[This Commentary originally appeared in the June 22, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Manhattan beckons, a modern day siren. It summons the untested and ambitious. Dreamers flock to the Mecca of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, Madison Avenue and Wall Street. Yet, only the most alert explorer can prevent the straggly rocks of reality from dashing his high hopes.
Of course, the sweet love song drowns the most rational into a luscious lull. Unlike Hollywood, which seduces the naïve children and renders them soulless, the City dulls even the sparky young with pleasant serenity.
Manhattan calls for me. I guess it always has.
Some say Paris truly represents the romantic world of the twentieth century. Indeed, Gertrude Stein and her Lost Generation virtually proclaimed it such. Ironically, though, as he wrote of other geographies, F. Scott Fitzgerald deified the quintessence of Manhattan with his spiffy characters. Each of his protagonists matured with the Park Avenue debutantes, carrying that spirit as a birthmark.
On a less literary level, the lyricists of Broadway captured the same mood. The masses readily absorbed the palatable format of their refrains. The songwriters’ muse evoked the magnetism of a City forever bound to humanity.
Sultry jazz and dry gin matured into melodic musicals and cocktails before finally ascending to adamant arias and champagne. The whole of mankind – the tired, the poor, the hungry – searches for the same evolutionary path. Manhattan has lived that legend and hails others to join in its mystique.
Athens, Alexandria, Rome, Florence, Venice, Vienna, London et al all had their centuries of glory. Los Angeles, Tokyo and Hong Kong have gnawed at the distinction of world hub. Each, in its own way, offers an honest attraction. Some, I have tasted. Of others, I can only dream. None now have the appeal of Manhattan.
The song lures the best and the brightest, and that reason alone compels me against it. I’ve seen friends – good friends – lose themselves in its maelstrom. Changed eternally in the whirlwind, they remain shells of their formerly vibrant selves. They talk of leaving but, having savored the fruit, know they never will.
Notwithstanding my contrarian demeanor, I am human and therefore subject to the sonnet’s wile. With foolish courage, I have even toyed playfully with it and survived. Still, I paid a price in the resultant stalwart sheath. The heart concedes a more direct confrontation dwells imminent – and necessary.
Manhattan beckons me and I now openly allow it.
I could just say, “No!” But, a mindless “no” remains just as mindless as a mindless “yes.” An unequivocal “no” ignores the many advantages the City offers. For one thing, cabs are a lot cheaper. You could also walk to the grocery (though you probably would not understand the owner’s tongue). Yes, one cannot overlook the lively pace, the flashing lights and the diversity of swank (and not-so-swank) restaurants. Finally, and maybe most importantly, a vibrant dynamism of personalities fills every elevator you take – providing an intellectual challenge of the highest peak. What man, in his right mind, openly forsakes the opportunity of such treasure?
None can truly believe any other urban setting consistently captures the ambiance of Manhattan. Perhaps a party every now and then brings us closer to the sophisticated élan of Gotham, but the aroma lasts only so long. The lack of critical mass dooms all attempts to duplicate the City’s aura.
Ironically, the administrative burden of that same critical mass looms like a Sword of Damocles over Manhattan. Problems, problems, a thousand problems. And the air stinks, too. I swear some of those alleyways have lingered unclean for so long a time, if you look close enough, you see the wilted fig leaves of Paradise.
Still, for all the warts, the blood boils. The few remnants of logic insist a compromise solution exists. A different kind of passion, too arrogant to concede, tenaciously suggests the irrelevance of location.
Manhattan asks, and I prepare to answer.
Why not stare the temptress in her face and respond to the question with one of my own? Why must I alone lay subject to interrogation? In the finest shogun tradition, I slip into the shoes of my enemy and become one with her. I must entice the Lorelei from her rocky abode and onto my sturdy ship.
Last Week #13: Chaos and Opportunity on Capitol Hill (originally published June 15, 1989)
Next Week #15: Civil War and the World Economy (originally published June 29, 1989)
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]