Saturday, March 28, 2009


So, I went along to see a production by a friend of mine in a place they use to call the petri dish of downtown theater. It was an audience participation thing, "staged" as a seminar, and the theme was political theater. Each audience member had been given a gift bag - the kind handed out after gala evenings at the theatre - sardonically filled with a photocopy of a theater scene, a ball that lit up when bounced, and a toy hand grenade.

Halfway through the second half, the discussion was getting heated as the friend I had brought embarked on a lengthy explanation of why she thought the entire premise of the production was flawed (albeit by way of friendly suggestion). One of the actresses was taking it personally, and my friend was trying to reassure her that it wasn't about her acting, but the approach. I lost my cool, and urged the actress to let my friend finish her point. Suddenly I felt a whoosh of air on my cheek and something smacked into the wall directly behind me. A cast member had thrown a toy grenade at our heads, with too much velocity for it to be considered playful. I thought I heard a few ripples of nervous laughter, and felt the atmosphere crackle with just that bit more electricity. For the rest of the performance, I struggled to pay attention - my nerves were jangling too much from the scent of violence.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Crisis? What Crisis?

I live in New York. For some, that should mean I am in the financial crisis of my life, I am consumed with fury at Wall Street and its game-theory peddling spawn (see Jon Stewart's latest assault on the media), and am driving myself to characteristically neurotic distraction with visions of skyscrapers being pounded by surf once that ginormous slab of melting Antarctic ice shelf finally slides into the ocean. Not that I would know (frankly, nobody's asked). But there is this awareness that almost every person on the planet has his or her cherished ideas about this city, and the mere fact of my being here makes me subject to them.

So I thought I would set the record straight.

I am not in a financial crisis. I am actually earning a decent living, in line with the hard-won, if fitful, financial stability of my own private twenty-first century. Not that this is anything to write home about (not least because I don't really have a home to write to). It's extremely relative. I've basically gone from sqeaking by on next to nothing to having a bit of a cushion. This is not the place to write about cushions, nor what kind of strange detritus they could possibly be stuffed with, so I will happily and rapidly move on.

I am not consumed with anger at AIG bonus-takers and their ilk (although I do feel this familiar sense of resentment that our government has been mishandling vast swathes of taxpayer money AGAIN). Rather, I'm relieved that the greedy blinders seem to be finally getting their comeuppance. They might manage to spirit their millions off to the Caymens or other vapid so-called "havens" I will never be visiting in this lifetime, but they will be doing so as broken souls.

I was checking out an unfamilar Irish bar in Tribeca, which unlike the cosier one I already knew was filled with Wall Street types. In a dark corner, an older man was goading the young buck of a trio of dart-playing Streeters into an argument, spitting profanities in his direction with calculated venom. A blonde barmaid pounced on the offender and issued a well-practiced first warning. The older man pretended to be persuaded, but as soon as the barmaid's back was turned disgorged another bundle of overheated verbiage. He was immediately ordered to leave, which he did, but not before inviting his rival to join him outside. As he took his coat and brushed past the trio, the young buck provocatively (and childishly, and stupidly) stood his ground rather than move away, and received the inevitable elbow to the chest.

Barring a few gasps from astonished bystanders, that was the end of it, and the older man disappeared into the night. An anguished soul who strapped his identity so tightly to his money that when the moolah vanished and the straps ceased to hold, his soul was left flailing painfully in the void. Condemned to disgorge his violent sense of unease on a succession of unsuspecting victims until he had finally had his fill of humble pie - or perhaps careened off an existential cliff onto a deeper level of living hell. Or was it rather a case of like seeking like - the wounded old lion howling at the cub who heartlessly seizes the chance to test his budding strength against this ailing king of the pride, whom he would soon be usurping? And they both knew it.

I will only add that at a recent idle moment in the office, my designated totem animal was a sea otter.

Finally, I am not haunted by visions of New York as swamped metropolis. I have, however, read an amazingly vivid account of a catastrophe to come in 2012, which chimed in with a sense of unease I have been lugging around with me for some time now. This particular account included assurances that good would somehow prevail. My sense of powerlessness has accordingly been replaced with a calm - if illogical - certainty that there are greater, better forces afoot than I could possibly hope to rival, or resist, or both. And yet there's renewed hope that if I can learn to bend like a reed in the proverbial wind, I could generate some kind of resonant swish that might just echo through and enliven my small blind patch of the universe. It's been strangely re-assuring to allow myself to believe that these quasi-subconscious rumblings that have been making me queasy all these years may just have some raison d'ĂȘtre, some kind of mysterious hold on reality.