The crucible of summer in New York
If hell exists, it borrows heavily from New York City in the summertime. The unescapable humid heat that is magnified on the sidewalks and amplified in the subways, the crowded aggravation of our crumbling infrastructure, and the general unrest that foments rage where there might normally be annoyance or resignation, are the central ingredients of our sulphuric summer stew.
New York goes into its Independence Day holiday in the midst of one of its heat waves. The general state of the country only adds to the humid misery, with half the country protesting and demonizing the other half at light-speed intervals, new Internet outrages generated almost by the hour. It’s a dizzying spiral downward in civil discourse that fuels a blanket disgust made more maddening by temperatures that bake an already exhausted brain.
This work week is interrupted by our Independence Day holiday on July 4. Imagine putting up with all the outrages of national politics today but without air conditioning and in wool clothes, and you’ll see why the colonies revolted. In New York City today, our country’s divided politics are writ large across the city. People who once enjoyed vibrant conversation on the state of affairs skip such conversations; it doesn’t pay to engage in civil discourse, even on a personal level.
This week we will get through our work week, hoping it will be easier with so many people using the holiday for vacation. The trains will be a little less crowded, the traffic a little lighter and the sidewalks will be blazing hot but not quite as mobbed. Tourists will walk downtown past where George Washington was inaugurated (New York City was America’s first capital).
Sometimes, even though I appreciate air conditioning, I have a moment when I leave a heavily air conditioned building and feel a sense of relief and satisfaction at feeling the blanket of humid heat cover me when I step outside. It is good to feel the real world on your skin, to embrace reality no matter how unpleasant, because that’s what we are destined to do.
That is part of our story. New York gives its residents all four seasons at full blast. You will be hot, you will be cold, you will feel the full force of nature’s fury and blessings, sometimes within the same month. On the first day of Spring, New York City had a snowstorm. I would have gladly endured many more if it meant we would be spared the stifling heat of the summer months, but I knew better than to think we’d have such a lucky trade.
The crucible of summer in New York makes for stronger New Yorkers and spurs our innovation, our creativity, and our own more quiet revolution. Some of us will “embrace the suck” as the military puts it, and barrel through the overheated times with a gimlet eye towards the future.
Our destiny means we move through this overheated season with a desire to embrace the heat, to dive into the fevered truth that others work hard to avoid or shout down. The hot weather will pass, and we cannot huddle in the air conditioning forever. We have nothing to do but have pride in ourselves as New Yorkers and live summer to the fullest.
Preserving your sanity, New York City summer edition
This year is already going down in history as a bitterly unpleasant one. America and the world are in varying states of conflict with no easy resolutions being offered. While the U.S. humiliates itself with the buffoonery of its current political climate, many parts of the world have it much worse. Conflict-rich New York City appears as a calm oasis in the midst of this storm, which speaks volumes about the unfortunate state of our world.
New York City is its own universe at war with itself in so many ways already, it’s hard to get caught up in the Sturm Und Drang of a political season that will be here again in four years anyway. Admittedly, this election has added some excitement and unpredictability, but whatever revolutions were alive in the primaries are over.
This year’s Presidential election is likely the most contentious once since 1968, which saw widespread race riots and the assassination of the leading Democratic candidate. We’ve had nothing of that scale here, at least not yet. And this is the first time since 1944 that both major-party candidates are from New York. We’d have every reason to feel like this is New York’s moment to play an outsized role in the national dialogue. But New York already views itself as the center of human civilization, and the overall disaffection with the choices in this year’s election is felt here as elsewhere. New Yorkers were weary of these candidates long before this year’s election.
So the average New York City resident does little but shake their head at the politics being played out on our televisions and news feeds. We already have things to hate each other for. The city is full of despicable people who come from all ends of the political spectrum. We don’t need to pass judgement on one another’s politics; we’re already judging each other by a myriad of other criteria. People who are not activists are largely, and for their own benefit, disengaged from the process. We’ll hold our noses and vote for someone in November, but until then leave us alone.
The summer is a time when one needs to leave the city in order to preserve one’s sanity. Everything is worse when drenched in heat and humidity, and this summer has been exceedingly hot, with 90+ degree heat for days and weeks at a time. We can’t seem to catch a break. New York magnifies the worst of the oppressive weather, and the dense population make city life a sojourn to Hades in these months.
Lots of people head north at some point. It’s cooler the farther north you get. I dream of living somewhere in the mountains or the woods in reaches hours north of New York by car. I envision a family compound with room for many guests, enough land to hunt on, and a writing office stocked with hunting trophies and miles of books. Then I snap out of this and realize I’ve been dozing off on my feet on the 7 train crammed next to other sullen commuters.
New Yorkers follow the edict that’s used often in the military: “embrace the suck.” We are going to be hot and miserable for several months, so just accept that level of misery for what it is and wait for the fall when New York is much more pleasant.
The start of a long, hot summer
The 7 train was unusually crowded coming home tonight, especially for the late hour. The consolation prize of working late at the office is that the trains usually aren’t as crowded. Not tonight. There’s no Mets game so there must have been a bad delay that is still making the trains more crowded. It happens all the time.
I don’t get out of work much earlier than 7 p.m. these days, and I’m usually at my desk well before 9 a.m. It’s at least an hour and change commute each way, but I can’t really complain. I have a job and the kids are fed and we have health insurance.
It’s a small office where I work. Everyone has too much work to do and not enough time to do it. We get emails on Sunday night which I do my best to ignore until Monday morning, but I can’t always. There’s always one more thing to mark on the calendar; we won’t remember it otherwise, and our work will suffer. None of us want to do a half-assed job but there are too many clients and not enough staff. The boss stopped telling us that “help is on the way” months ago. Now he fesses up that it will get worse before it gets better. I daydream about quitting all the time; I keep reminding myself that I have kids to feed and I need this job.
A woman who crammed herself onto the train at Queensboro Plaza is trying to move to what she thinks is a better place for her to stand, but she can’t get there. She’s asking people to move and they answer her back that they don’t know where else than can go. We’re all packed onto the train as tight as our bodies will allow. Some poor slob lucky enough to fall asleep on his commute has too much luggage in front of him and that throws everything off. The woman struggles in vain to make it to this coveted space, trying to nudge her way past people who don’t budge.
I was lucky that I got on at Grand Central and got a good spot to stand in. I try to read but wind up looking out the window of the train. It’s almost 8 p.m. and the setting sun shines a punishing glare across the city.
There is hate and violence in the streets of the country and it will get worse before it gets better. There is ineptitude at every level of governance and service and the promise of more of the same. There will be more fighting and less fixing at every turn.
The kind of political violence we’ve seen in other parts of the country has yet to really rear its head here this season, but it’s still early. I like to think that we’re an exception, that New Yorkers are accustomed to a certain level of general animosity and dislike for one another and that by necessity we don’t let it get out of hand. But this year could prove me wrong; it’s proven me wrong at every turn so far.
When I was in high school I was lucky enough to visit Rome. It’s a beautiful city full of great history and art. The people were nice too.
New York will survive and be here forever, long after the American empire has done the way of the Roman one. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for at this point. We do what we can and look out for our own, try to remain strong and leave our bloodlines in good shape for the future. Let our blood survive while society drives itself asunder. It’s happened before; we can fight one another but we can’t stand except from human nature or the forces of history.
This is going to be a long, hot summer.
Poetry: Long Beach Island
Long Beach Island, New Jersey is a tourist haven and I have no doubt that when the summer season is in full swing it is crowded and obnoxious. But going there during the off season, even a week or so after Labor Day, the place retains its beauty on the beaches but the towns take on a somewhat empty appearance, which makes it even more interesting. You can see starts at night there and the island is narrow enough that you are never far from the ocean.
The hum and crash of the ocean is constant. Even when you can’t see the water beyond the buildings or the sand dunes, the ocean keeps up its end of the bargain and sings you to sleep.
This poem care of Impolite Literature tries to convey what it’s like to enjoy Long Beach Island in the off season. I think we’ll be back next year.
Children of the Corn Maze
Every year in the underrated borough of Queens, New York, the Queens County Farm Museum holds the annual County Fair. It’s pretty small as far as county fairs go, especially when you consider that Queens is one of the most populated municipalities in the country and is undisputedly the most ethnically diverse place on Earth. But it has all the features of a good country fair: there is overpriced junk food, agricultural exhibits, arts and crafts, and even hay rides.
There is also a corn maze. Adults can pay nine dollars apiece for the honor of finding their way through the corn maze and feel like completely lost fools for an hour or so. Every year the maze is in a different design with an image that carries a theme throughout the whole ‘The Amazing Maize Maze’ experience. This year the corn was planted in a design of a jokey on horseback to celebrate American Pharaoh winning horse racing’s Triple Crown just outside of Queens at the Belmont Stakes.
I went through the corn maze with my wife a few years ago before we had children. I didn’t enjoy it very much. My wife wanted to get our toddler daughters out of the apartment and give them something interesting to do. A corn maze is an old American tradition and one you wouldn’t think you’d find in New York City. But the Queens County Farm Museum is a verdant oasis in the middle of our sprawling metropolis, and it seems wrong not to take full advantage of all it offers.
We got to the fair and made our way through the petting zoo and to the corn maze. I paid our admission and asked if we would be allowed to take the stroller with us. The people working the maze said that while we could bring the stroller with us, the corn maze could be narrow and muddy in places and we were better off without it. Our girls have been fully mobile for months now, so a brisk walk through the corn would do them some good. It would serve to tire them out and get them ready for their post-lunch nap.
We were issued a flag on a tall piece of narrow PVC pipe and a paper map that we would fill out as we found clues and mailboxes with map pieces throughout the maze. We started our walk, holding our daughters’ hands and relishing the lovely afternoon among the corn stalks.
I quickly remembered why I didn’t like the corn maze several years ago. It embodies two things that I like the least: being hot and sweaty and getting lost. It was an unseasonably warm day and the corn provides no shade. The sun was at its highest and no one had a choice but to get lost. Our daughters tired out first and my wife and I had to carry them everywhere. The girls cried whenever we tried to put them down, which we needed to do frequently to gather clues and map pieces.
We kept at it though, not wanting to bail out before we found our way out of this confounded crypt of corn. We kept running into many of the same people who were trying to make their escape as well. Every few minutes another group would find their exit and a happy-sounding employee would announce it over a public address system that was otherwise belching warmed-over pop tunes. “OK, we have another victor, what is your name??!”
Workers oversee the maze from a raised platform and a separate tower. In at least one spot within the maze, a length of irrigation tubing serves as a communication conduit and a monitor in a tower will provide a clue once you give him or her the password.
“I need a Triple Crown,” I gave the password to a young man at the other end of the tubing.
His answer was a cryptic clue-laden sentence along the lines of, “Sectors five and six are the hardest ones you seek, mount the horse to get a peek.”
“You want us to start doing heroin,” I mentioned. I actually took it to mean that we should head for the part of the maze depicted as the horse or jockey, but he offered no advice on how to get to that location. Other maze workers who roam around within the giant puzzle offered more tangible clues and to the staff’s credit, the corn maze is run very well. Just be sure to bring lots of extra water and if you have children under three bring something to carry them in.
After much walking around and getting lost over and over again, we eventually found our way to the exit. We emerged as victors, thirsty and miserable and vowing to do it differently next time.
It took us 56 minutes to get through the corn maze and we got out too late to catch the Great Cordone’s 12:30 show, which had people spilling out of the show tent.
We made our way through the fair and over to where most of the food was. My wife celebrated our surviving the corn maze by ordering some roasted sweet corn. The girls couldn’t have been happier.
New York Summer Hate List
Summer is a time to burn with hate. The heat brings out the worst in us. The discomfort makes us loose our tempers, see the worst in everything. The constant sweat and stench of the summer boils our rage quickly. In New York City, hate levels are at a natural high given the crowded nature of the city. The summer season pushes our hate levels to its highest levels; global warming will exacerbate this.
Here are biggest reasons you will rightfully be consumed with hate this summer:
Heat: Meteorologists forecast that this will be a long, hot, and humid summer. In the city, the heat is worse than elsewhere. The blacktop and concrete absorb and reflect the heat. Large buildings wall in hot air, car exhaust, and other sickly fumes and heat-emitting odors. We also have the worst of both words with our heat: we get very high temperatures and very humidity.
Crowds and Traffic: New York attracts lots of tourists and we need them here. I will go out of my way to help them and give them information. But they are legion and they don’t know how to move about the city. They clog our sidewalks, subways and escalators to an aggravating degree. Our city requires a fast pace and a knowledge of how to courteously use mass transit and otherwise comport oneself in public spaces. The German tourists who dumbly stand in front of an open subway car door at Grand Central Terminal risk being trampled into strudel stains on the platform. The Chinese tourists who don’t know how to stand in a line make me dread the shape of our future world. There are plenty of New Yorkers who are stupid and ignorant and invite righteous anger, but they’re a constant variable and can sometimes be shamed into compliance. Tourists don’t know better, don’t want to learn and think everything is a big joke.
Bugs: Our city is overrun with roaches. I once live in an apartment that was so roach invested that I developed the ability to kill them with my bare hands without registering an ounce of disgust. The hot weather makes roaches reproduce faster as their eggs don’t take as long to hatch. Did you know that you should spray a roach with bug spray after you crush it to death in order to kill its eggs? Yes. Do that. The heat also brings more mosquitoes, which can now spread diseases like the West Nile Virus. Joy.
School Being Out: When I was in school I loved the summer. Now that I have moved on to adulthood, summer marks the time when teeming masses of juvenile delinquents take up valuable space on subways and sidewalks. Yes, I remember being a young person on summer vacation, and I’m sure I was a big jerk back then too. All the good students are busy working jobs, going to summer camp or spending time with their families. The youth you see out and about in the city are probably being idiots or committing crimes in between getting one another pregnant.
The Happiness of Others: The yellow face of the sky burns us as it mocks our unhappiness. People who revel in the stifling heat and painful sun can’t help themselves in expressing how happy they are. The better humans who are turning red and blistering are looking for ways to get shade and are not cheering their increased chances of skin cancer. Let the heat of the sun consume those who find joy in the midst of our suffering. May their grinning countenances be melted into a rancid plasma that will flow like lava and kill some roaches.
Happy Summertime, New York
New York in the summer is for oppressive heat and simmering anger, for being tempted with the sights of more female flesh while blanketed with heat and the sweaty intrusions of more people.
City life is a trial of patience and suffering in the summer. Concrete and blacktop absorb and reflect the heat, exhaust fumes are trapped by tall buildings, and everything in the city is hotter than everywhere else. Cramped onto subways and buses, we bristle at the sweaty touch of others, suffering further in one another’s vulgar heat.
Summer tests everyone’s patience. The heat and humidity magnify the unending slights and annoyances that are the fuel of city angst. The unavoidable heat and its sweaty unpleasantness works to erode our patience and our souls boil over with anger and white-hot rage almost daily.
The sad realization of summer hit me just yesterday while I stood waiting for the 7 train in Flushing. The 7 train is populated mostly by Asians with sharp elbows who scramble for seats that they’ll only sit in for about 25 minutes at most and are less comfortable than standing. I prefer to stand so I can read the paper and not fight for a seat. But like other subway lines, the 7 train is a strange beast that operates on its own whims and curses its riders with frequent malfunctions. I was jolted to the realization of summer while standing and waiting for the subway at Main Street, which is underground – most of the 7 line is above ground. “Signal problems” caused a delay in subway service, and there was little to do but stand motionless and suffer as the platform became more crowded and sweat soaked through your clothes.
Summer in the city has its fun moments. It’s sometimes nice to stay in the city while everyone else is away, especially Labor Day weekend to end the summer season. New York is forever populated with young women and the degeneration of our society has dictated that popular fashion becomes more and more revealing with each summer season.
But at some point, you must leave New York City for at least 48 consecutive hours every summer in order to preserve some shred of sanity. Being baked in a concrete, glass and body odor oven for three and a half months will make even the strongest person go mad.
I’m going to Connecticut to light off explosives with a few good friends and then to California where I will try to trace the steps of Henry Miller and light bonfires in tribute to John Steinbeck and the ghosts of Portuguese whalers. But I shall return soon to our sweat-soaked city to grab it by the throat once again.