New York is boring. There, I said it.
When I first moved here over twenty years ago, old-timers would lament the passing of The Good Ol’ Days™ – a time when one could stroll safely through Central Park at night, or sleep on the fire escape, which frankly sounded about as likely as hunting dinosaurs in the subway. (Note: idea for new, unproduceable musical.) These days, I or one of my jaded contemporaries might be heard musing something along the lines of: “Remember when you could get kacked on the subway for your sneakers?” Back in those early pioneer days, I actually witnessed a mugging in Washington Square Park (at least I think it was a mugging; it might have been a modern dance performance. Either way, it was unsettling, so I only caught the first part before sauntering double-time out of the park, hands behind my back, whistling “Groove Is in the Heart” [y'know, blending in].) Once, in Times Square, I saw an imposing African-American gentleman screaming with rage into a pay phone (!), before suddenly growing quiet and ending the call with, “Oh. Okay. I’ll kill – call ya later.” And I even had a bottle broken over my head in 1992, in the wilds of Chelsea – a bashing! in Chelsea! And while I don’t exactly miss proclaiming how much I LOVE LIVING HERE while simultaneously fearing for my life every fifteen seconds, the new, safer New York has become rather complacent and, well, dull.
Even our homeless seem to have lost their flair. I have this terrible nervous habit of absent-mindedly gnawing on my fingers, usually while wandering the streets, listening to the latest portable stereo system and pretending to be in a music video that features finger-biting as opposed to dancing. One day in ’93, I passed a homeless person in the East Village, shambling up 3rd Avenue and muttering into a shopping cart. “Bramma jamma rassa frassa,” said the homeless person, before looking up sharply and adding, “and get cho fingers out cho mouth.” As the next song started and I quick-stepped along, whistling “Cop Killer,” (yes I can!), I heard, “Don’t make me come over there.” Today’s homeless just seem like dirtier versions of those trust-fund kids who’ve invaded midtown, with personalities to match.
Times Square is now a shopping mall with a thyroid condition, and gritty crime-dramas have to do their shooting in remote neighborhoods where the brown people and I live. All of this homogeneity is great for the tourists who power our fair city, as studies have shown that yokels prefer feeling safe and being reminded of home wherever they go, even at three times the price and with extra filth. Of course, deep down we know that all this normalcy is just a veneer: that between street level and the bedrock there remains a near-solid layer of Rat, and that all restaurant kitchens are made of roaches (don’t kid yourself). Even in my own bathroom, when one of the tiles fell out due to pretense fatigue, I discovered the cracked tiles underneath which had simply been covered up, as well as the ones behind those. It’s all a matter of time before it all falls apart again and people start bemoaning having to go all the way to Jersey for Red Lobster. (Or, as my friend Greg says, “The economy needs to keep tanking so New York can get all stabby again, and the art can come back.”)
It’s not like I harbor some twisted nostalgic yearning for the occasional brush with death. I do miss the unpredictability, though I guess I prefer not living in abject terror. Of course, we still have crime and crazy people (though apparently you have to go to Miami for the real crazy ), and I wouldn’t be caught dead in Central Park at night – or maybe I would, which is why I don’t go. But if I wanted to, I suppose I could sleep out on my fire escape – if I weren’t convinced it would peel off the building with a metallic groan should I so much as look at it sideways.