Leaving New York
March 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
Successful & unhappy, Tennessee Williams mopes away months in a Manhattan hotel room. He is monitoring the Broadway knock-out of The Glass Menagerie. A porter wheels his dinner in, at which he stares as at a carcass on an operating table; Williams cannot be nourished from this life. Popularity — critical to theatrical communicability — had brought luxury &, at its heel, indifference. Such is the new bourgeois of his country. “Success has often come that abruptly into the lives of Americans. The Cinderella story is our favourite national myth, the cornerstone of the film industry if not of the Democracy itself” (99). It is in the name of that myth that Prometheus lies at the foot of the Rockefeller. Like the television screen, American life in its ideal form should be bright & require minimal effort.
“The sight of an ancient woman, gasping & wheezing as she drags a heavy pail of water down a hotel corridor to mop up the mess of some drunken overprivileged guest is one that sickens & weighs upon the heart & withers it with shame for this world in which it is not only tolerated but regarded as proof positive that the wheels of Democracy are functioning as they should” (103). The concluding phrase here is often side-lined: Democracy is self-perpetuating, a world that is treated as sacred & unchangeable. As such, it has invented a false nature in which it can normalise itself & its inequalities. Subjects of democracy are required to remain passive, or neutral, to the terms of the state. The secularism of US legislation is no longer surprising after recognising the importance of non-interventionism to the democratic state [a value that immediately suppresses rebellion & abnormality]. Again, it also pertains to the ease of living, to the high life.
From his room, in the “American plan of Olympus” (100), Williams sees that the fall of humanity is into repose, not sin. His inability at friendships, let alone another play after the blockbuster The Glass Menagerie, is the result of effortlessness in the guise of success: “the heart of man, his body & his brain, are forged in a white-hot furnace for the purpose of conflict (the struggle of creation)” (104). He would go away to seek a different kind of simplicity in Mexico: a life in shorts & bare feet, a life in contact with true life.
As for me, I think about Williams’s essay where he elaborates on this decision, ‘The Catastrophe of Success‘, on my way to JFK International. Travellers are stuffed into a very few cars on the train, the other coaches being taken-up by the distinctive smell of the homeless as they recline in one oblivion or another. People sleep in my car also; they’ve wound their limbs through luggage straps & snore. A French couple in “NY” beanies can’t restrain their glee as they watch us [the others] & reflect on the city, its architecture, & happy hipster mores. They say to each other that they would be happy here in an Eastside apartment, that they would get used to American drip coffee.
The energy that tourists respond to when visiting New York has no correlation with the things they photograph or ultimately end up discussing at “Welcome back” dinners. New York inspires the occasion of stories, being the crossing-point of so many individual tales. Some accidents meet in a beautiful, maybe even important, interaction at frequencies too great to warrant calling them accidents at all. These miraculous “meetings” are the city’s breath. Plot happens here, regardless of one’s willingness. I know no better cure of ennui. But plot is always happening, at every moment, exhaustless, exhausting.
That is what makes it “the city that never sleeps”, not the all-night trains or 24-hour delis. But we could go on in clichés endlessly without getting any closer at documenting the truth of New York. As well as the elevated life Williams found there, the city has an undercurrent of struggle created by low wages & high costs of living. Even in this category [where the majority fall] the illusion of grandeur is upheld with the determination of a raised chin; one motto that’s heralded all around is “fake it ’til you make it”. Very often — especially in the service industry — prescription to the ideology of [false] success is a requirement for the co-habitation & interaction with Manhattanite life. Here, it is a well-understood fact that the surface does not correspond to the interior, that fur does not equate to wealth, & that time is too precious to be wiled away in traffic.
Commonly, a dependency on the pace & laws of New York can be uncovered in its residents so that they can imagine living nowhere else &, in some extreme cases, do not wish to travel outside its borders at all. From my rudimentary observations, this can take anywhere between two & six years. It should be noted that I only had but one. The year was an education in the ways of a most-significant megatropolis, but I don’t believe I’m prepared to risk dependency — not as one belonging to the “faker” population at least.
A youth who is willing to migrate has the choice of all trivial mythologies. That is their great advantage & hope of ever penetrating into society. That is the beginning-point of adventure. Unsuccessful & happy, I decide to leave New York.