Thursday, March 06, 2008

Steppenwolf Goes to New York

(Just Like TMMPF)

Readers of this blog probably know that TM and I lived in Chicago, then in New York, and then again in Chicago. We thought we would like life in New York, because New York is a big city, Chicago is a big city, and we liked Chicago. This proved to be what logic professors call a fallacy.

The New York vs. Chicago thing is a rich, fascinating topic that will be revisited over time here on TMMPF. It's been on my mind this week as I finally got around to reading last week's Chicago Tribune Magazine cover story about the Steppenwolf play "August: Osage County" moving to Broadway.

Ostensibly the article is about the theater, but for me it was about the differences between the two cities, the romanticized image of New York vs. the reality of daily life there, especially for Chicagoans.

"The idea, the fantasy, is that 'My life is going to change [by going to Broadway], that everything is going to be different,' " says Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey, who had to find replacements for several "August" cast members that had been slated to appear in, or like Morton, direct other Steppenwolf productions this season. "Not only have many of us realized that is not true, a lot of them would say, 'I don't want my life to be different. I like my life here.' "

This line really stopped me in my tracks. For a long time I rebelled against the notion of New York as Number One. How can it be so great, I'd argue, if it doesn't have the Cubs. The people are mean. It's on Eastern Standard Time. Blah, blah. Then I went there, and after a while, and especially after leaving, I grudgingly admitted: New York is Number One for a reason. It's the capital of the world, the center of the universe. That doesn't automatically make it a good or happy or enjoyable place to live: this is one of the ironies and contradictions of life in Gotham.

Americans, being lazy and easily impressed by large numbers, tend to think that biggest = best. And yet no one would say that McDonalds is the best restaurant in America--just cause they have McChickens for a buck doesn't automatically make them the greatest. Chicago, and Boston, and Seattle, and flyover country as a whole, all need to acknowledge that NY's many assets don't necessarily add up to the best. It's just the biggest. Your home is cool, too.

Voted America's greatest restaurant by Gourmet magazine, right?

Look at it this way, out of about 303 million people in this country, 295 million of them DON'T live in New York City. That many people can't be wrong.

Another quote from actress Amy Morton:
And she was dreading the coming adjustment to tighter quarters--in her temporary home, and everywhere else in New York."I always feel like a bull in a china shop in New York," she said. "I feel like I'm three times the size I am. The apartments are smaller, the restaurants are smaller."
I don't know about bull in a china shop...but certainly out of place. (More on this in a future essay. English majors shall recognize this as "foreshadowing.")

Finally, I got a good laugh out of this line:

Unlike the sighs and long faces that greeted the news of a Broadway run, the "August" cast was thrilled at the thought of going to London-"because that's a fun city," as Morton put it.

Then I made it to THIS week's Chicago Tribune Magazine, and there was ANOTHER reference to the culture and attitude of the two cities. From the society page came this:

Q: What about Chicago's style? A: "This is my first day ever in Chicago and so far I'm a fan of everything I've seen. It feels like New York; the only difference really is that everyone seems to have a smile on their faces." -- Vaughn Vance

To Mr. Vaughn Vance: Glad you're a fan, but is that really the only difference you noticed? The wider sidewalks, uncluttered by piles of bagged garbage? The calmer pace, the lack of the killer instinct, the racial segregation, or many others I'll write about in the future?

Vince Vaughn: knows Chicago. Vaughn Vance: No fucking clue.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt that *I* didn't recognize every single difference right away ... but I certainly noticed more than that. At the very least, you should recognize that your "only" difference ... means EVERYTHING.

There were times when Quigley couldn't wait to get back to his hometown of Chicago. He would tell you watching the squirrels was far superior to those damn Manhattan pigeons.


83F said...

NY has the Yankees. 'Nuff said.

Anonymous said...

Yankees can take their 26 championships and stick them in Queens. (where the sun don't shine)

sodeh said...

On Mythbusters they tested the bull in the china store myth and as it turns out bulls are very cautious... they weaved through the shelves gracefully and didnt break a thing. Just thought I would let you know...

Also, where does Quigley think he is going?? Tell him he can come over a sleep over anytime he wants :D

Josh said...

I miss the piles of garbage sometimes.