Friday, February 25, 2005

SAVE OUR CITY -- MUG A TOURIST! Again in the subway tunnels this morning, I had to practically tread on the heels of my fellow citizens to get them to move either at an acceptable clip or out of my way.

It seems that in the past few years New Yorkers have gotten slower. At a stage in life in which I could reasonably expect my neighbors to begin brushing impatiently past my decrepit ass, I find more often than not that I am actually ahead of the general pace.

I have no data on this, but I do know that our City recently rose several places in Men's Fitness magazine's study of the Fattest Cities in the U.S., from 21st to eighth.

One unfortunate side effect of the City's ballyhooed "revitalization" is that it has attracted people to New York who might otherwise have stayed away. For decades, only the mad, the inspired, and the professionally obligated came here. We were a jacked-up lot; we had to constantly watch out for muggers and dogshit, and to keep up with unreliable public transportation schedules. We grew accustomed to nervily grabbing whatever pedestrian advantages we could, and on our watch New York street life remained a rather bracing track and field event. In fact, we developed a sort of sixth sense about transportation. I remember one day in the 80s when the automatic turnstile at the Berry Street end of the Bedford Street L station broke, allowing people to enter and ride for free; within a half-hour, no one was using the (primary) Bedford entrance, while traffic on the Berry side was unusually heavy -- people, it appeared, were riding just because it was free.

It was tension-inducing, but it was sort of fun and it helped keep the weight off.

Outsiders gazed upon this behavior with that mixture of respect and disgust usually reserved for the inscrutable customs of the East, like the Hejira or eating live monkey brains. They maybe dug it, but not enough to join it.

But during the reign of Giuliani, New York was made less intimidating to the timorous. Now that the dark-'n'-scary has been policed, gentrified, and strip-malled out of much of our territory, the placid and the bovine flock to us. They waddle our streets in a happy daze, untroubled by anxiety of any sort.

They do not have to adapt to New York's singular ways, because we have lost many of them. Even in poor neighborhoods, you don't really have to have eyes in the back of your head anymore. We have more chain stores and outlets now, too -- Home Depots and Targets and K-Marts -- so you don't have to claw feverishly through racks for bargains. There's a Red Lobster midtown -- a Bennigan's too, so even your palate can remain unchallenged. Public spaces are increasingly organized to resemble, not the plazas of old Europe, but the malls of America. And soon, if Mayor Richie Rich and his dog Dollar have their way, there will be a big, hideously ugly stadium on the West Side, the sort of thing that is the pride and joy of municipalities like Foxboro, MA, as well as the cash cow of their vested interests.

Once upon a time it was less easy to put a giant boondoggle like this stadium over on our citizens than on those of the sticks. But New Yorkers are changing; in addition to getting slower on the street, they seem to be getting slower in the head. One follows the other, perhaps. Perhaps Australian New Yorker Rupert Murdoch believes this, too, and so bids his Postie flacks plump for more malls as well as for the stadium, because the more our citizens come to resemble suburban sheep -- stuffed full of cheap grain and herded, with the occasional aid of electronic stimulation, through pens -- the more easily we can be shorn for profit.

So our new citizens trudge the streets, capitivated by orange curtains and $10.99 chicken wings on Times Square, while the Mayor bullies and bosses his way to a big payday for somebody.

I had hoped that it would not come to this, but I expect it will take a fresh crime wave to weed the unfit from our ranks. And as we have not quite arrived at the End of History, I expect it will come sooner than later, hopefully before I am really too old to outrun both the crooks and the children of the corn who are fucking up the City.

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