Monthly Archives: April 2010

Goodbye, New York

It’s been five days since I left New York, and as is the case with week-old nostalgia, I often find myself thinking about the city.  I’ve always loved the vibrancy of New York, the energy, and even the street meat smell.  Since I left, I have found myself missing those aspects of the city: the pavement-pounding commuters, the holier-than-thou coffeeshops, the 3 AM chicken and rice.  Most of all, though, I miss the people.  I miss the tour guide in Midtown who attracts customers by telling people his name is Kofi Annan (“Really? I’ve totally heard your name before.  You’re a famous tour guide!”).  I miss the crazy (and perhaps sight-challenged) men who would hoot at me in the mornings (“Hey baby, you’re looking fine in those Old Navy dress pants.”).  I miss the friends who came with me, during my last week in the city, to visit a heralded NYC institution–the Olive Garden in Times Square.

While I lived in New York, I had my complaints too.  For me, the city was expensive, crowded, and dirty.  Rats were everywhere, as if the Pied Piper had settled in Manhattan.  Over the last four months, I lived on the Upper East Side, where Juicy-Couture-wearing poodles would be juxtaposed with the pigeon-poop-lined sidewalks.  I’d dodge feces of all kinds (dog, rodent, fowl) as I walked to work.

But as nostalgia goes, all my complaints about New York are now forgotten.  The good memories are the ones that remain: dancing with kilted Scotsmen at Gatsby’s, table-searching in the basement of 30 Rock, discussing pedophiles on Wednesday nights, finding the best fajitas in town (still Zarela’s), Zog Sports football, Central Park, 24-hour diners, even Joshua Tree.

I think that anytime something ends, there is an afterwards period of great reflection and self-doubt.  If I were in an early-90s TV show, I’d be sitting next to a bay window now, a single tear streaming down one cheek, watching the rain fall outside.  Am I doing the right thing?  Am I just being crazy?  Who chooses LA over New York??  Where did my stoic, hardened, East-Coast-is-the-Beast-Coast mentality go?

Well… I don’t know the answer to that right now.  But with regards to the city of New York, I’ll quote the modern-day, muscled bard of California: I’ll be back… perhaps.

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Mosquito Bites Are Just Insect Kisses

In high school, my history teacher gave us some sage advice.  “Whatever you do,” she said, “Don’t become cynical.”  According to her, cynicism was reserved for old ladies with neon fanny packs and lives full of heartbreak.  It was saved for guys with skull tattoos and overly-complicated facial hair.  But cynicism should not corrupt the young, green, whippersnappers at my high school, she said.  Kids should not be cynical.

Unfortunately for me, her advice was too late.  For whatever reason, I had entered my adolescence with a sharp eye for all that was wrong with the world.  There were rappers getting shot, presidents having affairs, and crazy monkey viruses spreading into our drinking water (I had nightmares about the movie Outbreak for weeks).  Life, as I saw it, should be approached with a rational dose of pessimism:  Lawyers were liars.  Businessmen were drug addicts.  Babies were just future juvenile delinquents, strippers, and Congressmen.  At the core, human beings were just greedy: greedy for sex, greedy for attention, but most of all, greedy for money.

Of course, this wasn’t the healthiest attitude to have.  So in junior year of college, I took a class called Positive Psychology, which was widely dubbed the “Happiness” class.  The class gained notoreity due to its huge enrollment, prompting media outlets to crow about Harvard students trying to study happiness.  And oh, we did.  In our first section, our class was told to go around and give each other hugs.  Our professor sent out emails about yoga.  We were all asked to bring in songs that spoke to our inner happy souls.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, but Norah Jones does.

Even though I was skeptical, I liked the idea of positive psychology, where mosquito bites were just insect kisses.  Everything bad could be seen as good.  Since that class, I tried to apply positive psych into my life.  The volcanic eruption in Europe isn’t a terrible economic disruption… it’s just God’s fireworks.  KFC’s new Doubledown Sandwich isn’t an example of Type 2 Diabetes wrapped in tinfoil… it’s just a protein party in your small intestine.

But even as I try to stay positive, sometimes I still fall victim to my old, cynical ways.  Maybe it’s natural.  Maybe it’s just true, that people are inherently, undeniably, greedy bastards…

When I was a baby, my parents put the following items in front of me: a $20 dollar bill, a bowl of cheesy puffs, and a stuffed animal.  I crawled straight for the $20 without hesitation.  It was a sign.

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Keeping America Ugly

Now that healthcare reform has been passed into law, we’ve seen full-blown outrage from conservative commentators, teabaggers, and unnaturally orange-skinned people (…a tax on indoor tanning??  How will we keep the Jersey economy afloat?).  This trifecta has argued that as healthcare poison gets jammed down our throats, the country will almost certainly spiral into a welfare state of doom.

Even though I can’t identify with teabagging, Beck-watching fist pumpers, I do have some concerns about the healthcare reform.  On the whole, I agree with the concept: everyone should have access to healthcare.  But like any government plan, this reform is riddled with unintended consequences.  By forcing insurance on the 46 million who are currently uninsured, we also introduce moral hazard into the system: now that those people have insurance, they may be more likely to do stupid things, like give birth to octuplets or get the (golf) clap from Tiger Woods.

To solve this problem, there should be a greater focus on preventative measures.  For example, I am a rather repulsive high-volume eater.  When we go out to eat, my family often orders 7 entrees for 4 people.  One time, we were asked to move to a bigger table so that the restaurant could accommodate all the food.  A few months ago, a friend and I went out to dinner in Union Square, where we split a fried appetizer, each ate a huge entree (I got a pork chop), and then ordered a bread pudding to share… but the dessert was so good that we ordered another one (and ate it all).  That night, I had to sleep sitting up in my bed.

I never count calories, I rarely exercise, and I’ve been known to unbutton my pants at the dinner table.  Essentially, I am a rather disgusting example of American excess, flying in the face of our mission to Keep America Beautiful.  But even with all that, I’m not (yet) a blubbery whale.  I can still fit into clothes that I wore in high school, and I can wear skinny jeans without being ironic.  At the same time, I’m totally testing the system.  Eventually, nature and logic will have its way with me, and I’ll end up ferrying my fat self around on a scooter that you will pay for through your taxes.  So in order for you to make me change my atrocious ways now, you need the system to punish me.  Because unless it’s costing me something  significant today, I won’t stop eating mac and cheese in bed.

There are promising preventative statutes included in the plan now (like the tanning tax), but we could use more of these so-called Pigovian taxes: cigarette taxes, alcohol taxes, soda taxes, candy taxes, etc.  I’m sure that the ultra-conservative Pigou Club would argue that the negative externalities associated with unhealthy people is minimal… but now that we have a universal healthcare system, perhaps they’ll reconsider.

Punishing bad behavior is controversial, yes.  But I ate 3 steaks in 3 days this past weekend, and I think we can all agree — that’s not just bad, it’s ugly.

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