Over at Vanishing New York, I've written now and then about new New Yorkers' inscrutable sense of safety. How they save seats with laptops while they go to the restroom and leave their apartment doors unlocked. This week, Sloane Crosley published an essay in the Times about this trend and bravely identifies herself as one of the trusting ones.
I've been reading and rereading this essay because I want to understand, and I don't know firsthand the people who feel so safe that they leave their apartment keys in unlocked mailboxes and sleep on the train with their purses wide open. Sloane boils this naivete down to two related reasons:
1. She says, "most New Yorkers, myself included, love pretending we live in a very big small town" and "We love our delusion of quaintness."
2. This wish to live in a quaint small town makes some people over-trust the everyday kindness of strangers. She warns, "we’re confusing humanity with safety."
I find it gratifying that she links two of my favorite pet peeves--the false illusion of safety with the suburbanization of New York. It's a combined longing that creates Little Nantuckets in Brooklyn and gives birth to apartment complexes that mimic suburban life. A decade ago, this combination was still embryonic, and then a whole generation came to the city without actually wanting to be "city people." Wrote the Observer in 2007, "For reasons both deep and ineffable, these young transplants just can’t help bringing suburbia with them."
I'm still trying to understand the "deep and ineffable" reasons why anyone would move to the city when they prefer the suburbs. But, for what it's worth, here's my latest example of what Crosley calls a smug "'the world is my safe deposit box' mentality:
Recently, I'm walking past a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue when I see, at their sidewalk cafe, that someone has abandoned a table with untouched appetizers and a glass of wine on it. They've left their belongings, too, a backpack and a laptop bag. They've even left their dog, unleashed, roaming among the empty tables. No one else is sitting at the cafe.
It's a strange still life. People walking by turn to look. They stop, stare, and move on. I imagine they are thinking what I am thinking: What happened here?
My first thought is that there must have been an emergency, something very disorienting. Why else would people flee without their laptop, bags, and dog? The table is closest to the exit, not penned in, and the bags are left vulnerable to anyone who might want to take them. The dog, too, seems completely forgotten as it wanders back and forth from one end of the cafe to the other.
Then, of course, several minutes later, they come out. A pair of blondes, braying with laughter through bleached teeth, giant sunglasses glinting in the late afternoon light. They only went inside to avail themselves of the bar. Ice tinkles in the fresh cocktails they hold in their hands as they return to their table. The waiter follows after them, bowing slightly, and takes their orders.
So does the fact that no one stole the dog or the bags provide evidence that New York really has become a quaint small town?
Crosley asks, "Have we gone too far in our quest for the quaint?" Yes. But, it can't last. If you play Russian Roulette long enough and keep on dodging the bullet, you can fall into the fantasy that there is no bullet in the cylinder. But keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, you'll find out the hard way.
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