Helena Fitzgerald reflects on her city’s performance during the latest (but most certainly not the last) disaster to befall it:
E. B. White, in his 1949 essay Here is New York, wrote: “No one should come to New York unless he is willing to be lucky.” Obsessively checking twitter, I watched friends and acquaintances, in the midst of disaster, asking plaintively whether bars were open, and where. A photographer I used to know posted a little after midnight, not long after the storm surge’s high tide, that he knew it was dangerous, but he was going to walk over the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan to take pictures of the flooding on the Lower East Side and in the East Village. One of the photos shows the FDR drive turned into an unrecognizable river. Another depicts the ConEd center on East 14th, after it had exploded, surrounded by deep, unbroken water, like some kind of science-fiction lighthouse. Walking across the blacked-out bridge, he ran into two people having sex, in the dark, in the middle of the hurricane. “Scared the shit out of me,” he said. But of course, I thought. I wasn’t surprised in the least. Not only because catastrophe, any and all life-threatening events, drive us to affirm life in the most basic way our wanting bodies know how. In any place threatened by a natural disaster, people would have clung to life by having sex in their homes, in bedrooms and living rooms, behind safely closed doors and secured windows. But it didn’t surprise me at all that in this particular city people had thought to put themselves in harm’s way as epically as possible, to go to the very most vulnerable and thrilling center of the disaster — on a bridge, in the dark, over a surging river, at the high point of the hurricane — while they had disaster sex.
“Willing to be lucky” is one way to talk about a city full of people more committed to being interesting than to being safe or happy. This unhinged, adrenaline-addicted prioritizing persists despite any gentrification, beyond any safe neighborhoods. I understood the impulse to go outside and have sex on the bridge in the middle of the hurricane, because it’s an exaggerated version of the impulse to move to New York at all. This place is a city full of unnecessary danger and difficulty, and to move here on purpose is neither logical nor sane. It is not exactly responsible to want everything to be this exciting at every moment. In the same way, it was not exactly responsible or noble of me to feel a thrill when I imagine these dangers turning the city back into something like what my parents experienced. But I admit I felt it anyway.