I was sitting at a sports bar on Third Avenue near 38th Street on Saturday afternoon, a bar I’d never been to before that Harryh recently discovered as part of his residency in Midtown East. Harry and Lindsey were there to watch the Flordia Gators. I was too, though despite my burgeoning fandom I still can’t hold a candle to either of them, especially given what a crappy football game it was. So I was finishing up a club sandwich — the food at this sports bar was better than it had to be, a trend in more bars around the city — and scrolling through Twitter when I saw “Zadie Smith” and “gentrification” and clicked, and I was down a wonderful rabbit hole for the next 15 minutes.
Smith’s essay, Find Your Beach, published in the New York Review of Books, is really about work and money in New York City — a topic of endless fascination, even moreso when in the hands of a virtuoso writer like Zadie Smith. Like this, from near the end:
Under the protection of a university I live on one of the most privileged strips of built-up beach in the world, among people who believe they have no limits and who push me, by their very proximity, into the same useful delusion, now and then.
It is such a good town in which to work and work.
Smith’s essay brought to my mind Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, which to me is the ur-text on New York City and money and work. Miller captures a similar ambivalence as in Smith’s essay, albeit with a rather different stylistic form. I pulled the book off my shelf last night and found this passage that still resonates with me:
Again the night, the incalculably barren, cold, mechanical night of New York in which there is no peace, no refuge, no intimacy… To have money in the pocket in the midst of white, neutral energy, to walk meaningless and unfecundated through the bright glitter of the calcimined streets, to think aloud in full solitude on the edge of madness, to be of a city, a great city, to be of the last moment of time in the greatest city in the world and feel no part of it, is to become oneself a city, a world of dead stone, of waste light, of unintelligible motion, of imponderables and incalculables, of the secret perfection of all that is minus. To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or you don’t have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money?
Monday morning. Back to work.