s death knell since the seventeenth century.
The city was a mess back in 1647 when Petrus Stuyvesant became director of New Netherland. Flight to the “suburbs” occurred during the recession of the 1730’s, but by 1750 New York was thriving again. Those pesky Irish immigrants were littering the streets by the end of the 18th century, camped out in hovels and “expiring from the want of sustenance”.
Still, it was the fastest-growing city in the United States, with swamps giving way to development of now-iconic sites like Washington Square and Bryant Park. Even Brooklyn began to thrive in the 1830’s when they began “installing street lights, clearing pigs from the streets and cleaning up grogshops.” Yes, there was cholera. And there were gangs. Pestilence and violence? Sound familiar?
In 1849 the city was “drowning in garbage” (and worse).
And that, actually, is pretty much how I remembered my first visit there in 1975 when garbage strikes were more the rule than the exception. Still, I couldn’t wait to return, which took many, many years but was worth the wait. Mayor Giuliani had managed to spruce the city up during his 1994-2001 tenure and it positively gleamed.
For a long time.
And I know it can shine again. With apologies to Mr. Twain, the reports of the city’s demise have been greatly exaggerated now for centuries, and it has outlasted all those detractors. Can a little plague and some shocking mismanagement bring down my city? Say it ain’t so!
days weeks months til we can return…
“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.”
– Simone de Beauvoir