This past weekend, I inadvertently stumbled upon two street trashcans with different tales to tell. One was a hipster receptacle in Battery Park City, home to hipsters and little hipsters on scooters who don’t watch where they are going. The other overflowing can underscored both New York’s incredible diversity and insatiable consumption and waste. It contained everything from a pair of sneakers to an empty wine bottle; decorative flowers to tiny plastic bags containing canine waste. The sight of this garbage reaffirmed to me that we are living in a Bizarro World.
Further reaffirmation occurred yesterday when I found myself in some serious traffic and staring out a car window. I spied numerous street vendors peddling a potpourri that included hot dogs, smoothies, and lamb and rice dishes, too. Fortunately, I was a passenger and not behind the wheel of the vehicle. The logjam was on Manhattan’s tony Upper West Side and the byproduct of our American president being across town at the United Nations. As if entertaining that thought wasn’t horrifying enough, crawling along streets and avenues at the antithesis of warp speed got me thinking. Yes, about the Bizarro World again. For only in this world would the President of the United States be best known for nastily insulting people whenever he feels inclined, which is often.
When I first attended grammar school in the late-1960s, the Cold War was still pretty frigid but there was ample evidence of a thaw. For instance, my classmates and I weren’t performing civil defense duck-and-cover drills—hiding under our desks—in anticipation of a nuclear exchange. I recently finished One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon by Tim Weiner—a compelling read from beginning to end. In 1972, Nixon traveled to China in what was largely a symbolic visit. But it was so well choreographed. Despite the gangster-like goings-on behind closed doors and hidden microphones in our nation's capital, Nixon understood what the public expected of a president in public and, most especially, on the international stage. His successor—45—is completely undisciplined and the essence of boorishness. Like a Seinfeld character, there is no learning or growth. It’s not possible with him. On his best day, Trump couldn’t pull off anything close to Nixon-like diplomatic theater. This is, after all, a Bizarro World we are living in. The president threatened today to “totally destroy” a country lead by a bona fide nut job whom he dubbed “Rocket Man.” Perhaps, duck-and-cover drills are poised to make a comeback.
There’s so much more to this peculiar contemporary existence of ours than an insecure, narcissist in the White House: a man who would have been—by any measure in the pre-Bizarro World—deemed intellectually, psychologically, ethically, and aesthetically unsuited for the job. In yesterday’s slow-moving travels, I found myself passing through Columbus Circle and then on Columbus Avenue proper. It got me thinking about the New York City statue police considering removing “offensive” statues like the one of Columbus at Columbus Circle. I’m sorry but a statue of Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle—with Columbus Avenue in the vicinity—seems quite logical. Columbia University is just a few miles north as well. Ah, yes, one thought led to another in this Bizarro World, which includes a key component to all the bizarreness: social media.
In the previous world I knew, Columbus Day was merely a Monday holiday and three-day weekend during the school years. Despite parades in parts of New York City and elsewhere that are essentially Italian-American pride parades, I never equated Christopher Columbus with my paternal Italian heritage. He was a fifteenth-century explorer, discoverer, and conqueror who, no doubt, committed a fair share of atrocities. But those were cruel times—a Bizarro World very different from ours—and it’s been quite a multi-layered evolution from that point to this point. Well, actually, we’ve been devolving quite a bit of late.
Nevertheless, like so many relationships on Facebook, Columbus Day and the reason for it is complicated. However, if it makes you feel better: Put up your anti-Columbus memes in the coming weeks. Preach to the choir or get into unpleasant, pointless arguments with people who hold different opinions. I will survive this annual silliness and—just to be on the safe side—be under my desk.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)