New York, New York

New York Solitaire

New York is a filthy place, through and through. So how have we convinced ourselves that it’s such a beautiful city? A game to sort through the trash and find a better life.

My feelings about New York began to change around the time I invented Woman of My Dreams. I can’t say that the game changed my experience of the city, but I do think its invention reflected a shift in attitude, a re-calibration, of sorts.

Previous to this, I was miserable here. It was an active, not a passive, misery. I knew I was unhappy and knew why. At that time, when describing the city to friends, I’d often use my ‘trash compactor’ analogy: ‘New York is everything good and everything bad smushed together in one giant trash compactor.’ I haven’t changed my mind about this—it’s incontrovertible as far as I’m concerned—I’ve just found ways to deal with it. Woman of My Dreams is one.

The game is simple. On a single trip to or from your apartment, you have to select a woman to spend the rest of your life with, choosing from among the women you see along the way. Once you make a selection, you can’t change your mind. So if you happen to spot a good candidate early on, you have to decide right then and there whether to choose her or to give her up forever. Neither choice is easy. If you choose her, you may miss out on someone better down the line. However, if you let her go, you may get stuck with someone considerably less desirable. Both things have happened to me, and neither is much fun. In fact several times I’ve gotten off the subway having picked no one, and thus had to settle for whomever I happened to pass on the brief walk to my building. In dire circumstances, I’ve even circled the block a few times, inventing errands. Worse still are the times I’ve made a conservative early selection, only to spot some quietly sexy librarian-type at the end of the subway platform, playing blues for change.

Wait. Inventing errands? Am I not confusing things? After all, we’re talking about a game here, which the next day I’ll likely play again, beginning from scratch (there are no ‘carry-overs’ in Woman of My Dreams). What difference does it make whom I end up with, since I’m not really going to end up with her? And whom am I ‘ending up with’ anyway? It’s not as though I know these women, nor even care to. It’s a game.

When I play Woman of My Dreams, I enter the world of the game. And in that world, whom I end up with matters. In fact it’s all that matters. Of course I know that it doesn’t really matter, that it’s really a made-up kind of mattering, but to dwell on that fact would be like dwelling on the artifice of a film or a story: as soon as you do it, the made-up world goes poof.

Woman of My Dreams only works to the degree that you give yourself to it. This is perhaps true of all things, but it is particularly true of this game. If you allow yourself to trade one choice for another, you undermine the drama inherent in choosing. This may not affect the present game, but what of the next? How difficult will future choices be knowing you can always undo them? What joy is there in winning a game that cannot be lost?

I meant to say something about New York, about how the turning point came, or was expressed, when I started making up games to play in the city. Woman of My Dreams came first; others soon followed. In Train Song I attempt to ‘will’ trains to appear, using a variety of improvised hocus-pocus: songs, little secret dances, counting rituals. In Swoosh I stare at people’s footwear and try to imagine their faces. In Love and Garbage I count how many beautiful things I can find in squalor.

Re-reading what I’ve written, I’m struck by the thought of this guy, me, who wanders through New York playing various forms of solitaire. Is he escaping something or embracing it? Both appear to be true, for his embrace is a form of escape. Which in some odd sense seems apt for New York, a city made of everything good and everything bad smushed together in one giant trash compactor.