George and the Jungle

For the past few days, New Yorkers and conventioneers alike have been asking the same question: Why here? For a handful, the question has a special urgency. Midtown restaurant owner Po Yu saw business plummet fivefold, worse than after 9/11. And conventioneer Daniel Suhr was punched in the head by a protester at the Youth Convention, shortly after watching Jenna and Barbara reprise their previous night’s performance (no word on which was more painful). But for most, the question was simply one of those little puzzlers. “It sounded kind of stupid,” said Carol “Bucky” Smith of Texas about the GOP-NYC pairing. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The pundits’ familiar answer—it’s all about September 11—is true, but limited. In a broader sense, the party came to this city for the same reason all tourists do: because they hope a little will rub off on them. Everyone who visits New York is looking for a piece of magic to take home. They Wouldn’t Want to Live Here, they’ll make sure everyone knows, but there will be days when everything back home feels too ordinary, and they’ll uncork a New York memory and think, I’ve been someplace special. The Montana cowboys who gawk at Times Square’s Naked Cowboy—this week sporting a Bush sticker on his guitar—are storing a piece of him to take back to the ranch. (New Yorkers wish they’d take all of him, but that’s another story.)

Many New Yorkers resent that the particular piece of the city’s “magic” Republicans are squirreling away as a psychic souvenir is 9/11. The objection is partly a political one. According to a new Zogby poll that no major media outlet has dared report, nearly half of all city residents believe that some leaders in the U.S. government “knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act.” And you don’t have to be conspiracy-minded to believe that 9/11 has been exploited.

But the objection is also an emotional one that transcends politics. It’s a magnified version of the well-known scorn New Yorkers feel for any visitors who stare too hard at the skyline or the homeless people. Sure, we tell ourselves that what we’re feeling is superiority to country rubes, but deep inside we’re also envious. We wish we could still see something magical in buildings that to us have become just offices. We wish we were not so inured to the suffering of someone begging for change.

And we wish those empty spaces in the downtown sky were buildings missing only from photographs, reminders of something we only saw on television.

George and the Jungle