The View of a Survivor
March 24, 2019
This fifteen-story New York apartment building, 290 Riverside Drive, was built in 1924. It sits on an elevation, separated from the Hudson River by the green swath of Riverside Park, which is threaded by the Henry Hudson Parkway and Riverside Drive. Although my apartment, 14C, can be a bit chilly and drafty when the wind and rain blow out of the northeast, it is never really threatened by any weather. On my TV here, I have for years watched news programs showing floods in other parts of the country and in northern New Jersey across the river—floods that completely destroyed people’s homes—but no such disaster has ever mounted the slope of Riverside Park to hit our building. Other parts of New York City are more vulnerable—some subway tunnels toward the southern end of Manhattan Island were destroyed by the storm called Sandy in 2012, resulting in damage that is still being repaired—but my home has been spared.
From this apartment, one can safely watch news of disasters of all kinds elsewhere in the world—earthquakes in Japan, hurricanes in Florida and Texas, tornadoes in the Midwest, fires and mudslides in California—but the only sort of danger that seems very present here is fire. The landlord regularly sends us literature on what to do in case of fire, and the Fire Department has visited to tell us, for instance, not to store our bicycles on our elevator landings, because they could obstruct our escape in case of fire. The main precaution I have taken for the danger of fire is to digitize and publish my most important records, sending copies of them elsewhere; so I think the only real fire worry I have to have is for my own life.
From this safe perch, after reaching the age of seventy-three, I have become philosophical watching the disasters in other places. Why have I been chosen for such relative comfort when so much of the world is collapsing and going up in flames? In terms of manmade violence and destruction, the world is passing through bad times in places like Syria, Yemen, and Myanmar: what lessons can I draw from these stories, and what threats to myself or to the world are posed by the news?
Much is heard of how the world is changing with the advent of Donald Trump and leaders like him: people who appeal to the selfishness, the reactionary tendencies, the insularity, the racism, of the majorities of their countries. In truth, sitting in an apartment on Riverside Drive in New York, I don’t have much exposure to the less agreeable aspects of immigration and refugee resettlement that Trump has exploited. I don’t personally know any Californian who has been attacked by an undocumented immigrant. I’m not an ordinary Frenchman or German who has been run over by a Muslim behind the steering wheel of a runaway truck. I’m not even a worker who has lost his job because his employer has shifted his business to a lower-cost locale. I do face some unique and personal barriers, and have been through a harrowing and painful history, as I have tried to document in my writings; but I can’t be sure that my story and my personal grievances are more pressing to be heard than the self-interested reformism (“healthcare for all”) and principled even-handedness (“we are a nation of immigrants”) that is presented to the American public today by the Democratic Party. Certain corrections, however, eventually have to be made.
My previous volume, published nearly a year ago, was titled In the Temple of the Philistines. Since its appearance, I have encountered some alarming sights—police cars racing toward a museum that I have named as the executor and beneficiary of my estate, or people walking past me carrying cameras with enormous lenses, and so on—but the “temple” is still standing, and the threats and harassment of my environment may have let up a bit. I feel a bit freer than I did in November 2016, when I quickly flew to Britain to look into retiring there, or in January 2017, when I looked into moving to California. I don’t know what might happen if I am assassinated—if there is a “Big Bang.” I am chagrined that I may be prevented from knowing at least some of that future as a spectator. I did not ask for a starring role, or any role, in this movie. I may as well continue to write, to develop my story and my views, and to make them as clear and accessible as I can.