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Excerpt from Feral City by Jeremiah Moss, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Feral City

On Finding Liberation in Lockdown New York

by Jeremiah Moss

Feral City by Jeremiah Moss X
Feral City by Jeremiah Moss
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  • Published:
    Oct 2022, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Twice a day, I check my temperature and clip my finger into a pulse oximeter. I try not to slide into the darkest dark of pandemic panic. It's like treading water, sinking down, and fighting back to the surface. Some of the people I love get sick. Some of the people I love lose people they love. The numbers of the dead keep rising. Hundreds a day. I develop a dry cough with a sore throat. Is this it? There's no way to get tested and I wish for a mild case, just to get it over with.

I am fortunate to work from home, seeing patients over video. Some leave the city and some stay. Some are untroubled by the virus while others worry about the water supply turning toxic, the food running out, the plague exterminating most of humanity and sending the rest of us to Mad Max Thunderdome. Those who left feel guilty about leaving and wonder: Did I do the right thing? Those who stayed feel regretful about staying and wonder: Did I do the right thing? Some get the virus and fall sick with fever. They want to know if I'm safe. Did they infect me when we last met face to face? In another time, I would have analyzed that fear, traced its history, uncovered the wish to infect, to be taken in by the other, but now I only reassure. I'm okay. Some want to know where I am. Did I leave or stay? I am here, I say, following up with the analyst's eternal question: What does that mean to you? The ones who've stayed say, "I'm glad you're here because it feels like we're going through this together. You know what it's like." When I see my own therapist over video, away in his country house, I'm glad for his safety but feel distant. A barrier has risen that keeps me inside while he's out there, protected and free. I see the forest outside his windows, ventilated and clean, and when he gives me advice on how to survive the plagued city, I say, "You don't know what it's like to be here," a statement I've been making my entire life.

My upstairs neighbors get sick. They walk the stairs, gasping for breath. From behind my door the coughs sound lethal, glutinous and Cronenbergian. The virus, experts say, lingers in the air for hours, aerosolized clouds of death I walk through when I go to check the mail, though the mail doesn't come anymore. I cover the gaps around my door with weather sealing tape. I worry about the man upstairs who lives alone. I haven't heard his piano in days, but I'm too afraid to knock.

When corona first hit, building management posted a notice: "We take this matter very seriously. We will maintain extra cleanings throughout the season of this virus." For a week, maybe two, they kept their promise, filling the halls with the reassuring bite of bleach. But when the more valuable market-rate people left, the cleanings stopped. Sometimes I think we have been left here to die.

Not all who left are bored millennials gone back to the suburbs. Many are the superrich, skipped to the Hamptons. Others are middle-class professionals like myself, but with modest country houses in upstate New York and New England. Some are my friends. On Facebook, I see photos of their gardens and trees, the spacious kitchens where they bake sourdough bread like American pioneers. Is there a word for envying what you do not want? These are people I love, and their lives in exile look pleasant enough, but I'm not built that way. Sometimes, I wish I were. Life, I am told, would be soft and breezy. And yet the last thing I want is a country house. It would require leaving the city every weekend and I don't like to leave the city. I don't want to go hiking and I don't want to bake bread. Whenever I go on vacation, I get a little depressed. In a country house I might disappear, succumbing to daytime television and mild suicidal ideation. So, when I ask myself, "If I had someplace to go, would I leave New York?" the answer is clear.

Given the choice, what makes one person stay and another go? Maybe it comes down to attachment. How attached are you to New York? How deeply are the tendrils of the city intertwined with your nervous system? When you're away, do you go into withdrawal? Do you experience anxiety, nausea, fatigue, malaise? If you can leave New York and freely enjoy the pleasures of the countryside, the quiet spaciousness of a house, consider yourself lucky. Call it pathological, but for some of us, the affect of the city mirrors our own and it's the only environment where we feel functional. New York has ruined other places for me. Even when I visit other cities, I feel off. The light is wrong, the bricks are wrong, the air is tinted an entirely wrong color and my body feels wrong moving through it. Like an ocean-dwelling fish dropped in fresh water, I miss the salt, that bitter grit. This appetite requires a certain disposition, the sort that some call "cranky," a descriptor often thrown at me. And Fran Lebowitz. When The New Yorker asks if she would ever flee the city, especially now, Lebowitz replies, "Never. It didn't even occur to me." She finds it shocking that anyone would want to leave during a disaster. "I'm not leaving. In fact, I feel that I am like the designated New Yorker. Everyone else can leave."

Excerpted from Feral City: On Finding Liberation in Lockdown New York by Jeremiah Moss. Copyright © 2022 by Jeremiah Moss. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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