Our Great Inferiority Complex

This is an addendum of sorts to last week’s column about New York City.

As I walked the crowded garbage-strewn streets of Manhattan and rode the hot-stink-steam-bath subways, it was easy to tell the tourists from the New Yorkers.

The tourists were the ones with eyes wide open, excited, a little bit afraid, rarely alone, always looking-looking-looking, either at something or away from someone.

The New Yorkers, on the other hand, were tired or preoccupied or slightly annoyed. As they shouldered through the streets, they never looked up from their phones or newspapers, their minds set on where they were headed or where they just left, ever-present white wires dangling from their ears.

On the subways -- seated or standing -- they dozed or read or stared blankly into space, oblivious of their surroundings or who was watching them. They’d seen it all.

New York is where they live -- by choice or by circumstance -- and they could not give two shits what you or anyone else thinks about them or their city. They already know it's the best city in the world.

What a contrast to Omaha, where there’s a constant search for affirmation by its timid citizens that they’ve made the right choice. They’ve heard all the jokes before. The “fly-over country” references. The idiotic “Nebraska flatland” comments. And they’re mad. That’s why every time Omaha is mentioned in another “best of” list -- published either in a national magazine or in an anonymous blog -- they lift the list high above their heads as proof that Omaha is, indeed, relevant, that (by God) they were right all the time. 

“Look at this: Omaha is one of the best cities to get drunk in. We consume more beer per capita than Akron!

“Omaha is among the best places to raise a family. Forbes says so!

“According to Kiplinger, we’re a ‘Best Value’ City! Take that!

“Omaha is among the 9 Best Up-and-Coming Cities for Music according to a blogger at MTV! We beat out Lagos, Nigeria!

Whenever these lists come out, they’re dutifully reproduced in the Omaha World-Herald and are posted on everyone’s Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. "Finally, some solid evidence from an outside source of what we knew all along!”

This constant search for affirmation is why Big Red is so big here. Nebraska football is one of the few things -- maybe the only thing outside of Warren Buffett -- that gets national attention. We’re proud of “our football team” even though few of us actually went to school at UNL. We are raised from the cradle to believe when the Huskers win, Nebraska wins, and when they lose, well, we all lose. And lately, we’ve been losing a lot.

When a New York blogger recently posted a condescending essay about her “favorite ‘Braskies” that made the rounds on Facebook, I quietly vomited in my mouth. In addition to describing Nebraskans as some sort of alien life form, the piece came off like an adult patting a child on the head and saying, “Good job, little man!”

It was no different than any of those “best of” lists written by writers in far off places who never in a million years would consider leaving their own top-10 metropolises (metropoli?) to live in Omaha.

Why do we give a shit what people outside of our city or state think about us? Are we that desperate for attention?

The fact is, we’re here folks, whether by chance or circumstance. And we’re not going anywhere. At least most of us aren’t. And it shouldn’t take an outside source to convince us that we’ve made the right choice.

Most of us are here because our friends and family live here, and we want to be near them. Not because of the art or music scene or the great restaurants. We’re here because we were raised here. We know the city, we know how good it is, how easy it is. We’ve all thought about leaving, about living somewhere else, and instead choose to stay.

That said, we do have a great art and music scene, and lots of great restaurants.

I spent four days taking in the sights and sounds and smells of Manhattan. Most of the time was spent looking at art. In fact, we spent an entire day at the Washington Square Park Public Arts Festival -- literally hundreds of NYC artists showing their wares. Our intention was to buy some small masterpiece to hang in our new house.

Instead, we’re considering buying two sculptures -- one by Bill Farmer, the other by Sidney Buchanan -- from Gallery 72, where we also spotted a Brian Poloncic piece that we’d love to have. Other than two cheap screen prints, we didn’t buy any New York art because we’re trying to figure out how we can acquire a Justin Beller piece to hang in our entryway.

We saw the best New York had to offer, and we still couldn't get our minds off the Omaha artists we already knew about.

There’s a lessen there somewhere.

New York City is, indeed, amazing. It has everything. Everything. It is the best city in the world. At least for four days a year. Any more than four days and New York becomes a drag. Visit New York City, yes. But live there? It never crossed my mind.

Maybe just like those stupid top-10 lists, my annual New York trip helps me realize how good I have it here. And just like a New Yorker, I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks about my city. You shouldn’t, either.


Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 03:32 pm
on Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

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