There’s another city that looks like this one but isn’t this one. It has the same cross streets, the same shopkeepers, and all your friends are where you left them. It has the same heavy, locked doors and ledger books you’ll never open.
In this city, when you’re down, you’ll tell everyone you’re moving, maybe to a different borough, or to LA where your situation will improve emotionally and materially. But you can’t escape this city because it’s everywhere and only in your imagination; built on paranoid fever dreams and in the fantastic stupor of aspirations exploited by real people you can’t see, sue, touch, fuck or hit.
Tahj Banks’ Ketamine Men are flâneurs trapped in this phantom city. They share the fashion of men of leisure and idlers who wandered 19th century Paris, but they are the spawn of something altogether Blacker. They move through portals between diasporas, bus terminals, and markets of desire. Like Tahj, they’ve been imprisoned and displaced. They know what it means to to float, and to be free.
The skyline in this city is shaped by speculation too. Following the High Line for years, we wondered to where it would lead when construction was finally finished. And just as the spoils of the Gilded Age came to an end with the completion of the Chrysler Building in 1930, unbounded optimism reveals broken promises. Joel Dean’s dunce Chrysler Building is a dirty joke about such power.The punchline is futility, impotence, bailouts, de Blasio’s New York, and Amazon. Who disciplines who? Who’s still laughing when we’re all too dense to learn our lesson?
Martin Wong moved to a different Lower East Side in the 1979. He had sexual encounters with people in prison, fetishized cops, and painted crumbling tenements to look like stage sets for lovers. The Chinatown he painted was not China but it was just as exotic as his New York is to you and to real estate brokers. Martin’s street signs for the deaf still hang around the city like easy to miss markers of social service and social control from some unheard of parallel world. Martin moved back to San Francisco in 1994 when he learned he had AIDS, but he came back to visit often.
New York is not Hong Kong, but every city is full of things it isn’t.