On to Piraeus

In 1939, just before war returned to Europe after a brief interlude, the ultimate ne’er-do-well Henry Miller came back to America after almost ten years living in France. The state of the States he observed upon his return was startling, to say the least, and after traveling across the country his reflections on what he found became The Air-Conditioned Nightmare:

“But there was nothing of the animal, vegetable or human kingdom in sight. It was a vast jumbled waste created by pre-human or sub-human monsters in a delirium of greed. It was something negative, some not-ness of some kind or other. It was a bad dream and towards the end I broke into a trot, what with disgust and nausea, what with the howling icy gale which was whipping everything in sight into a frozen pie crust. When I got back to the boat I was praying that by some miracle the captain would decide to alter his course and return to Piraeus.

It was a bad beginning. The sight of New York, of the harbor, the bridges, the skyscrapers, did nothing to eradicate my first impressions. To the image of stark, grim ugliness which Boston had created was added a familiar feeling of terror. Sailing around the Battery from one river to the other, gliding close to shore, night coming on, the streets dotted with scurrying insects, I felt as I had always felt about New York – that it is the most horrible place on God’s earth. No matter how many times I escape I am brought back, like a runaway slave, each time detesting it, loathing it, more and more.

And at that point he wasn’t even properly off the boat yet. Weekend assignment: Love your neighbor, read your Miller.