When I look back on my life, the moments I remember are at the extremes. The comfortable moments in between are just one big blur, like the nondescript suburbs you drive by between cities. You cannot learn much from being in the middle. Water freezes at zero Celsius and evaporates at 100; in between, it looks the same. Someone who is feeling just fine doesn’t express anything interesting.
Between significant events like 9-11, Hurricane Sandy, and the 2008 financial crisis, New York City was comfortable but blurry. Everything happened as planned and scripted. I could doze off and miss nothing. When I travel away from the city, I’m always worried that I would miss some extraordinary events.
I don’t understand people who avoid extremities. What’s so interesting in the middle? They seem to prefer staring at the state of room-temperature water. When the temperature begins to rise, they move away. Aren’t they curious to see what happens?
They pop Prozac so that their lives have no highs or lows. They want their lives to be never-ending lines of suburban homes and trees in motion blur. When New York City is back to room temperature, perhaps they’ll slowly come back.
For these automatons, New York City is sort of like a safari; it’s the safety of the bus that makes it enjoyable. If the bus breaks down, shit gets too real; and they flee.
I’m not sure what differentiates those tourists on the bus from the people on the street. How do they grasp what life is from the comfort of the air-conditioned bus? Have they no curiosity?
My wife and I were just watching Fran Lebowitz talk. She called herself “designated New Yorker,” which is an ingenious description of herself, because, for me, her voice is not of her own, but of the designated New Yorker. If you want to know what New York City thinks about anything, just ask her. The idea of moving out of the city, she said, didn’t even occur to her.
I don’t think of myself as a New Yorker but as an anthropologist. I’m here to observe humanity at the extremes. That is why I chose New York; because we cannot see full human potential at room temperature.
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