Manhattan is a grid of streets, and the pretentious provincialism of its chauvinistic inhabitants has been ridiculed, lovingly by many, most famously by Saul Steinberg. I encounter the grid tribesmen occasionally, I mean those who see themselves as such, or at least a segment of that population: white, professional, more or less liberal. (In Europe, perhaps they would be called bourgeois.) Their company makes me uneasy – I feel as if I’m struggling for breath in an airless room if I’m with more than two at a time. Bunuel makes me laugh at it.
It’s the suffocating atmosphere of caste. I guess I am with Groucho Marx who quipped that he didn’t want to join any club that would have him as a member. I have a bit of envy of people who can so strongly link themselves to a place and a scene, like a barnacle that’s found a home, but I also find it upleasantly restrictive. Nostalgia is not an emotion I feel very much.
It’s all very personal: When I meet people like this, I sometimes feel as if they are checking me out unconsciously and automatically, seeking to determine if I know the secret handshake or eye movment that signifies that I am of the tribe. Intelligent? Went to a “good” school? Lives in what neighborhood..? Politics okay, check!” “Oh hell, just tell me what you think, if you think!”
I guess I’m a wee bit oversensitive, but you see, I come from the antipodes of The Grid. I am from The Valley.
These photos are from a high school classmate, c. 1975. That decor, those colors, that landscape, the plush pointless comfortable mentality of it all…how I loathed it. To move east to attend a university was my dream and my escape. Those were the thoughts of a silly teenager – it was hardly hell on earth. And as I learned, the urban sophisticates of the east could be equally boring and trivial, not to mention pretentious.