MARCH 5, 2002: A Midwestern columnist says that New York will probably be nuked. The thought seems to excite him. I try to figure out why.
A NUKE YORK STATE OF MIND
Jim Lileks has got the heebie-jeebies again. As reported here earlier, the War on Whatchamacallit has been at times hard on the Minneapolis scribe's nerves. Last September and October, Lileks shared with an undoubtedly alarmed web audience his fever dreams and revenge fantasies concerning Bin Laden; when that Great Satan receded from the nation's attention (isn't it time for OBL's VH1 "Whatever Happened To..." special?), Lileks next turned his wrath on home-based traitors such as the guy who draws "The Boondocks."
Certain topics, though, usually reduce his temperature to a low boil. New York City was, till recently, one of these. "Frequent visitors to this site know how much I love New York City," Lileks writes in one February column containing only trace elements of dementia, though it is chock-full of his less-objectionable persnicketiness. He mainly expresses his love for the Big Apple by posting snapshots of the City's architectural details, making Johnny Carson cracks like "Always delighted to get there and always relieved to leave," and railing against those of us who don't fully approve the rampant gentrification of our little town. "There is, for some," he sniffs, "a romantic attachment to grime, filth, vandalism and all the other glories of urban decay that I do not quite understand." Well, if your experience of the City consists mainly of pointing the Nikon at old stone carvings on annual vacations, I suppose it's good not to have some homeless guy jostling your elbow.
In his March 5 column, Lileks looks at New York again, but the effect is less than calming.
The descent begins with a gloomy reaction to the latest war news. "Made you realize that it's been October every day since October," he says cryptically. "And it's going to be October for some time, right up until the day it's September again." Uh oh.
Later, he describes a book-shopping spree, and the sight of a New York-themed volume spurs this amazing statement:
"I thought, this will make a great addition to my collection, and I'll want this some day because I'm not sure New York will be there in ten years. I think it will be nuked... I'm not sure it will happen. I'd just be surprised if it didn't, that's all. (I could tell this was on my mind today, because I bought extra flashlights at Target.)"
Lileks envisions "a world where there was a New York but no Manhattan, a scarred & pitted Woolworth Building but not Empire State or Grand Central (figuring that the fuckers blew it up in midtown to deny us Central Park for good as well.)"
(And those photogenic buttresses and gargoyles, Jim! Don't forget those!)
New York has long been a projection screen for apocalyptic fantasies, nuclear and otherwise. But here we have a fellow who claims to "love" New York, daydreaming at length of its pulverization. Why?
Perhaps it provides an excuse, missing of late in this shadowy war, to feel a healthy, cleansing burst of outrage. But several real soldiers have just been killed in Afghanistan. If Lileks is going to rail at "fuckers," why not them?
Lileks' denouement provides one answer: he claims that once this inevitable holocaust takes place, left-wing European columnists will be writing excuses for it ("...if they shed a tear it would be for the Motherwells in the museums and the immigrants..."). That's it! Lileks blew up New York so he could dis The Guardian! It makes sense: conservative pundits have of late turned their anger on antiwar furriners, and Lileks, a undeclared but obvious Rightie, is merely following suit.
Also, this is what love means to Lileks. In his online fantasy life, he has even dreamed of the annihilation of his own family so that he could avenge them in writing: "I cannot possibly think of any good reason to ever strike a woman," he wrote in a recent screed against feminists, "unless it's the one in the uniform who wants to pry my daughter's arms from my neck because the state has decided all men must leave the household for the good of the People." Yes, in his pursuit of hard targets, Lileks will even resort to science fiction scenarios from the early women's-lib era. Sitting in suburban Minnesota, he rarely gets real opportunities for visceral hatred -- he does get mad at incompetent store clerks sometimes -- and so must invent scenarios in which something dear to him is threatened, so that he may prove his devotion in literary blood-squibs.
But finally, I think Lileks nuked New York because it was expendable to him. I don't doubt his devotion to his family, but I can't imagine anyone who really loves New York wanting to see a large chunk of it cold and dead, even in dreams. Maybe he has been tipped off that bums and panhandlers have resurfaced on our City's streets, and that budget cuts may render a bit shabbier those sandblasted surfaces he likes to photograph; and like many long-distance lovers of Gotham before him, he finally decided it might as well just blow up.
"Think I'm kidding?" Lileks closes his nuclear column, amid portentious layers of white space. "Wait."
I don't think he's kidding, and I don't have time to wait. While Lileks is dreaming up death for me and mine, I've been struggling to keep afloat in a badly damaged local economy. So are millions of my fellow citizens. We've had to put up with a lot lately, and we don't have the leisure to fantasize a fiery end for New York. We're too busy trying to keep it, and ourselves, alive.
Fortunately, living in New York has made us tough. And so, amid anthrax and nuclear hoopla, we will continue to make the rent, along with all the other things we make in this town, including many of the cultural artifacts Lileks reads and plays in his home entertainment center between fever dreams.
I guess Lileks won't be coming to town again, even on a book tour, for fear of incineration. So maybe there's an upside to this nuke-scare thing after all. Let those who are easily terrorized stay away from New York. Screaming meemies from the hinterlands, who are shaken to the bone by the latest terrorism fad, would fare poorly here, where planes really hit. For the rest of us, it's just another day at the office.