I have a love hate relationship with New York City. On the one hand, I love the convenience, how close everything is, the public transit – a definite advantage for one with a driving record like mine. On the other hand, I hate the crowds.
I’m in New York attending a conference on film music at New York University, which is located by Washington Square Park which is right around Greenwich Village. It’s an amazing part of the city, and the park is a wonderful place, beautiful fountain (appealing to a boy from Kansas City, MO), an American version of the Arc de Triomphe (the Washington Square Arch), vendors, musicians, old men playing chess, everything you see in the movies and episodes of Law and Order (actually, on Friday, they were filming something in park, wouldn’t be surprised if it was some episode of Law and Order and someone playing the role of Corpse #2).
Anyway, Saturday morning I come in for the morning session starting at 9:30 and there is almost no one around, it’s very quiet and peaceful, and I think to myself, “Ya, I could get used to this. It’s nice.” But around noon, there is a huge street festival going on, and by the end of the evening sessions at 6, the place is packed, and all I can think of is, “I’ve got to get out of here!”
If you know me well, you’ll know that I don’t handle crowds at all. Case in point is this conference; I didn’t go to the opening reception thing because I didn’t know anyone, and all I would’ve done is stand around and not talk to anyone. Well now imagine thousands of people, and my anxiety multiplied. I wouldn’t exactly say I have agoraphobia, I don’t really suffer from full on panic attacks (okay, maybe once I had one…but only once), but if there is a mild form, then that is how I might describe it. I just don’t handle large crowds, I don’t deal well with new people all that well, I don’t mingle well at parties with people I don’t know, and I don’t really go up to people and start conversations (though a couple times at the conference I will talk to people who have presented and say how I liked there paper and so on).
I need the wide open spaces of the plains, where the population density is lower, where the world has a chance to breath. Yes, the city is exciting, and walking through the park, or standing in the subway, surrounded by the sounds of people, musicians, the rhythmic clanking of the subways as they pull into and out of the stations…and the unearthly quiet when there are no trains, and you realize that almost no one is talking…it is intoxicating to the aural senses. Sitting here in my friends place writing, I can hear the sound of a block party going on, Latin music playing, people talking, the DJ talking over the music, the soundtrack to our existence. And the car horns! Oh my god, the car horns. On my way back to my friend’s place in Brooklyn, I walk through the intersection of 4th and 6th, and tonight it was really busy. One person honks, than another, and another, and before you know it, everyone is honking but not a single car is moving! How we humans strive against the futile.
The other thing is that riding the subway, walking around, it really does give me appreciation to the unspoken social contract under which society, and civilization, operates. In some ways, it is truly amazing how humanity survives and organizes itself. We have laws and rules, yes, but those are merely manifestations for that social contract: you don’t mess with me, I don’t mess with you. And you realize just how fragile the whole construct is. The genre of science fiction is filled with ruminations of what might happen if something exposes or upsets that construct (be it war, famine, disease, etc.). And we have examinations on both sides, either society actually comes together or it falls apart completely – or the variant where it falls apart or almost does and some totalitarian regime steps in and takes over.
And how many times in sci-fi have we seen these collapses of society represented by shots of empty streets or abandoned cars in New York? Well, to go from the City that Never Sleeps to one of eternal slumber is among the most striking images available to science fiction. But I’ve seemed to have strayed from my topic: NYC and Me.
Sitting here in my friend’s apartment in Brooklyn (and I’m sorry, but every time I think or say that word, I just hear Spot Conlon in Newsies scream “Brooklyn!” or say, “Never fear, Brooklyn is here.”), listening to the sounds of the city, I just can’t help but wonder about our society. I have this romantic notion of some apocalypse that’ll leave most of the cities intact, and either some distant future intelligent race that evolves – or aliens, who knows – will find them and wonder just who we were, what happened to us. Maybe it’s growing up with too much sci-fi, but these are the things I think about.