S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 18 October 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
Manhattan Project

 

[this is my last day doing this]

Nothing brings out the inner

yahoo of a great metropolis like

a brush with sporting history.

Even the most retiring urban

dweller can be seized with the

inexplicable compulsion to elbow

a fellow commuter and ask, in

that trademark air of insouciant

fraternity, "How 'bout those

Poltroons?" A harmless-seeming

bar patron can be struck

abruptly with the St. Vitus-like

urge to incant, in registers of

alarmingly ascending mania,

"Wolfe-TONES, Wolfe-TONES" into

the shrilly cheerless evening.

 

So it was with a trepidation

bordering on agoraphobia that

many (well, some) New Yorkers

are greeted the possibility that

the country's most storied city

stands at the gate of glory in

the country's most tediously

venerated pastime. After all,

last time the same megalopolis

supplied both World Series

contenders in the same year, God

smote it down with a mighty

rumbling and shaking of the

earth.

 

As the Suck delivery trucks went

out, it seemed likely that one

of our squads would spare New

Yorkers this retribution. But

the city's inhabitants still

won't get off easily, because

the real problem with the

much-fawned-over scenario of a

"subway series" is that it makes

plain to the nation at large

what has long been painfully

clear to that hapless

collection of Earthlings

marooned on and around

Manhattan's gray, unpleasant

isle: The Naked City has evolved

into a ferociously dull and

provincial place in which

to live.

 

It's not just that the city has

lost its fabled urban menace

— that patina of washed-out

ambitions, fiscal collapse, and

free-floating sociopathy that

inspired a rich legacy of

foul-mouthed, druggy,

mayhem-minded '70s realist

cinema. As everybody now knows,

Times Square is much more likely

to harbor an adorable kitty

chorus line than a Travis

Bickle, and even Harlem's

once-mean streets now feature a

Body Shop, the obligatory

Starbucks outcropping, and an

Old Navy–in–progress.

 

[it's been almost two years doing suck]

But such unwonted markers of

cuddly commerce are symptoms,

not the disease proper. They can

only take root, after all, in a

compliant host organism, and New

York has committed the most

unpardonable sin imaginable in

these edgiest of times: It has

allowed its attitude to slacken.

The curious mixture of swagger

and giddy nihilist grit that,

together with garbage scows,

once formed the nexus of

Gotham's cultural export trade

has fermented into a frothy

meringue of eager-to-please

inertia and halfhearted

urbanity.

 

Oh sure, it still has a

Comstock on steroids for a mayor

and a police force that hears

the words "undue force" as a

variation of "everybody into the

pool!" But the very prominence

of such characters in New York's

public life bespeaks a crucial

new division of labor: The

city's government becomes

steadily surlier while the

city's broader culture grows

unendurably placid. It's no

accident that Das Rudy wages his

most draconian crusades in the

name of enhancing the burg's

"quality of life."

 

The city whose unofficial motto

was once "I'm walking heah!" now

may as well go ahead and adopt

"I'll be there for you." Even

pop cult referents for high New

York in-your-faceness have

shrunken into grim self-parody.

The onetime US capital of '70s

punk revolt has been reduced to

hiring out Ally Sheedy to supply

a feeble Broadway rendition of

the old gender-bending,

rock-for-outrage's sake: First

time Blondie; second time Mame.

"Live from New York!" — once

a way of branding late-night TV

as something fearless and

unpredictable — now serves

as a portal into the sad

fantasy life of a fiftysomething

frat boy and functions as a

virtual emergency broadcast

alert for the slow-motion

death-by-repetition of sketch

comedy.

 

Nor is the Malaise Lite confined

to such admittedly slight

entertainments. Once upon a

time, international terrorists

thought enough of the city to

bomb its highest building; now a

New Yorker reporter strains

heroically to find evidence of

our fair city's geopolitical

importance in the miserable

predations of the lowly

mosquito. Its most unlikable,

tasteless, and hair-challenged

real estate baron — surely

as reliable an avatar of civic

nastiness as one could hope for

in this once-dirty town — is

being glibly repurposed as

pseudopopulist presidential

timber, a move not unlike

casting Edward G. Robinson as

Andy Hardy. Meanwhile, prominent

carpetbagging power spouses

seeking to establish Empire

State bona fides bypass Gotham's

lights for the blandishments of

Westchester. Former titans of

City politics already sense the

diminishing value of their brand

and are rearranging their

priorities accordingly.

 

[and 3 at wired]

Of course, like any ingenue who

is not aging well, New York

clings desperately to the legend

of its superior cultivation

— but here, alas, is where

it has the least to brag about.

The once-genteel Olde New York

preserve of the publishing

industry is now ruthlessly

policed by German conglomerates,

and even they cannot seem to

work out how to make this

pipeline of the

Omnientertainment state a paying

proposition in the longest

peacetime boom in American

history. Once Frank McCourt's

memory starts to give way, it is

doomed.

 

The city's highbrow journalists

long abandoned the banter of the

Benchleys, Parkers, Thurbers,

and Whites and the ideological

feuds of the Hellmans,

McCarthys, Wilsons, and

Macdonalds. Now there are the

one-note choirboy orations of

Brill's Content and the

celebrity-addled chintz of

Talk. Then, Spy; now, the New

York Press. Then, Dawn Powell; today,

Amy Sohn. Even didactic bon

vivant Tom Wolfe managed to wax

vaguely apocalyptic about the

city's social divisions as

recently as the late 1980s; now

Kurt Andersen frets over the

thwarted birthright of

mediagenic fame.

 

And there is, of course, our

very own museum culture war,

raging nearly a decade after the

rest of the country pretty much

lost its stomach for these

Punch-and-Judy dust-ups. In a

set piece that could itself

serve as some kind of living

history reenactment in a museum

diorama, the unfashionably

faithful and the sweaty

moralizers are again going

toe-to-toe with the incendiary

cultural elite, hellbent on

every épater-the-believeoisie

gesture in the book. Symbolic

ironies abound: A Republican

mayor professes to find

something objectionable in

elephant shit. Controversy and

subversion are declared the

bywords in works mounted by a

trendy restaurateur,

subcontracting his services to

an advertising mogul. The city

accuses a prominent auction

house of conspiring to

artificially inflate the value

of the works featured in the

show — while the government's

own cynically calculated attacks

generate reams of invaluable

publicity, certain to send the

dissected-critter art market

through the roof. And the artist

allegedly blaspheming the Virgin

Mary actually seems to believe

in her.

 

But none of this droll parade of

fact really penetrates New

York's palpably desperate bid to

treat the whole thing as some

sort of groundbreaking melee.

The gullibility hereabouts is

worthy of a Meredith Wilson

musical — without, of

course, any hope of a wholesome,

happy ending. We know we're

important, and we have the

controversial art to prove it.

Too bad it had to be imported

from England.

 

[take care, and thanks for the memories - gadfly@suck.com]

It's a small wonder that the

outside prospect of an

inter-borough World Series has

such appeal. Unlike the

crazy/wise cabby, the colorful

Chinese laundryman, and the

annoying but lovable yenta, the

New York sports fan has the

durability of a real life

outside of TV and movies. (Bill

Simmons recently pegged the

chief characteristics of the

Yankees follower with chilling

accuracy: "He has black hair and

a black mustache that hasn't

quite grown in yet and makes him

look like a cross between Phil

McConkey and BabaBooey.... He

just failed the fireman's test

in his local borough for the

tenth time last week.... He

wears sweat pants to bars.")

Regional loyalty continues to

motivate fans with a taste for

local flavors, from Utah's

swinging Jazz set to the Great

Lakes region of Los Angeles.

Thus, rooting for the home team

may be the last, best excuse for

New York braggadocio, which

oddly becomes more shrill as the

city becomes more tame, as if

compensating for some physical

shortcoming (a real possibility,

given that Malaysians and even

Canadians have long been able to

scoff at the Big Apple's

skyline).

 

Sadly, it's this regionalism

that will eventually cause New

York its greatest agony. As

anybody who lives here knows,

the real center of New York's

athletic gravity lies closer to

East Rutherford than to the

outer boroughs. In the days of

the Arizona Cardinals and the

Cleveland Browns 2.0, the

stadium extortion practically

takes care of itself. It may not

be fair, but then the Big Apple

sporting model was settled in

1996, when a punk-ass

12-year-old (and New Jersey

resident) spun an episode of fan

interference into a moment of

fame as the "Angel in the

Outfield." A similar strain of

media frothing is taking place

right now (with local TV news

reports cooing that the city

stands to "make" US$100 million

from a subway series),

indicating that our worst fears

may be true: Rather than being

the urbane hipsters we claim to

be, New Yorkers are, deep down,

the most pathetic saps in the

country. They don't even build

it, and we still come.

 
courtesy of Holly Martins