The American Claimant is technically a sequel to The Gilded Age, but it has more in common with The Prince and the Pauper: the plot involves the hayseed con artist from Gilded (now portrayed as thoroughly addled) attempting to claim a British earldom, while the actual heir to that earldom rejects the aristocracy and comes to America where, it is said, all are equal. Of course, what he finds is that the US is just as stratified as Britain; the difference is that US classes are based not on inherited nobility but on pure wealth. This book was cranked out in two months (Huck Finn, by contrast, took ten years) and it shows, but it does have some funny bits. (The hayseed, thinking he has the ashes of a nobleman's child who perished in a fire, decides to send the ashes to the father in three installments: "break it to him by degrees," he reasons.)

I went to New York this weekend for the first time since '02 on a business trip. I cannot believe I lasted there for twelve months.

First I went to Brooklyn. I had forgotten what self-parodies Brooklynites can be — I sat in Di Fara Pizza for an hour and a half (it's still just one old man making the pizzas and now that the word has spread about the place it takes a good ninety minutes just to get a single slice) and watched these creatures straight out of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors wander in and out... swaggering primates trying to establish themselves as alpha males of the corner pizzeria. Barking orders at the proprietor's daughter at 140 decibels, loudly observing, "Yo, looks like he's gonna die any minute," as the poor guy tried to make his pies... in the past I've said that the problem with New York was that everyone seemed to be seething with hostility all the time, but I think I've been misreading the situation: I interpreted New Yorkers' lack of politeness as hostility, but maybe politeness is simply not part of NYC culture and so the rudeness doesn't signify actual malice. But even so, it's not a culture I really want to spend much time in.

Got back to my hotel, went right to bed since I had to get up early... woke up, and found that the room had been trashed. The main shower fixtures had been ripped out of the wall, leaving the end of a pipe sticking out at calf level, and I couldn't even wash my hair in the sink because the sink had no bottom. The thermostat was dangling uselessly from the wall... the Who could hardly have done a better job wrecking the place. I went downstairs to complain and was greeted with no concern whatsoever. Because, y'know, it's New York — shit happens.

After the meeting I went to dinner at my favorite burrito place in town and discovered that I had been away from NYC long enough to have regained some much-needed perspective. $9.50 for a burrito is insane. But not quite as insane as the fact that the hotel room I was talking about above — which, thankfully, was billed to the company — went for THREE HUNDRED AND NINE damn dollars. And ninety-five cents.

On Sunday I ended up walking seven and a half miles. When I lived in the city I hated being forced to walk places — we lived fifteen blocks from the nearest subway station, which meant a good forty minutes of being exposed to the (usually awful) elements any time I wanted to go somewhere. But I will concede that it's nice to have the option of walking places. I had some time to kill so I ended up wandering from 8th and 49th to Madison and 42nd to 1st and St. Marks to Madison and 25th to 7th and 34th before leaving town. What struck me as I wandered around was the way that, in good weather, the city felt like a bad mall. In New York, the rain or sleet or stifling heat or whatever is often the only real cue that you're outside — everything around you is artificial, pavement under your feet, glass and brick and concrete all around you, no topography, no horizon. I need to see a mountain to feel like I'm outside. Or at least a hill. Even a tree that hasn't been planted by landscapers will do the trick in a pinch. Perhaps it is a similar sense of not really being outside that makes both pedestrians and drivers seem to feel that traffic laws don't actually apply to them.

One last NYC anecdote: Sunday morning I woke up and started walking to my meeting. Along the way I passed a strip club. It was open. I thought, "Who goes to a strip club at 8:30 on a Sunday morning?" At which point the guy in front of me did a sharp turn and walked in.

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