Best of Manhattan 2001: Normal’s Not an Ordinary Word

Written by Russ Smith on . Posted in Best of Manhattan, Posts.

Not surprisingly, New
Press’ 14th annual Best of Manhattan issue is as subdued
as the city itself.

It was originally
planned for Sept. 19, but we pushed back publishing our largest annual edition
for several obvious reasons. Primarily, in the midst of New York City’s
most severe crisis, with so many citizens mourning the innocents murdered by
terrorists, there wasn’t much enthusiasm among our staff to proceed on
schedule. Also, like so many other businesses disrupted by the surprise attack,
our own infrastructure–phone lines, website, computers–was compromised
to the extent that it would’ve been difficult to produce our most popular

the pleas from Mayor Giuliani and President Bush for Americans to return to
a semblance of "normalcy," any New Yorker knows that that’s impossible.
Still, as always, there’s much to celebrate about the city, and in the
following pages you’ll find several hundred idiosyncratic snippets of opinion
from our heterogeneous group of writers about this slice of the United States
we’re all proud to call home.

Bear in
mind that much of "Best of" was researched, composed and factchecked
before the unspeakable tragedy of Sept. 11; sadly, some of the downtown establishments
touted inside were devastated by the events of that day. It’s our hope
that readers will consider the pages of recommendations, discover and possibly
patronize the restaurants, boutiques and unique shops that were, and still are,
affected by the immediate destruction and ensuing lack of access to their front

not to say this Best of Manhattan is a sugar-coated testimonial to the city,
in the tradition of feckless publications like New York, countless weeklies
that trade editorial endorsements for advertisements, or condescending (and
perhaps clueless) booster-magazines like Time Out New York. Switching
gears in such a manner wouldn’t be honest; in fact, it would justifiably
call into question the very integrity of New York Press.

Those who’ve
had the fortitude to read accounts of the bombings and the aftermath already
know about the colossal heroism demonstrated by the FDNY, NYPD, Rudy Giuliani,
doctors, nurses, countless volunteers and the men and women who rushed from
other states to help in any way they could. The number of blood donors, restaurateurs
who donated food to the rescue workers and people who’ve given money for
the cause–including philanthropists, corporations and kids emptying their
wallets and piggy banks–has been astonishing, and is certainly proof of
why so many of us choose to live in New York City.

not every story is uplifting. Those who’ve looted damaged stores, perpetrated
cruel hoaxes about missing persons and tried to turn a buck from the tragedy
with bogus website appeals and telemarketing are the vermin that infest and
infect any large city. We hope as many of these criminals as possible are apprehended
and spared no mercy by the judicial system.

There are
also New Yorkers who’ve hindered the recovery process in less heinous but
still vaguely malevolent ways. I happen to live below Canal St.–as of this
writing the demarcation line of the no-vehicle zone–and can say with certainty
that it’ll be a long time before Tribeca, the financial district and Battery
Park return to a semblance of "normalcy." Fires still erupt from the
wreckage; the smoke and stench in the air is thick; and the blank faces of neighbors
trying to go about their daily lives are haunting. Just last week I was speaking
to a cop–the process of presenting photo ID and proof of residence is now
an ingrained routine–and he told me how dozens of tourists have begged
him to retrieve a piece of rubble from "Ground Zero" for a souvenir.

No novelist
could make up this sick state of mind.

Far worse
has been not only the harassment of law-abiding Arab-Americans, but the xenophobic
taunts aimed at almost every group of immigrants, whether they’re Asian,
Hispanic, Russian or Indian. There’s a deli in my neighborhood, on Reade
St., that remained open 24 hours a day after the bombings, despite the lack
of electricity. The managers at the store provided flashlights for customers
and quickly depleted their shelves of perishables and sent them to the rescue
teams. About a week after Sept. 11, I was buying some groceries there when a
nasty woman shrieked to the crowd outside that the proprietor of the deli was
a "pirate," trying to take advantage of the crisis by jacking up prices.

the woman was simply hysterical and unglued by the awful events, but her tirade,
which caused a stir in the immediate vicinity, was wrong. Despicable. True,
it’s more expensive to shop at the bodegas and delis that dot the city–they
haven’t the financial strength of, say, a Food Emporium–but it’s
this kind of disinformation that’s so harmful in an emergency and also
propels discrimination against "foreigners."

The United
States has justifiably declared a war against terrorism and the rogue nations
that aid and abet the diabolical zealots who aim to destroy modern civilization.
Predictably, our country’s academic institutions have mobilized impressionable
students to demonstrate against the U.S. government and provide moral succor
to the people who murdered 7000 of their fellow citizens. Dissent and free speech
are basic and crucial privileges of living in a democracy, and so there’s
no quarrel from this corner about the antiwar activity, however distasteful–and
disrespectful of the dead–it may be.

But one
of the awful consequences of Sept. 11 is that even if terrorism is eradicated
to the extent possible, and the country does return to peacetime, President
Bush’s visionary views about immigration have been dealt a fatal blow.
I don’t expect students to fully understand the far-reaching implications
of this national disaster–American history and the Constitution aren’t
emphasized in college curriculums–but surely the masses of citizens who’ve
immigrated to the United States and prospered realize this is a catastrophic
setback for the country.

not returning to "normal."

The following
writers and artists contributed to this issue: Spencer Ackerman, Doug Allen,
Andrew Baker, Lynda Barry, Katia Bassal, William Bryk, Alan Cabal, Christopher
Carbone, Russell Christian, Mike Doughty, Marty Dundics, Tristan Eaton, Fly,
Anna Godbersen, Marcellus Hall, Adam Heimlich, Danny Hellman, Nina Ippolito,
Mary Karam, Lisa Kearns, Julee Kim, Jim Knipfel, Richard Kostelanetz, Mimi Kramer,
mlteague, Lisa LeeKing, Paul Leschen, Lane Lipton, Jason Little, Don MacLeod,
Erik Maniscalco, Noah Masterson, Adam Mazmanian, Sarah Miller, Tony Millionaire,
MUGGERJr., Carolyn Nash, John Nebesney, Eva Neuberg, Andrew Perkowski,
William S. Repsher, Wendy Reynolds, Tanya Richardson, Roxy, Jane Sanders, Emily
Schuch, Sarah Shanok, Andrey Slivka, Russ Smith, Akiko Stehrenberger, John
Strausbaugh, C.J. Sullivan, Neil Swaab, Stacey Szewczyk, George Tabb, Wendy
Tabb, J.R. Taylor, Lionel Tiger, Don Trachte, Daria Vaisman, Christian Viveros-Fauné,
Ned Vizzini, Mike Wartella, Wayno, Jessica Willis, Antony Zito.