cry the beloved city

One of the subtle joys of being a relative newcomer to New York is that once your immigrant status has been ascertained, you are immediately made a subject for the inevitable “New York used to be so much better back when…” rants by your native or older-immigrant friends. Of course, nostalgia for the past is hardly a unique attribute to this city, but what is a little eyebrow-raising for the recent arrival is that the locals here often reminisce fondly about how much worse things used to be.

To hear many of my friends say it, New York in the Giuliani-and-after era has had all its rough edges filed off and has been sanitized for our convenience, like some pale shadow of Seattle or Boston only with bigger buildings. The Gap and Starbucks have crushed the life out of the city, Times Square is an abomination, and you call those hookers? Kid, in my day, you couldn’t get off the train at 42nd Street without a pack of armed trannies blowing you at gunpoint…

I tend to take this all with a small grain of salt: there’s a certain ritualized formalism about the complaints that makes you suspect that they’re as much an eternal feature of life in the city as the occasional waterbug in the kitchen sink: probably 90 years ago Manhattan’s hipsters were lamenting the loss of the real, vibrant, dangerous New York of the Tammany Hall era. I’m frankly a little dubious that anyone actually was that fond of the pre-Disney Times Square, the sex workers and clients very much included. And frankly, anyone who thinks that Manhattan (never mind the other boroughs) has become a sea of faceless corporate consumerism really needs to take a small vacation in, say, Ypsilanti, Michigan for a quick shot of perspective. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, but my social cohort is, on the whole, running headlong into out mid-30s: the city seems less hip and vibrant because we’re getting old.

Which is not to say that Giuliani wasn’t a thug, or that the current bar and nightclub regulations aren’t moderately to largely insane, it’s just that those are at best somewhat orthogonally related issues to the grand tradition of ritual kvetching about how much better things were in the bad old days.

But that all said, I have to confess that I was brought up short by the news headlines this morning. Because it seems that the Mayor of New Paltz, NY, has decided to begin issuing marriage certificates to gay couples.

NEW PALTZ?!

(For those not from anywhere near the area: New Paltz is a tiny town in midstate New York that primarily exists as an appendage to one of the larger branches of the State University of New York.)

Okay, I could accept that San Francisco was going to beat us to the punch on this one. It’s been a long time since Stonewall, and Sodom-on-the-Bay has pretty much been the Batman to our Robin for the last 20 years and there’s nothing to be done about that. I can also accept — barely — that Massachusetts was also going to beat us as well: legally, marriage is really a state question, and Mass, being a smaller state, has a much more consistently liberal judiciary. And I’m going to completely ignore the New Mexico thing because it’s a fluke and it ruins the flow of my rant.

But New Paltz?! Has it really come to this? Have we really been shown up on the sodomy and decadence front by the pipsqueak Mayor of a town that most of us couldn’t find on a map? Have we fallen so far?

For shame!

We are going to have to take drastic action if we are to preserve our hard-earned, centuries-old reputation as a pit of sin and depravity. Mandatory gay marriage now! If we can’t force Mike Bloomberg to tongue-kiss Ed Koch on national television within a week, the terrorists will truly have won.

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Sigh. The south (of you) will rise again! Um, sometime. (And seriously: rock the hell on.)