My male boss said the word in a deadpan manner as he inspected the storefront in which I’d rented office space in Chinatown. As I sat slumped behind the glass counter, his disembodied voice grumbled as he reached back for his canvas tote bag.
“It’s not like every day I find myself receiving permission to basically do whatever I want in the city,” I told him, almost apologetically. He shook his head. “Yeah, that’s true.”
A day earlier, police had issued a “controlled entry,” which allows officers to enter an apartment building, unzip the locks on individual apartments, check for weapons, view surveillance footage and thus enter a building safely. I’d been mistakenly granted permission to fit a friend and me into two floors of a prewar brownstone on West Broadway, between Hoyt and Smith streets. We’d just popped up from there, for a morning coffee, a quick tour of the city, some recharging and, literally, a little taste of New York. As we pushed down a cobblestone turn, the New York Times flashed on the three wall-mounted monitors in the office. We read through the article: “The City Says It Protects Itself.”
This wasn’t something new. Hell, I’d no doubt walked over to NYPD headquarters to find the city’s public information office explaining the responsibility or lack thereof of its public safety department. But it occurred to me that if I, as a 40-year-old Brooklyn native, was perhaps more familiar with our police than those in, say, Birmingham, Alabama, and felt comfortable enough to ask permission, then perhaps a less experienced stranger might want to ask too.
If we did, it might be of more than logistical concern. There were the usual Third World types and families and people who knew how to protect themselves. There were those who had grown up around guns and law and government and war, and all the things that could be said about a kid from Afghanistan who ended up in third-world, border country, attired like a stereotypical New Yorker.
Here in NYC, I found, were all of the people who knew how to live in New York, and usually, lived safe. Everyone had to know that life in New York wasn’t a suicide mission. Everyone knew how to protect themselves from being shot by a panhandler, in a car, in a bus, in a hostile stance.
I do know that it’s all different here.
I’m right here on West Broadway, but there’s a reason this building is located within steps of the DMV. This is all part of a plan, a thing that goes by the name of “ruin tourism.” It’s New York City, and it’s dangerous. That’s the way it goes. It’s the way that our city’s design, built to stand the test of time, has a way of complicating our way of life. Because, see, our lives are already complicated.
It is home, but it is also a destination. If you’re bad at the bus and subway and subway, you get home in a stolen taxi, but he’s alone. If you leave a bible book in a popular neighborhood restaurant, people raise their phones to take a shot of it on Instagram. It’s a beautiful house on Long Island Sound, but he gives no thought to the history or to the popular social groups of a Park Slope bodega, only to check the pictures of his one-year-old relative online before finding the YouTube videos of old tragic home movies.
Thank goodness for guys like my boss.
“Hold up,” he said. “What’s that do?”
Since I didn’t know at the time, I certainly forgot about how one can purchase a handgun on the sly through a third-party middleman and get it shipped to your office via FedEx, though I did assume my pocket was protected. I agreed that it did, adding, “Suffice it to say that I don’t have a gun permit.”