Not Ours, Not Theirs

July 6th, 2017

As a bona fide Memphis homer, I’m reluctant to talk about anybody else’s hometown, but New York just might be America’s. After all, there are more of us of every variety in closer proximity there than anywhere else on our shores, so it’s a good place to take a pulse.

And they know a con when they see one.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, July 7, 2017, and The Memphis News, July 8-14, 2017

NY Street Fair


The only other person on the subway platform that night years ago was in a hood-up hoodie and seemed to be about eight feet tall, and seemed to get taller as he walked toward me. Even sober, I wouldn’t be able to do anything about whatever he had in mind, and I was far from sober after a three-hour meal in Tribeca. I was done. 

“You look lost, man, where you headed?”

I mumbled something about Brooklyn and Grand Army Plaza, possibly my last words. He then led me up the stairs and pointed to another station two blocks away, told me the train to take, and disappeared back down the stairs, taking another New York stereotype with him.

We think we know about New York – rude, crass, dangerous after dark, cold and impersonal in daylight – teeming streets far below, literally and figuratively, the balconies of those who would control them all, protected by doormen and tax codes and all that money can buy.

We know the stereotypes, but we don’t know the city.

In my visits there over the years, I’ve been impressed and intimidated, awed and anxious as I walked the streets, stunned by the size of buildings and bills, the size of life there.

A few weeks ago, I was charmed.

People smiled and spoke – like they do in Memphis but this was Manhattan – as I strolled for blocks through a Saturday street fair – like Cooper-Young but this was Park Avenue closed to traffic. Bartenders started conversations. Hotel clerks remembered names. People in stores said excuse me when they bumped into you.

With all we’ve been through as a country lately, we don’t have any more time for stereotypes, deciding about everybody and everything based on preconceived, shallow generalizations.

The Democrats lost because they took a huge part of America for granted, and the Republicans won by playing those same Americans like a fiddle. The whole country was had as sure as a game of three-card monte in Manhattan or a three-dollar bill in Memphis.

We need to get to know, really know, each other again.

Which takes me back to New York, the city the rest of the world thinks of as quintessential America – about nine million of every kind of everybody from everywhere. There’s a statue in the harbor about that. I don’t care who you are or what you do or what you’re into, all of that is within walking distance, and will walk by you while you’re having breakfast. The waiter who served me mine was from North Carolina and wanted to debate barbecue.

Citywide, New York voters rejected Donald Trump eight to one – his neighbors in Manhattan about ten to one.

They really, really know him.

He will eventually pass into history like a national kidney stone, but if we don’t learn to listen to each other again, to respect facts and seek common ground, the pain we’re feeling now will only grow.

I’m a Memphian, and if we can’t talk – fuhgeddaboudit.


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