IMBW Debate: New York is the Greatest City in the World! vs. New York is One of the Places You Can Live.
Jeff Maurer debates Younger, Dumber Jeff Maurer
Younger, Dumber Jeff Maurer: New York is one of the world’s great cities! A cultural crossroads, it draws inspiration from every corner of the globe — little exists on Earth that can’t be found in New York! The beating heart of humanity can be felt in the hustle and bustle of the streets, the vibrant din of 10 million stories combining to create a symphony of possibilities. The most authentic experiences to be had in life can be found in New York!
Jeff Maurer: Jesus, where to start? Well, first: You write like a total jerk-off, but we’ll back-burner that for now.
But, yes, it is objectively true that New York is one of the world’s great cities, in that it is large. It’s the 45th largest in the world, though any New Yorker will loudly tell you that it actually ranks first when it comes to pizza/bagels/bridges/pigeons/mailboxes/rocks or literally anything else. It does have a great deal of “bustle” and “din”, which mostly consists of jackhammers, road rage incidents, and ambulance sirens echoing through the five boroughs at ear-splitting levels. Honestly, 60 percent of the din is people experiencing the single worst moment of their lives. And if it’s din that you’re after, you should have considered Kirachi, Pakistan (twice the population!).
It is true that most things that exist in the world can be found in New York. And here are some of those things:
A landlord who steals your security deposit because he knows that it costs more to sue than it does to eat the loss;
A puddle of vomit that sits in an elevator so long that it dries;
A dental hygienist who uses every visit as a chance to push hard to get you into crypto;
An Elmo in Times Square who says “motherfucker” much more than Elmo does on PBS;
An abandoned wheelchair on which someone has spray-painted “EAT ASS”;
Rats making love so unabashedly on a subway platform that it seems like a performance art piece.
Are these experiences “authentic”? Well…what does “authentic” mean? I’d argue that seeing New York-specific experiences as somehow more authentic than other experiences is the same sort of cultural chauvinism that conservatives demonstrate when they talk about “real America”. Every human experience is authentic. When I (we) got whacked in the nuts with a garden hose at age eight, that was authentic. Going to the bank is an authentic experience. Buying grapes is an authentic experience. Getting drunk in a barn and shoving your thumb really far up your own ass is an authentic human experience. There are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Younger Dumber Me, and I don’t know why you think they only exist in New York.
YDJM: New York has the best of everything! Architecture, art, food — the offerings in the Big Apple are second to none! From Michelin star restaurants to star-studded Broadway shows, New York has it all! Whether munching on scones at the Russian Tea Room or partying ‘till dawn in the Flatiron District, there’s always something to do. You could go to the Guggenheim in the morning, catch a game at Yankee Stadium in the afternoon, and experience Stravinsky at Lincoln Center at night!
JM: This is borderline criminal abuse of the word “could”. Yes, you could do all those things, just like you could win the Highland Games and be named Sassy magazine’s hunk of the year — there is no physical law preventing those things from happening. But after ten years in New York, guess how many times you’ll spend a day packed with those activities? I’ll give you a hint: It’s between zero and negative fucking zero.
Here’s what will happen: You will mostly eat at the burrito place by your apartment. When you want to get fancy, you’ll go to the Thai place one block away, even though you found a nickel in your Panang curry one time. One morning, you’ll get a wild hair up your ass and start to plan a grand outing to the Russian Tea Room, and then you’ll glimpse the prices and think “absolutely fucking not”. You’ll go to Broadway when your mom is in town, but it’ll be a real slow reach for the wallet, because dropping $250 to see Jersey Boys isn’t exactly the transcendental cultural experience you had in mind.
Here’s the truth: The combination of Wall Street multi-millionaires, plutocrat expats, and tourists burning through their life savings because they’re a captive market make New York unbelievably overpriced. It might be the worst place in the country for a person who inherited pathologically cheap tendencies from his dad. And — come on — did you really imagine yourself “partying ‘till dawn in the Flatiron District?” Who the fuck do you imagine that you are? Even if a throng of bikini models begged you to party with them (BTW: not happening), you’d do a heel-turn and walk right out of Grist or Pump or Throb or whatever club they took you to the minute you got charged $28 for a Bud Light.
YDJM: New York has so much history! You can see it in landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building, but eminently more thrilling is the lingering specter of events past. You can walk the same streets as Herman Melville and George Gershwin — you can follow in the footsteps of luminaries in every pursuit. When you travel down the Canyon of Heroes, you’re following the path of Jesse Owens and the Mercury astronauts, to name just a few!
JM: First, let’s be clear: Every place has history. Every town in America has pretty much the same pattern of screwed-over Native Americans, followed by insufferable Puritans, followed by bored post-modern dorks, i.e. you. The Brooklyn Bridge is nice to look at but getting on and off it is a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy’s dog.
Let me ask: What do think is going to happen when you “walk the same streets” as various dead people? Do you think you’re going to be on a toilet in Grand Central Station, and the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt is going to show up and say “Ooooooooo — I pooped here tooooooooo!” The streets don’t even look the same; you can find the physical location where Gershwin composed, but it’s going to be a Pinkberry and a T-Mobile store now, neither of which inspired Rhapsody in Blue. And traveling down the Canyon of Heroes doesn’t make you Jesse Owens or John Glenn: It makes you some asshole stuck in traffic in lower Manhattan. Honestly, those tickertape parades were probably the fastest any vehicle has ever traveled down that part of Broadway.
You will, however, experience quite a bit of history in your day-to-day life, because your apartment will be fucking ancient. NIMBYism and red tape have left New York ridiculously underdeveloped, so prepare to travel back to an era without dishwashers, garbage disposals, or thermostats! Yes, you’ll live like your ancestors did, spending winters battling a radiator with settings that should be labeled “inadequate” and “crematorium”, then suffering through long, hot summers with a window AC unit that has the cooling power of a damp sponge. Oh, and New York has not yet mastered trash disposal! Geniuses of all stripes reside in New York, but none of them have devised and implemented a system better than “I dunno — toss it outside?” Though “walking in the footsteps” of long dead New Yorkers has no tangible dimension, if Herman Melville ever used a condom and then chucked it out onto Bleecker Street, there’s a nonzero chance that it’s still there.
YDJM: The best thing about New York is the unparalleled art scene. The pedigree of the New York arts movement spans generations, from the Harlem Renaissance to the beat movement to the punk scene of the 1970s. The city that inspired Langston Hughes also gave us Martin Scorsese, Irving Berlin, Andy Warhol, Dorothy Parker — there are too many names to list! New York’s artistic tradition and bohemian atmosphere create a setting in which creative people can congregate, inspire each other, and expand the boundaries of human expression.
JM: Oh, I see what’s going on here. Yeah, okay: You’re a boring white kid from Great Bridge, Virginia, and you think that moving to New York will make you cool. I get it now. You imagine yourself at the Algonquin Round Table slinging bon mots, or living some tragically hip Lou Reed-esque Lower East Side existence.
Well, here’s the truth, you phenomenal idgit: The New York arts scene is not like people imagine. There are, indeed, a thousand brilliant artists in New York, but there are also 100,000 hacks, losers, and no-talent wastes of space. The high cost of living gives a huge leg up to trust fund kids whose main talent is the ability to hang out and not get a real job until they’re 33. The artist supply relative to artist demand is way out of whack, which hands enormous power to gatekeepers, who are frequently idiots and occasionally outright scammers. Very often, an aspiring artist’s ability to succeed is directly related to their ability to schmooze, manipulate, and/or fellate people in power.
But more importantly, you need to understand that where you live doesn’t make you cool. Living in New York isn’t an achievement; there’s no velvet rope keeping people out of the city. All you have to do to live there is be willing to tolerate the oddities inherent in living in a city that is, frankly, a bit too big. If you can roll with those punches, then you can enjoy everything the city has to offer, which — I should add — is considerable. But just having a New York address doesn’t make you cool any more than hanging out in a cave makes you Batman.
All of this is a long way of saying: I’ve moved back to DC. I spent a decade in New York, and — despite the tenor of this post — I actually do like New York just fine and would move back if I needed to. But, for a million reasons, DC is better for me now. So, if you’ve ever read this blog and wondered “where is that guy?”, I’m in DC. In an apartment with a garbage disposal.
I should say: The part about wanting to move to New York because I thought it would make me cool is real. Too real. My motives are obvious to me in hindsight; I was grasping for an identity, and I thought being a New Yorker would help. I write a fair amount about how people search for identities, especially in this era in which many of us are comfortable, soft, and bored; it might be an underappreciated force shaping our world. It certainly shaped my life, and I’m glad that I’m finally comfortable enough with who I am and who I am not to view the question of where to live as a practical matter and not as some sort of identity marker purchased at great cost that will succeed at impressing absolutely no-one.
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I was stationed on Governor's Island twice back when it was a Coast Guard base. It was the coolest place I have ever lived and I'll always remember it fondly. I was there first in 1982 for 6 month's of training, and then from 1990 - 1994 as a CG dependant. The first time, I was on my own and had a ball every weekend gathering my classmates and herding them onto the subway to venture out into the wilds of Times Square and Greenwich Village. The USO gave out unsold B'way and Off B'way tickets at 5pm and served free hot dogs, so we could get dinner and a show for the price of a subway token.
The second time was even better. I was a civilian, married to a Coastie, and I went to college at City University, College of Staten Island. I got to ride 2 ferries every morning. It was the best commute ever because I was going against rush hour and could have a bagel and coffee while looking at the skyline and the statue of liberty. I made friends with a local woman who told me some of the best stories I've ever heard and changed the way I looked at the world. CSI was a commuter college at the time and all my classmates were younger than I and living at home and working their way thru school. I did the same thing with them that I had done with my classmates 10 years earlier, taking the subway to Rockefeller Center to look at the skaters and the tree, or to the Bronx Zoo, or Greenwich Village for a street festival and pastries and cappuccino. I just love that stuff. I still take friends to New York for Broadway shows and walks through Central Park, and now the High Line. I'm a lifelong tourist who was twice lucky enough to actually live there, in a 100-year-old apartment building on an island in the middle of New York Harbor. BTW, I live in Newport News, VA and went to Kellam HS. I love your blog.