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UD, a ‘thesdan hayseed, talks New York.

Although UD grew up right down the Amtrak corridor from New York City, she seldom traveled there; even as an adult, she’s visited shockingly few times. UD has spent more time in Ubud, Bali, than in NYC. Yet she notices that she has, over the years, developed a curious sort of home wisdom about one of the most prominent subcultures there.

These rough and ready truths of hers are not, of course, based on nothing; like many literate people, UD has been reading about that city and its inhabitants all her life; and from what she has gleaned, she has derived some modestly explanatory takes on some of its more notorious denizens.

Most broadly, she finds that firmly situating Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Cohen, Charles Kushner, Marc Kasowitz, and many other Trumpish madmen — but especially Donald Trump himself — in New York City helps us understand them. It’s helpful to see them as emerging out of a particular ecosystem in which their behavior is perfectly normal.

On a lower yet still fascinating level, firmly situating two recent high-profile identity-fakers (Jessica Krug and Hilaria Baldwin) in NYC also helps us understand them.

Let me start with the lunatic White House.

New York City, let us say, rears, attracts, and encourages hyperdriven hypercompetitive crazies who just go all the way. Their nature is to charge into everything – money deals, marriages, parenthood, politics – with supermanic frenzy and without a thought – without one thought, I tell you – for the morrow. Bankruptcy? Divorce? Jail? Fuck it. Trump ran headlong into a ridiculous quest for the presidency and look what happened! NYC people simply keep breaking through – that’s the thing. They don’t think of life as a series of steps which will if you’re not careful eventuate in bad outcomes which will pain you and those you love and condemn you to hell or whatever — they don’t think like normal people. The Big Mo on steroids – that’s their thing. Competitive capitalism unbound. Competitive everything unbound. No shame, no fear, no brakes.

Did you see either of the films based on Madoff? In both films, if I recall correctly, someone at some point looks at him and says something like Why did you do it and why didn’t you stop? The why did you do it part has no NYC resonance; the not stopping part – not stopping until THE ENTIRE WORLD ECONOMY TANKED AND HE COULD NO LONGER PAY OUT REDEMPTIONS – is echt Trumpy NYC. If you’re a Trumpy New Yorker, only some form of global collapse will stop you. Recall that up to the moment of his arrest Madoff was a singularly respected, highly placed, and well-connected New Yorker. A pious New Yorker – Yeshiva University’s treasurer!

Hell, Trump’s the president. And in case you haven’t noticed, he’s not planning to stop being president. Susan Glasser writes:

… Trump has remained … obnoxiously unrepentant. … He does not want to let go, to cede the spotlight, to renounce his outsized claim on our collective consciousness….

And you know that at no point in the real Madoff story did anyone ask him why he didn’t stop – that line was edited in for hayseeds outside NYC like UD, cuz otherwise the film would make no sense in any moral world she and her like can imagine. No one around Madoff ever stopped doing anything lucrative or personally advantageous, no matter how sordid, and Madoff would never have stopped either.

Once Trumps and Madoffs are truly a spent force, once they decide it’s safe to slow down and decamp with their winnings (even spitfires get old and lose their fire), they make a purely lateral cultural move – to their house in Florida.


People look at Donald Trump as a singular, ab nihilo dude; they can’t fathom his past behavior and they certainly can’t fathom his present. But he and Giuliani are behaving exactly the way people pickled in their brine always behave: Advance, Advance, Advance and the world can fuck itself.

Central to NYC-style heedless advancement is lying. You misrepresent yourself; you misrepresent your financial worth; you misrepresent the value of anything you have to offer. And of course you lie about other people; you make up obviously jackshit stories about Obama being born in Kenya and George Soros controlling Congress and Joe Biden stealing a presidential election. Advance, advance, advance, lie, lie, lie. In your NYC world everyone’s obscenely on the make and everyone lies. Lie it forward. No lie is too edgy, absurd, out there, shameless. Bigger the better. Keep going. Seems to work fine in DC too.


Look at Harold Brodkey’s take on this slice of NYC culture. His perspective is that of an artist, not a crazed capitalist, but he evokes the same Trumpian world, one part mania, one part lying:

I was always crazy about New York, dependent on it, scared of it – well, it is dangerous – but beyond that there was the pressure of being young and of not yet having done work you really liked, trademark work, breakthrough work. The trouble with the city’s invitation was that you were aware you might not be able to manage: you might drown, you might fall off the train, whatever metaphor you preferred, before you did anything interesting. You would have wasted your life. One worked hard or not at all, and tried to withstand the constant demolishing judgement. One watched people scavenge for phrases in other people’s talk – that hunt for ideas which is, sometimes, like picking up dead birds. One witnessed the reverse of glamour – that everyone is jealous.

It is not a joke, the great clang of New York. It is the sound of brassy people at the party, at all the parties, pimping and doing favors and threatening and making gassy public statements and being modest and blackmailing and having dinner and going on later. (Renata Adler used to say you could get anyone to be disliked in New York merely by praising that person to someone nervous and competitive.) Literary talk in New York often announced itself as the best talk in America. People would say, “Harold, you are hearing the best in America tonight.” It would be a cut-throat monologue, disposable wit in passing, practiced with a certain carelessness in regard to honesty. But then truth was not the issue, as it almost never is in New York.

New York City is also where we find the highest-profile imposters – people who, like fictive Manhattanite Jay Gatsby, lie all the way down to their corpuscles. Jessica Krug: White, Jewish, affluent; Gatsbyized black, hispanic, poor. Hilaria Baldwin: Offspring of people whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower; Gatsbyized a Spaniard with a strong accent and a shaky grasp of the English language.

Plenty of distinctions to be made amid all of this, I know. Hilaria (real name Hillary) ain’t much of a story. One… theatricalizes, mythologizes, oneself to be more interesting in the big city crowd. To stand out in hypercompetitive NYC. Baldwin is a strange woman, given to exhibitionism and self-praise, but who cares? Kim Kardashian for the west coast, and, for the sophisticated east, NYU-educated Hilaria Baldwin (though Kim comes by her exotic Armenianness honestly).

Krug’s far more insidious NYC tale carries ugly social implications having to do with the ideological corruption of universities and other institutions.

But both women share with the mad Trumpian lads that NYC thing: fake it til you fake it. Fake it more. Nothing exceeds like excess.

Margaret Soltan, December 29, 2020 2:47AM
Posted in: kind of a little weird

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2 Responses to “UD, a ‘thesdan hayseed, talks New York.”

  1. Greg Says:

    I reread your piece to make sure that it wasn’t an intentionally hyperbolic essay about all New New Yorkers from say the late 19th century till now. And, of course, it wasn’t. It is about one, increasingly important, strain of vermin. That said, Trump and some of his N.Y. hench-buddies are a sui generis (haven’t written that since retirement) subset of the money and power hungry. They simply don’t have even a shrunken love chip in brain or heart. To Cuisinart© metaphors, they lack even an expired membership card in the human race, which, itself, is not a really exclusive group.

    For some reason, though, while reading this post, Mary Gabriel’s terrific “Ninth Street Women” kept battering itself into my head. It is just one example – the Abstract Expressionist one – of the city’s great subcultures and wonderful, though hardly perfect people. They were driven, sometimes cruel, but they attended to, and made, beauty, and they were capable of surprising acts of sacrifice, for love as well as for art. I’m recalling Wm De Kooning’s making “tomato soup” at the automat our of hot water and catsup during the depression and using his carpentry skills to transform a cold water flat into a stunning studio and first home for him and his extraordinary wife Elaine. Later after all of his philandering and their separation, she came back to care for him during his dementia. Even, the almost too much demonized Clement Greenberg seems surprisingly admirable at a distance. You (I am referring to you and not just to first-person abstract “one”) could fill in a similar network of stories and relationships for generations of poets and literary critics.

    A friend of my wife, who has published lots of poems very well, while working many often unpleasant jobs and, otherwise, being a mensch, is, I would guess, part of a low profile group of writers in NYC who have had a very rich life as informal colleagues and friends. Perhaps, like each of us in our own way, with our own group or groups. And I think of my kid’s stage, movie and tv acting in N.Y.C. and of his friends who do or did the same work, and who I have come to really care for at some comfortable distance for them. Not particularly remunerative, but necessary. Those overlapping, but not overreaching, networks were New York’s real significance to me. With the right detector, stepping off a train at Penn Station, one could feel them as, with the right instruments, one can detect the fields that, at present, seem to be the most basic parts of the universe. If all of this is the visible spectrum of light, Trump etc. are not just color blind, but bat-blind, to the richness all around them.

    Again, this is not critical in any negative sense. I know that none of it would surprise you at all. But as real estate prices began drive out so many creative, and otherwise
    worthwhile, people who would benefit from mutual proximity, I began to feel elegiac about N.Y., N.Y. And now. . . perhaps for other reasons, the same. Who knows? Maybe, thinking about this for several years, with increased momentum recently, I just needed to say it.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Greg: And, writing the post, I kept thinking of Tess Slesinger’s The Unpossessed, and the zillions of other amazing fictive and real NYC stories. It’s why I cited Brodkey, who was very much part of that incomparable ferment during the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. But I cited an artist as well as the mad Trumpians because the incredibly nervy energy of NYC can play out in both generative and degenerate ways.

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