Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Cartoon Assassin

"The Cartoon Assassin" is as spot-on a description of what it's like to move to New York as anything I've read on the topic. It's an essay in Jane Borden's book I Totally Meant To Do That. I saw her speak at Brooklyn's Greenlight Bookstore a while back and when I returned to the store with more money in my bank account and a long weekend in front of me, I picked it up. It's the tale of a well-bred southern debutante moving to Manhattan and struggling to fit in.

New New Yorkers find ourselves constantly swapping tales about all of the stupid things we did and discovered -- standing around on the A train platform at Penn Station forever until realizing oh, if the A is running local, it will be stopping on the C/E platform (duh), nearly stepping in chicken guts when innocently walking home from the local bar, learning what "train juice" is when it drips down off the M train tracks first thing in the morning. Borden describes this parade of disaster perfectly.

"The city isn't evil; it's simply in it's nature to destroy. It can't help itself. Kind of like the god of the Old Testament. Except New York is craftier, enjoying the chase. It will sneak up behind you, giggling, and stuff dynamite in your backpack. And if you happen to spin around too soon, it will hid its weapon, look the other way and whistle ... And sure enough, you later find a skull-and-crossbones bucket propped above your door. The city relishes it's perdition. It's a gremlin, a cartoon assassin."

And when I read this, I had to pause, put down the book, and wipe away tears from laughing so hard: "A gust of wind covered my fresh vanilla ice cream cone with dirt and trash. A falling Diet Coke can -- origin unknown -- bounced off my head. It was empty, but still: That is absurd."

I will never forget my first truly miserable hot summer day in New York. I was crossing Dekalb Avenue below Fort Greene Park directly behind a stopped bus. The bus roared away in a cloud of hot, nasty pollution and grime, including a piece of trash that, yes, bounced off my head. It was a harbinger of so many things to come.

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