As a teaser to the book here is the introduction to Why New Yorkers Smoke:
“A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.”– E. B. White Here is New York 1948
FEAR IS AN EMOTION that a lot of New Yorkers live with even if they don’t like to acknowledge it visibly. The city is a place where just about anything can happen at any moment. But what is it like when New Yorkers truly find themselves face to face with fear? As a New Yorker myself I live daily with artifacts and memories, the quiet panic and cold eyed encounters that can blow up at any moment and pull the ground right out from under your feet. New York City demands much from its inhabitants including involvement and aloofness. Many times New Yorkers have to be both emotionally hot and cold at the same moment. Outsiders have some trouble understanding this dual mindset but anyone who comes here — not just as a tourist — and spends any amount of time dwelling in any of the five boroughs will soon understand and develop the right attitude to fit right in and not stand out to would-be predators.
Many New Yorkers are not born here. They are drawn here by some uncanny allure. It is as if the city has become the back streets for the country, streets full of seedy looking bars from which strange music and laughter emanated, enticing the brave, the adventurous and the foolhardy. The balance of temptation and trepidation has always existed in a place that the native Indian tribe was quick to sell to Dutch traders. This collection is a fictional attempt to present some of the terror in the hearts and minds of a few of the sundry gathering of people that have chosen to live here despite all the warnings and I-told-you-so comments from outsiders.
The storytellers in this book weave a spell of fear and anxiety in juxtaposition with my city. While many Americans have felt this fear over the past decade, few have lived on the frontlines. All of the authors presented have some connection to the city. Some are born here (Barry N. Malzberg, Greenberg). Some have lived here in the past (Scott Edelman). Some are emotionally bonded to it (Don Webb and Paul Di Filippo). Most make their home here (Carol Emshwiller, Aligria Luna-Luz, Laxey, Lawrence Greenberg, Paige Quayle, Gay Terry and Becky Roth). And, as a sidebar, this volume forces me into thinking that Brooklyn has become the present day equivalent of the Paris of Hemingway and Joyce. But these writers’ Paris sojourns had little real impact on their writing. Today Brooklyn has become the Left Bank of New York City, even if that borough is on the right side of the East River. Hemingway and Joyce went to Paris partly because it was cheaper to live there, and some of this still applies to Brooklyn writers, but there is no Manhattan/Brooklyn class tension on display in Why New Yorkers Smoke. The economy has gone bad for everyone.
It’s not just a New Yorker thing — all Americans are now expected to live in dread 24/7. Our media has become very good at promoting spontaneous fear and loathing since 9/11. Of course they will deny it but all one has to do is pay attention to the-sky-is-falling TV weather reports, when a big storm is brewing, to see a basic scenario of how things work. Bob Dylan, like E. B. White, now appears more prescient when he said, during the 1960s, that one did not have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Whether media is following the piper or leading the horde still remains to be seen.
Fear has been in our bones since our ancestors first built a fire at the mouth of a cave and searched the darkness outside for glowing eyes. It is not going away any time soon. This book does not promote fear. It is not propaganda. It is not a chronicle of catastrophes. Fear can inflame ignorance, which is the opposite of our intent here. This book does show that the boogie man is a slippery character. He is not always who you would expect him to be. It would behoove us all to discriminate between real and imagined boogiemen. These stories are a start.