First of all, I am typing this on my phone while walking around my backyard in wet swimming trunks. I can’t really see the screen. If you notice problems, please address your complaints to the editor of this publication, who lets me do this sort of thing.
I’ve just stepped out of the pool, where I was lazing around on a Thursday afternoon, watching sun-silvered water spill from the hot tub into the big basin, bubbles rising like domed cities, briefly shining, then popping. I could take the image as mere beauty; instead I’m processing it as commentary: It’s all temporary; the city’s doomed; we’re all gonna die. That sort of thing.
I feel guilty. This, for me, is middle-class living—middle-class living like a suburban pharaoh. It’s just not right. First of all, what am I doing at home this early? Secondly: Why do I have a small, blue lake in my Las Vegas yard when 50 million gallons of Colorado Basin groundwater just disappeared as if snatched up by aliens, or perhaps by owners of swimming pools. And then there’s the fact that not long ago I shared a byline on a water-conservation story headlined “Get Out of the Damn Shower!”
So let me solemnly set myself this goal: Before, or perhaps during, my next swim, I will stir myself to dream of a better way. This is difficult to do when you’re floating lazily on blue water on a Thursday afternoon, when the most reasonable conclusion is that there is no better way. But surely there must be a nice, dense answer to the sprawling question of how we shall live in our endangered Southwest. We should be more like New York, I’m told, where fire hydrants are plentiful, and quite refreshing, and not even the mightiest have their own quarter acre. We have so much to learn.
Three days have passed. As we know from the Gospels and the Final Four, a lot can happen in three days, but I have yet to find my answer to the big, floating question of how to live a responsible East Coast-y lifestyle while remaining an incorrigible son of the desert. I’ve read up on modish urban theory, taking my prescribed dose of Edward Glaeser, who wrote a book with the oddly fascistic title Triumph of the City, in which he urges us to resettle in cool coastal supercities and live in newly erected skyscrapers that don’t require central air. As the Beach Boys said, wouldn’t it be nice? Maybe I’ll find better answers in talking to my architect friends in town, who actually believe that our city ought to exist.
Meanwhile, I should study the Great American Cities, which is to say the Great American City, singular, which is to say, New York. But for the moment, my desire to learn about responsible urbanism from the city that never sleeps (wait, wasn’t that Vegas?) has been scuttled by a singular New York event: Sharknado 2: The Second One.
The evening after my peaceful swim, fate dropped this film upon my 13-year-old son and me. We tried to change the channel, but were helpless against the power of the twister. After exposing my boy to two hours of flying fangs and severed heads, I was prepared to call child-protective services and have myself removed from the home. But the heads were only the second-most disturbing thing about this movie; what haunted my dreams was the New York self-righteousness.
In a film that waterboarded us into conceding that nothing is so worth caring about that we can’t snicker at its destruction—how do you kill off Judd Hirsch?—the one thing we were asked to accept at face value was the toughness and communitarian zeal of those indomitable New Yorkers and their shark-catching pitchforks. In the original Sharknado, set in L.A., Angelenos were almost uniformly useless; in the Second One, New Yorkers are flinty. When Ian Ziering says “Even the Sharknados are tougher in New York,” he’s not taking a bite out of the Big Apple; he’s dipping it in honey.
If tough-guy posturing were the only problem, New York would be no more disturbing than, say, your average Southern congressman. But New York insists that it’s not only tough; it’s enlightened. Your average Southern congressman, wisely, refrains from enlightenment.
So, back to our Big Question: Is the Manhattan pattern of ultradense development a model for the benighted Southwest? In its forced togetherness, its insistence that we must hear one another’s toilets flush late at night, is this a more natural way of living, the proper heir to our ancestral villages, where we all bathed in the same river? Is this world of concrete towers, yellow taxis and prenatal elementary school waiting lists … organic?
It is, indeed, organic, for a 17th-century Dutch island settlement-turned-British-colonial-town-turned-American-city that became a maritime trade power and later the center of world finance. It also helps if such a place, relatively early in its history, becomes home to a critical mass of wealthy, ambitious people. And it’s even better if such an island is the continental gateway for millions of impoverished, freedom-seeking, low-wage immigrants willing to work extremely hard for those ambitious people.
As you can see, what applies to Manhattan applies to us all.
I’ve been reading a lot about New York’s absentee apartment owners from Hong Kong and Dubai, for whom entire ultraslim skyscrapers are being built on the fringes of Central Park. Old, inhabited buildings are torn down to make way for new uninhibited ones. We Las Vegans know that we can do this, too, because we built the Harmon. When we put our minds to it, we can do just about anything!
But first I’m going to take another swim.
Former Vegas Seven editor Greg Blake Miller is the director of Olympian Creative Coaching & Consulting—personal training for the creative mind. Visit OlympianCreative.com.