He walks down a Midtown street, not too far from Bryant Park, holding up the optimistic side of the conversation with his companion. No, New York’s economy is on the up and up, he said; just look at the new construction everywhere – while pointing at one of those new cheap hotels with rooms like pods and stalk-like architecture, twisted between outdated 1961 setback laws and local M1-6 zoning ordinances. He certainly looks like a striver: Unflattering slacks, starched pale blue button-down shirt over the beginnings of a beer paunch: Not highfalutin, merely upper-middlefalutin, the sort of guy who goes golfing on the weekends but on a public course.
He’s not altogether wrong, of course. New York is on the up and up: One need but look at the new skyline under construction to realize that. The world’s tallest residential tower is slated to be built on 57th Street, to match all the other thousand-foot luxury condos there already underway. The two grand projects of the Hudson Yards and the World Trade Center add enough office space in New York to build a second Los Angeles. The city is even building new subway lines (or, rather, stubway lines) for the first time in more than half a century, although none of them have opened yet. A bright new glass-clad dawn for a city naysayers had written off back in the Bad Old Days.
This man, in a sense, represents that New New York. Gathering from his loud complaints about his workload, his job is to cover for his business’ practices by any who would threaten them. His workload is a case load, and his successes can be determined solely by dollar value. His existence is one at odds with convention: He is a supplicant and a working man, but he is also conveniently and effortlessly devoid of ethics. He does not share the heartlander’s conceit that law and morality are in accordance, but he does not hew his own morality to replace law, and is thus freed of obligation. He can and has found success, and indeed sees the city as one which engenders success.
Old New York appears to be invisible to him. It doesn’t give him the information he needs, so he tunes it out. In that way he represents another dichotomy, one indeed that he shares with his environs: He works within a cold, blank edifice, and is himself largely the same. His information is funneled to him via his handheld device, in his eyes the new public world, but cavalierly invisible to the old public world. A public world that can become unseen at will. A semi-public world, much like the semi-public plazas common to this section of town. He sits at the bar and chats with the bartender about his handicap on some course out in Long Island while his companion plays with his handheld device, and when the bartender turns away, he, too, plays with his handheld device exclusively.
People like him have existed in New York before; coming into Grand Central from places like Scarsdale. Suburbanites. But he’s not a suburbanite: He lives on the Upper East Side in a fresh new condo – no word, though, on if it has poor doors. He’s been there for two years. It’s convenient for him. He doesn’t need his companion at the bar. He doesn’t need anyone at the bar. He’s holding a running conversation on his handheld device. The bar doesn’t matter; not its tin ceiling, not its oak panels, not its jukebox. It’s merely a vessel to convert money for liquor, another convenience. He’s drinking bud light from the bottle. What a combination: First-class budget and dime-store taste buds.
Huxley’s book referenced Shakespeare’s punchline and in so doing telegraphed its own joke. So in form does this man embody his. It isn’t so much the glass boxes he walks through or the iProduct in his hand but the social construct such represent and which he is a part: One that courageously presses forward towards a strongly envisioned future but with one eye constantly vigilant for the authorities to come around and realize just what exactly is going on and put a stop to it. A circumstance best spoken of in terms of ironic pastiche for at heart it’s a surprise one has managed to get away with it for so long, like ditching your friend at a gas station while he takes a piss and never receiving the expected angry call. Reality has yet to catch up.
Speaking of reality, half of the city can’t afford to live there, but do anyway at great expense (by hook or crook) because that’s where the jobs are. Crime is still down but police brutality is up. A sixth of the MTA’s budget is just paying the minimum on loans and most of its infrastructure is actively crumbling. A new Hudson River crossing was deep-sixed by Jersey three years ago and the new East River crossing for which construction had resumed eight years ago has become the city’s albatross. The city is building a bridge of steel on a foundation of wood, but such information is not coming through on this man’s handheld device. It’s just not pertinent to him, so he doesn’t see it. Reality, after all, is now opt-in. The New New Yorker exists on a more sublime plane, and who can blame him?