Not the apple of the Apple's eye

October 30th, 2020

NYC Street Fair

(published in The Daily Memphian)

(photo: New York street festuval, pre-Covid)

New York has things to teach us. 

The only other person on the subway platform that night decades 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, thinking they were 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, smiled, 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 of 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. 

I wrote about my last visit there a few months after the 2016 election. 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 the last four years, and this year especially, we don’t have any more time for stereotypes, deciding about everybody and everything based on preconceived, shallow generalizations.

The Democrats lost in 2016 because they took a huge part of America for granted. Trump won by playing those same Americans like a fiddle, and the entire Republican Party sang along. 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. We need to recover from our mistakes.

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 on that last trip was from North Carolina and wanted to debate barbecue.

What that city and its nine million have had to endure and are enduring this year at the hands of coronavirus is both a lesson and a warning of what’s at risk. They’ve been trying to tell us. One of their very own is President of the United States, and they tried to tell us about him, too.

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.

New York is Donald Trump’s hometown. And they know a con when they see one.

Citywide, New York voters rejected Donald Trump eight to one in 2016 – 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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