“Are There Common Things That Are Dangerous In New York?”
"Like... Tornadoes orrrrrr earthquakes?"; child takes a cautious interest in catastrophe; Daddy treads carefully
I only have the one kid, so I can’t tell if Kina is more obsessed with danger and darkness than the average child, but this week’s emergent theme of harm and threat seems very much in line with Kina’s fascinations in general over the last year. She binge-watches videos about insect stings, fast-forwards her cartoons to the bits where a tornado sucks up all the main characters, and will calmly enjoy the bits from Princess Mononoke in which people’s limbs are sliced off as she eats kernels of popcorn.
I’m not particularly inclined to say she’s been desensitized to violence, so much as that she’s not yet sure what the violence signifies or leads to. Still, after a recent spate of nightmares, it seems that she’s starting to evaluate the risk of being near things that are dangerous, and that includes New York.
As she and I quietly drove back from her cousin’s birthday on Wednesday night, she randomly asked me whether or not there were things in the city that were dangerous, and drew as examples upon the things she’s most likely to think are dangerous: tornadoes and earthquakes principally, with a slightly less pointed curiosity about limb-slashing.
I kind of paused over the tornado thing, because there are tornadoes in New York, but not like there are in Oklahoma (where I lived for a few years as a kid), which makes me think that our twisters are just amateur twisters and not worth mentioning. Yes, I told her, but they are very rare. Earthquakes, also, in theory but not in practice. I moved here, I told her, in part because there’s not a lot of those dangerous things. (True!) But then I got to thinking—
I am afraid of this place, sometimes, for the many things the city can do to you. Bike wrecks, of course, but also blackouts and floods and hurricanes, the periodic terrorist attack and generally crumbling infrastructure. The entire city sewage system feels like a delicate machine, as does its water supply, and don’t get me started on the roads.
Cars, one of which today’s readers will recall I was driving at the time Kina asked this question, are particularly terrifying. New Yorkers live packed like sardines into a web of raceways navigated by speeding metal hornets the size of small whales. Crossing the street—especially since the restocking of the city after lockdown—is very much like walking into a gunfight. I do not enter intersections lightly with Kina, and I am doing everything in my power to make her afraid of the street, because it is by far the most dangerous thing she will encounter on most days.
That, and late-stage capitalism. But at the end, I told her: “potholes”. We can get into it another day, when the scary movie ends.