Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Some things in life really do get better. I think many of us in these postmodern times believe that decline is the only possible direction, even though we may not say so. It's tempting to flirt with despair when the prognostications of natural decay due to human interference (ie global warming) and upheaval and destruction due to human greed and enmity are rampant.

I just returned from New Jersey where, among other signs of doom, I saw the damage wrought by two floods this past year. At home we experienced tornados, and yet another hurricane is brewing in the Gulf. Even a die hard liberal begins to wonder whether the Biblical descriptions of the end times have some sort of weird merit.

But then I went to New York City. All through my formative years in NJ, it was pretty much accepted that one only chose to go to NYC if they were 1) required by their business; 2) wealthy enough to do so in style (not most of the people I knew); or 3) crazy. We did get hauled there on the occasional field trip, and the folks back home would send us off with a sack full of warnings. The one I remember best is "Don't look up-you'll be found out to be a tourist and you'll get killed." Taxi drivers were only slighter more moral than Satan, and riding in a taxi was a dangerous thrill that, while death-defying, could provide tales back at home.

This was my third visit to NYC in the past calendar year, and each trip has delighted me more. The streets are clean and safe. Central Park is astoundingly beautiful, almost a recreation of the storybook New York of childhood fantasies. Merchants and service people are-dare I say it?-friendly and solicitous. I jokingly told my child thst it would be best not to say, "Have a nice day," while in NYC, but I was wrong. Nearly every clerk and cashier gave us that very salutation.

Have alien Mormons taken over the bodies of the grumpy and gritty New Yorkers we all know and love to fear? Because there is no doubt that things have changed. Probably some of it has to do with the Apple's preparations for the Olympic bid, but I suspect that it's due in large part to a kind of collective determination to triumph over the horror of September 11th. I don't think I'm imagining this, and it gives me the teensiest glimmer of hope in the midst of all this decline and atrophy.

Sometimes things actually get better instead of worse, and humans seem to be the cause in both directions.