I ______________ New York



Mary Ruefle says purple sadness is like the sadness of play money. ⁣

My first trip to New York had to have been when I was eleven or twelve. And the first museum ⁣
we visited was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first lesson New York ever gave me was this:⁣

On the steps at the Met, when everyone has finished looking at masterpieces and permanent art, ⁣crowds empty towards the steps to halt and gawk at the street performers. Men performing backflips and handstands. They lunge over rows of very impressed tourists and flip their caps to accept change for their acrobatics. ⁣

One skit consists of them choosing a child from the crowd. In front of the child they offer her a choice, would you prefer this shiny nickel  or this crumpy, old, dollar? They repeat this with affectation.
SHINY NICKEL” is high pitched, jazz hands, voiced with exclamation. “DIRTY, CRUMPY, OLD DOLLAR,” is guttural, throaty, hawked with disgust. This goes on, back and forth. Shiny Nickel!!! Or Crumpy, Old, Dollar? ⁣

The little girl chooses the nickel and the crowd, along with her embarrassed parents, erupt with laughter. She is elated with her shiny cents. The value of a crumpy dollar escapes her. The performers bow and continue to collect more change. ⁣

Some might read this to mean that it’s important to not suffer fools gladly. Stay pessimistic. Don’t trust anyone. In reality, the point is that this city, whether you choose to see it or not, will always let you in on the tell. ⁣

Recently, a New York politician raised seventeen million dollars for her re-election in a safe, blue, district. Of what was raised, fourteen million was used on her campaign. A ham sandwich could run and win her seat, but still, in spite of the money spent her voting margins shrank. She won less votes.

Play money. ⁣

Photograph from Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield, 1982.