Aug 20, 2010 | New York, NY
Aug 20, 2010

We were driving in from the airport and moving through the cars.

"You know what," he said. "It's amazing all the traffic. I just can't believe all the traffic after Iceland."

"I just can't believe all the everything after Iceland," I said.

I went to Central Park in the morning to try to get away from the everything and back into things that were growing. I was walking near the pond and through the trees I could hear screaming. I could hear screaming and then I heard silence — well not really silence but the absence of screaming which in New York is basically silence. Then there was screaming again and then the screaming stopped again and then it was clear that the screaming was fake.

It was 8:30 AM and the rapper Usher was performing in the park for Good Morning America. When the producers told the crowd to scream like maniacs the crowd would scream like maniacs. When it was not necessary to scream like maniacs the crowd just looked around and mumbled.

Anyone who turned on the TV would see a crowd of screaming maniacs and they would see Usher turning around through columns of steam and they would see people dancing along in the sunlight under the trees and they would think that was how it was in New York in the morning. But that wasn't really how it was in New York in the morning — just when the cameras were on.

"Oh shit," said the woman behind me, "Usher done busted out the suspenders!" And he was, in fact, now wearing suspenders, because he had put them on when the cameras were off.

They had big plasma screens on either side of the stage, showing the crowd what they showed on TV. The TV feed was a few seconds behind real life, and if it was all you had to see, there would be a lot you wouldn't see.

You would see an SUV rumbling over a mountain, a smiling woman washing dishes, a kid eating cereal, a gray man in a green field talking all about Viagra, and then you would see Usher facing away, and you would hear screaming, and you would see five loud columns of steam shoot up on either side of him, and you would see him turning around, and then you'd see the crowd, and you would see them screaming and waving their hands in the air and shouting all the words and you would see all of that and all of that would make you want it so bad.

It would make you want the car on the hill and the soap in the sink and the food in the bowl and the pill to keep your dick up, and of course you would want the body and money of Usher and the luck of the crowd to be there under the trees in New York in the morning — to sing and to gawk and to dance but mainly to be a part of it all. And when you turn off the TV to go on with your day, you'd be nicely conditioned to think how hard you can work to make enough cash to buy the car and the soap and the food and the pills and the tickets to make your very inadequate life a little more like the lives of the people you saw on TV in New York in the morning.

You wouldn't really know that those people you saw on TV don't really exist, but that wouldn't really matter anyway, because once you got to feeling that way, you could be pretty sure you were back in America and doing your part to keep it all going. Because when an illusion gets too big, the damage it would cause by collapsing is far more terrible than the damage of keeping it going.

It's a simple and sensible tradeoff — kind of like trading a car crash for cancer.