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New York City is an Infection

April 12, 2011

In his Self-Portrait (at the very end of The Dogs Bark) Truman Capote wrote of New York,

New York is the world’s only city city. Rome is noisy and provincial. Paris is sullen, insular, and, odd to say, extraordinarily puritanical. London? All my American friends who have gone to live there bore one so by saying, “But it’s so civilized.” I don’t know. To be totally dead, utterly dull– is that civilized? And to top it all, London is also highly provincial. The same people see the same people. Everybody knows your business. At most, it is only possible to lead two separate lives there.

And that is the advantage of New York, why it is the city. One can be a multiple person there: ten different people with ten different sets of friends, none overlapping.

Is this not the best reason to love New York? I bought The Dogs Bark a few weeks before I left my hometown for college in THE BIG CITY. Mr. Capote has always been the one literary figure who mirrored my adoration for New York.

While he frequently took up other residences, Capote always kept a pied-a-terre in the city, whether it be in Brooklyn or Manhattan (and I suggest you read his essay about living in Brooklyn, it made my move off of the island bearable).

Years before I moved to New York I read Allen Ginsberg’s My Alba for the first time:

Now that I’ve wasted
five years in Manhattan
life decaying
talent a blank

talking disconnected
patient and mental
sliderule and number
machine on a desk

autographed triplicate
synopsis and taxes
obedient prompt
poorly paid

stayed on the market
youth of my twenties
fainted in offices
wept on typewriters

deceived multitudes
in vast conspiracies
deodorant battleships
serious business industry

every six weeks whoever
drank my blood bank
innocent evil now
part of my system

five years unhappy labor
22 to 27 working
not a dime in the bank
to show for it anyway

dawn breaks it’s only the sun
the East smokes O my bedroom
I am damned to Hell what
alarmclock is ringing
NY 1953

Oh how romantic! To be so thoroughly disillusioned by the city I loved, the same city that gave me cheap pizza during the black out, that took me in during the summers, and frightened me in its maze of a subway system. I devoured that poem in the most earnest, and slightly embarrassing way. The month I spent sleeping on my floor because my air mattress had popped and I couldn’t afford to buy a mattress made me realize how god damn stupid I was at 16 (but every 16 year old is a raging moron).
So, I moved to New York with both of these texts imprinted in my brain. My freshman year advising class was Conceptualizations of New York City, we read texts about New York (fiction and non) and discussed the greater impact of New York on AMERICA (because why attend college and not discuss AMERICA and what AMERICA means?). It was dull and made me hate the city a little bit. I wrote my final essay on how Holly Golightly is the physical embodiment of the failed New York City dream. Because, let’s be honest, Holly was the first small town girl hoping to be the next Carrie Bradshaw (Rusty Trawler was the “real” Mr. Big).

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I moved here with two important Original Source Documents telling me how to live, how to love, and how to hate New York. This city is the only one with an actual guide on how to live here, it is in every text written by someone who has lived here for an extended amount of time. New York City will not leave a writer alone. You can write about your hometown, about late night drives through farmland, you can write about the New Mexican desert, Australian cruises, how film noir changed LA culture, but your fair city will always be looming in the subtext. So you might as well give up on car poems, because everything is a sonnet to your dark lady.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Chelsea permalink
    April 12, 2011 7:55 pm

    How is Paris in any way Puritanical? This is why judgments about a city by people who don’t speak the language get under my skin.

    If Truman Capote speaks fluent French, I’m going to feel like an enormous dickhead.

    Good piece, though.

    • April 12, 2011 8:13 pm

      I don’t know if Truman Capote was fluent in French, but in the same essay he answers the question, “Suppose you were drowning. What images, in the classic tradition, do you envision rolling across your mind?” with quite a few memories of his time in Paris, including his friendship with Albert Camus. Considering how often he lived overseas and the amount of French friends he had I would not be surprised if he was fluent.

      • Chelsea permalink
        April 13, 2011 12:18 pm

        I did a little cursory research, couldn’t figure it out one way or the other. I’m still a little confused on how he could have perceived this place as puritanical…that is so far and away the last word I would ever use.

        But maybe it was just a different time.

  2. Gordon permalink
    April 12, 2011 10:40 pm

    Didn’t Albert Camus write “The Grapes of Wrath”?

    • April 12, 2011 10:52 pm

      Let’s watch Lost Highway and discuss “white flight.”


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