LEONARD QUART: Midsummer New York
I am back in New York for medical appointments, though some may think me perverse since I embrace the crowds and cacophony and don’t spend much time pining for the beauty and serenity of the Berkshires that I just left. But the specter of the morally bankrupt, monstrously solipsistic Trump constantly shifting his position (under political pressure) on the Russian targeting and hacking of our elections, and augmenting that shameful (treasonous?) behavior by defiantly tendering an invitation to Putin to visit the U.S. (another skilled deflection) continues to dominate too much of what I think about. For even when I am engaging in activities that truly involve me, I feel his ominous, black comic presence.
However, for the moment, I try to forget politics and hobble along the city’s streets watching life pass by. I even have a brief encounter on a park bench where I indulge in small talk with a long-haired man in his mid 50s that suddenly morphs into his telling me an abridged version of his turbulent life story. There is no point recapitulating the painful details, but he has lived through a personal hell and now has seemingly achieved some semblance of equilibrium with the help of medication, Alcoholics Anonymous and Medicaid.
The volatility of his existence may have been extreme, but I have always believed that there is a dark, anguished underside to all our lives, even those who seem most balanced and complacent (e.g., the character of the nurse in Ingmar Bergman’s great film, “Persona”). And for me, those who deny that fact leave too much of their lives unexamined or repress a significant piece of it. My encounter is the kind that you could easily have in the city if you ask the right questions, and have the patience to sit and listen closely to another person’s revelations. Still, more often than not, you desire to be alone reading your book or newspaper and to pay little attention to the stranger sitting next to you, for there are times where connecting with that person goes nowhere and keeping to oneself is a much better, more fruitful option.
On another day, my legs feeling slightly better, I meet a friend at the Met’s fountains—named after David Koch, a powerful billionaire right-winger who arrogantly has had his name inscribed on both fountains in golden letters. The area around the museum is teeming with tourists, many of them less interested in the artistic treasures the Met offers, but there primarily because it’s something one must see when visiting the city—an iconic institution that needs to be crossed off a list. But I like just sitting there amidst a cascade of voices that make me forget my neuropathy and sciatica for a time. It’s what the city offers—an escape from self into the best of world culture, and a public world that can exist outside of one’s politics and one’s own private pain.