Saturday, August 05, 2006

Sister cities

I can't remember whether it was Damon Runyon or O. Henry who called New York "Baghdad On the Hudson," but for thousands of New Yorkers, that's what it felt like last week: unspeakable heat, no electricity, sporadic running water and phone service, long lines for stopgap meals from the Red Cross. No car bombs, of course, but plenty of explosions and flames shooting out of manholes, and the stench came from rotting food, not corpses. The elected leadership was not much in evidence; neither Mayor Bloomberg nor Governor Pataki is seeking re-election, and they showed little interest in the situation. Pataki cherishes a fantasy of running for President, and probably assumed that a prolonged blackout in part of his state's largest city would be forgotten before the Iowa caucuses, more than a year from now. Mickey B is only an amateur politician, so it took four days for his hired hands to persuade him to visit Astoria ("It's the place you drive through to get to the airport, sir"). When he did make the trek, police kept the peasants at a safe distance while the mayor sang the praises of Kevin Burke, the head con man at Con Edison. True, it wouldn't have helped for Mickey to put on a hard hat and climb down into the ground, but it's the appearance of the thing.

New Yorkers were outraged to find themselves transformed into a third-world city. Anyone would be. We thought we were making Iraqis live like this so Americans wouldn't have to. You know, the oil? Actually, there was plenty of power, just no way to deliver it through cables dating back to the Lindsay administration. Decades ago, when "The Tonight Show" came from New York, Johnny Carson could always get a laugh by mentioning "Con Edison, our Mickey Mouse power company." These days, it's more like Whack-a-Mole: Lights go on in Queens, lights go off in Staten Island. The system has needed an overhaul since Carson left for Los Angeles, and clearly hasn't had one. Some people might think that keeping the electricity on in America's largest city is the sort of thing some federal agency should look into. It's almost a question of...homeland security.

As the world's temperature rises and its reasoning powers dwindle, I'm afraid we will all find out how fragile civilization really is. A hot spell here, a hurricane there, large states ruled by incompetents and small ones run by the clinically insane, angry people with nothing to lose, helpless people with nowhere to go, and we're looking at interesting times.


Blogger sydneyland said...

Dear Buttermilk,

The image of Con Edison as a "Wack-a-Mole" game is very marketable, and could make ya a bundle this X-MAS! Get a hold of some art supplies at Canal Paint, and cook somethin' up! Remember "Monopoly" was designed on a peice of cardboard with crayons, and finger paint.

There's no time to lose if ya start now you could have a few thousand units of the "Get Even with Con ED" game ready for the street'n and shops in Queens'n Brooklyn by Thanksgive'n.

It'll be the "hip" gift of the season. It may get a mention on "NY1", and or the "New Yorker!"All them surviors of the 200f heatwave will still have road rage at Con Ed, in on it!

Opportunity has just knocked,...anybody home?!

Your everthoughtful Uncle Sidney

11:38 PM  

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