General: September 2002 Archives

Yeah, the address in the caption above is intentional.

Paul Auster has a piece about the American heartland in today's NYTimes. It's a good read. This is an excerpt.

Crazy New York, inspiring New York, fractious New York, ugly New York, beautiful New York, impossible New York — New York as a laboratory of human contradictions. America has had a tortured, even antagonistic relationship with our city over the years, but to an astonishing number of people from Michigan, Maine and Nebraska, the five boroughs are a living embodiment of what the United States is all about: diversity, tolerance and equality under the law. Alone among American cities, New York is more than just a place or an agglomeration of people. It is also an idea.

On almost-the-eve of the big anniversary, I wanted to post the text of a letter written to the BBC by an activist friend of ours, an appreciative response to the broadcast company's inclusion of an American ex-marine's criticism of our impending war on Iraq.

Dear BBC folks,

I'm an American. There is much I love about this country and the ideas that underpin its existence. Freedoms of speech and the press are notable. Freedom FROM religion as much as OF religion is another.

We often don't live up to those ideals and indeed those fundamental ideals are being threatened.

[The American BBC listener] has articulated one of the biggest threats to the ideas of freedom we hold dear.

That threat in my view is the appointed President of the United States and his dangerous cabinet. Indeed, often times when I can stand to listen to this clumsy fellow speak, I am filled with a deep abiding horror that every time he worries about Iraq's ability to blackmail other nations,threaten them with weapons of mass destruction and force their will upon their neighbors, he should not say 'Iraq" but rather "the United States."

Indeed, with no evidence but an apparent desire to one-up his father in the urge to not be identified as a "wimp," this dubious president is about to plunge America into a horrible, costly and bloody conflict. Yet AIDS, the biggest pandemic in world human history is ignored and the World Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria is severely underfunded in terms of GDP spending. The environment is not only not protected but actively destroyed to sate the insatiable greed of some industries (often ones in which Bush finds personal profit). That insatiable greed of American corporations is upheld with tariffs that block access to our markets in ways that impede the development of resource-poor nations (e.g., agricultural subsidies that do not help our local farmers). The scandals that rocked corporate boards are slowly dissolving into the forgotten past while no real change is effected. The real criminals remain free while 2 million Americans are incarcerated, often for "victimless" crimes of a failed war against "some" drugs.

No one questions that Hussein is a bad man. But there are plenty of bad men and corrupt governments causing suffering and death to their own people.

In my view, left unchecked, Bush is one of them. And indeed, the pernicious policies of my country are often a source of great anguish and pain around the world; it is little wonder that so many hate this country.

By contrast, there is SO much that can be done for relatively small
investments. Means can be developed to improve health care infrastructures, provide clean water, help with family planning and stabilizing or reducing population growth, shifting to sustainable fuels, improving the environment and providing economic opportunities to the poorest in ways that can offset poverty.

The failure of the United States to do little more than pay a passing nod to these approaches while perpetuating gung-ho, kill-kill policies of Bush and his ARC of Evil (Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and Cheney) give me such a deep pause for concern for my country that I worry about how much longer we can exist. The shifting landscape of hypocrisies and corruption that seem to more often characterize US government activities in the world is a direct assault on the principles upon which the US was founded. And it is a betrayal of the compassion I know exists in the hearts of most of my fellow citizens.

George M. Carter
Brooklyn, NY, USA

Barry and I will be in Europe for three weeks, and I will almost certainly not be continuing these posts, even if he manages to do his part for the public.

Check him out.

I'm sure I will feel the pain of withdrawal, but I expect to be compensated with certain worthy distractions there.

Back soon.

Last September, for the first time in at least 326 years, but certainly much longer, the dreamers stopped coming to New York. The City was physically isolated for about 24 hours, beginning the morning of the eleventh.

No one arrived bearing that special unseen baggage, that carry-on, which in these cynical times in this often most cynical of cities is a tenderness regularly on display. The dream-bearers couldn't get in. First time ever. Probably since the original American Indian crossed the land bridge looking for who knows what: food, shelter, safety. Something better than what was. A dream.
The bridges, the tunnels and the airports were soon reopened, and the stories began all over again.
In the blackness after Sept. 11, there were many small miracles. Surely among the wonders were those who decided to come to this city anyway, to arrive schlepping that special piece of bound-for-New York luggage. On Sept. 12, the bridges and tunnels were slowly reopened; two days later, a few planes took off and landed. And, undoubtedly, well before the tourists began to trickle back in a tentative stream, some gutsy someone packed up a dream and brought it here.

I know one 23-year-old who came from New Mexico six weeks after the attacks, because, she says, that had always been her plan. Come to New York and take pictures and write. She admits she called a friend who lives here and asked if he thought it was safe.

"What's safe?" he asked.
That made perfect sense to her, so she got on a plane and came. Now she lives in Brooklyn across the street from a firehouse, and she has become friendly with the firefighters whose silent witness seems to her an explanation and a bridge to all that happened before she arrived.

A man of 30 tells me he's from a small town in Iowa and has been waiting to come to New York since he was 11 and realized that he was gay. Easier to come out here, he thought. His mother, a widow, had progressive multiple sclerosis, so he waited until she died and didn't need him. A computer programmer, he got a job with a dot-com connected to a fashion house. His plane ticket would have brought him here on the afternoon of 9/11. He came a week later, and still regrets that he was not here before it happened.

The dream continues, for the guy from Iowa and for all of us, including those not yet here and those who may never get here, but who still imagine the journey.
It has always been the lyricists who remind those of us who live here that we are inside the dream, populating the mirage.

"Another hundred people just got off of the train," Stephen Sondheim wrote in "Company," and we nod and indulge a secret smile, because we're the ones who stayed, came in our 20's or 30's and proved we can make it here, so we can make it anywhere: thank you, Messrs. Kander and Ebb. And the Bronx is up and the Battery's down, and New York, New York, is a wonderful town, as we know because Ms. Comden and Mr. Green told us. Born here or more likely brought here, we sucked in self-belief along with oxygen; that's the New York way. But it remained for this generation's balladeer, Bruce Springsteen, to sing of the boarded-up windows and empty streets in our city of ruins.

Not permanently, however. Among those first Americans, the wampum-makers, it was the custom after a battle to select a few defeated enemies as captives and bring them home to be adopted, replacements for fallen warriors. Such tactics can never heal individual wounds, but they do much for collective loss. Rise up, rise up, Springsteen admonishes the ruined city. Few of us doubt that the rising will happen.

How can it not? Another hundred people, another hundred dreamers, got off the train and the plane and the bus maybe yesterday.

This page is an archive of entries in the General category from September 2002.

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