New York is a town that contains many people. The people are like rats, except instead of tails they have no tails and instead of four grimy little rodent paws they have two normal human feet. Sometimes when I am on the subway I try to count the people I see all around me. One, two, three. Four, five, six. And so on. Seven, eight, nine. I could go higher(1)—but I think you get the point. There are, of course, more than nine people on the subway at rush hour (when I typically avail myself of mass transit). I take the 4/5/6 line, but its name does not derive from the presence of only 4, 5, or 6 people riding it at any given time. No, there are definitely more people than
(1)For example: Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five. I could go even higher than this, but by now I’m sure you get the point.
that—at least during the times that I ride it! It is called the 4/5/6 for some other reason. You can probably look it up on Wikipedia.
I’m not interested in the facts of this great city, if you want to know the truth. I’m interested in its essence. The crazy mundanity; the mundane insanity—the street-corner buskers and the sidewalk artists. The pizza rats and the Thomas Friedmans. The people who make the city go, who watch it go, who go from it and return. The mole people who live in our subway tunnels and our sewers, waiting to pop up from our toilets and take a big old bite out of our butts. In a way, the mole people are the perfect distillation of New York. Robbed, beaten up, abused by the metropolis and yet unwilling or unable to leave. They survive by feeding on the people who have not yet known suffering.
They bite the butts of those people to teach them suffering.
To me, New York is its sidewalks, its pedestrians(2), its pigeons and its pigeon ladies. It is the arguments between the aforementioned pigeon ladies and the Wall Street Fat Cats who live in the buildings outside which the pigeons take their meals.
(2)Pedestrians are of particular importance. As Jane Jacobs pointed out in The Death and Life of American Cities, “eyes on the street” shape our urban communities and keep them safe and thriving. She refers to the daily bustle on city streets and sidewalks as “an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole.” Of course, it must be understood that while Jacobs was undoubtedly brilliant, Death and Life is nevertheless a product of its somewhat less enlightened time. A time, sadly, that couldn’t spare a moment to acknowledge the importance of the eyes under the street. Yes, I am talking about the mole people, of course.