Little New York Bastard is a deceptively simple account: Raskin, disgusted by New York City (I quote the book’s opening here), finally decides to go somewhere else. That’s it!
As well as searching for a place that will inspire him, he also wants some other things:
All I wanted was to be anonymous. I wanted to be able to go places and do things without being hassled by stupid people and unoriginal and uncreative people[.] [pg. 7]
[…] I was thinking of going someplace that was nice and autumn-like, and wide open. I wanted to find a place where the people were all friendly and all very smart, and where I could be anonymous and exempt from social rules. […] [pg 11]
What makes the book a wonderful work and gives it meat and depth are Raskin’s spot-on observations of the creatures he has to share oxygen with — such as this young woman who accosts him while he’s at college, which leads to a wider observation about modern people in general:
I was looking at her like she was completely out of her mind. She used the words whatever and like as if they were going out of style, just like every other schmuck I meet these days. This is the pathetic way people talk today. It also amused me very much how she said he [her current boyfriend] was “cute.” You will never know how much I hate it when people say ridiculous dribble like that. Why is everyone cute these days? I don’t think anyone realizes what the hell they’re saying anymore — or how stupid they sound when they say it. You really have to wonder what the hell is wrong with some of these people. And I’m sure this guy was such a nice guy, too. Whenever a girl says that, you can bet your ass that he’s really some piece of excrement who has a hard time even affording his drug habit. Usually, these girls end up getting beaten to death by these “nice guys.” I don’t have any pity for them either, to be honest with you. If you’re too stupid and insecure to to get rid of some lowlife, then you aren’t worth two cents, in my opinion. [pg. 20]
And the guests at a Hampton Inn he stayed at during his travels:
The room was full of very old people who had teenagers with them. Most of them looked to be up the creek in bad health — even the teenagers. They all had really bad haircuts and really bad teeth. To be completely forthcoming with you, everyone in that joint looked like a product of incest to me. I’m sure they weren’t, but they sure as hell did a good imitation. And you know the most insane thing was that they were all looking at me like I was an escaped mental patient who had a hook for a hand. I wasn’t being paranoid either. Every single product of incest in that room was looking at me like he wanted to kill me. […] [pg. 72]
And there are his astute observations of places, such as Elmhurst (Illinois):
[…] I realize that I’ve told you about some pretty strange places up to this point, but Elmhurst was in a class by itself. As soon as I got to the city limits I knew that I was far away from my element. What a Nazi-looking town. Seriously, this town was so clean and so pompous-looking, it was unbelievable. There were all of these huge white houses all over the place, and school buses with stop signs on them, and ice cream trucks on every other street. What a lunatic place. It looked like one of those towns in the after-school special movies, the ones that always have some real kooky story about some elementary school teacher who decides to have her husband whacked because he doesn’t screw her the right way or let her drive the convertible. And if you think I’m exaggerating about this place, just listen to what the welcome sign said: “Welcome to Elmhurst, A Proud Community.” I mean, what the hell kind of a place do you think you’re in if you see a sign like that? You’re in hell, that’s where you are. Man did I stick out in that joint. If you know anyone who’s been to Elmhurst, you should ask them about it. Go ahead, see if they agree with me. See if they think I’m exaggerating. Knowing people these days, they’ll probably tell you what a beautiful little town it is. And maybe they’re right — maybe it’s beautiful to look at, but to a guy like me who grew up playing tennis on housing project tennis courts, that place was about as comfortable as undersized Underoos. [pg. 97]
Reality smacks his face while apartment hunting:
[…] Unfortunately, I only found one place with a kitchen window to my liking […] [a]nd this place actually had a sign outside with a price tag. This is what it said: “Apartments for rent: 1 bedroom, $1600/month, 2 bedroom, $1900/month.” What in the hell kind of prices are those? Is that justified, I ask you? That sign made me so sick to my stomach that I felt like hurling right there — right on the sign. There was no way under the sun I could find any two-bit job that would pay me that kind of money. And I still had to pay car insurance and all those other idiotic bills we’re responsible for in this stupid world. I stood there and stared at that sign for a good ten minutes. I kept thinking that maybe I was misreading it or misunderstanding it. Sixteen hundred bucks for a one bedroom — what the hell is wrong with these people? What the hell kind of a corrupt society are we living in? To charge that much for a stinking dump is highway robbery, as far as I’m concerned. And those people who set the prices ought to have their tongues chopped off and fed to vultures. I hate those no good, greedy sons of bitches. [pgs. 130-131]
The road trip is, ultimately, fruitless. Raskin knew from the start, in his bones, that what he was looking for could only be found within himself. But it took getting away to start that trip.
If there was ever a song for this book, it would be Morrissey‘s How Could Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel.
And as for finding The place, Baudelaire didn’t need Google Maps when he wrote N’importe où hors du monde (Any where out of the world).
Raskin’s book is a great debut that would make any writer jealous.
[Excerpts Copyright © 2003 M. Dylan Raskin. Excerpts used without explicit permission under the Fair Use provisions of Copyright law. CopyNazis can go fuck themselves.]