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.
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.