New York Diary: Crazy daze for inmates of New York, the world's biggest asylum

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The Independent Online
To be in New York is to be an inmate in the world's biggest asylum. There is never any peace, day or night. Even here in The Independent's midtown office, 21 floors up and behind double-glazed windows, there is no escaping the racket. Right now, police sirens are wailing as if Armageddon has come.

The cacophony of New York is part of what gives it its energy, of course. And energy is the whole point of this city. But sometimes, just sometimes, when your batteries are low and your nerves are ragged, it can all get too much. One especially loud car horn is suddenly more than your brain can bear. Get me out of here, you want to scream. No wonder friends are turning their attention to securing a rental out of town. Flee to the mountains, the Hamptons, even New Jersey, before migraine sets in.

Even if you pay attention only very slightly, it is hard not to conclude that a goodly portion of your fellow travellers on this city's pavements are a dime short of a dollar. Some are obviously loony, other merely eccentric, but it is all the raving that worries me most.

It is not just people cursing at telephones that won't take their quarters or at taxi-cabs cutting them down as they try to cross the street. So many people in New York seem so consumed with anger or frustration about something they simply cannot help accosting complete strangers to tell them about it.

It happened to me one day last week as I was trying to buy a sandwich just across from the United Nations. The guy came in the door like a torpedo, screeched to a halt behind my left shoulder and proceeded to excoriate me for not rising up against basically everyone but especially against the police department and the corrupt crooks running the UN. Lordy, as if ordering the insides of a New York sandwich wasn't already brain-taxing enough without this in my ear. I ignored him first, then I wanted to smash his head in with the gherkin bottle behind the counter. Finally, he left and I just felt depressed.

Eddie Izzard, whom I vaguely know from school, thought I might be the one about to get hit when I asked his advice at a party thrown recently at Sotheby's for the Broadway premiere of Art, the three-handed play that is still packing them in in the West End. Across the room stood none other than Sean Connery, attending as co-producer and holder of the film rights. Eddie knows Connery from the set of the upcoming Avengers film. Did I dare go up and ask him to comment on the brouhaha surrounding his knighthood - or rather his non-knighthood? Eddie's reply suggested that if I did, I might get biffed. I tried anyway, assuming Eddie was joking, and Connery was gruff but entirely polite. And, no, he would not comment.

Yasmina Reza, who wrote Art, is regretting talking that night to Newsweek. The magazine quoted her saying she was fed up with her own country, France, because no producers in Paris showed interest in the play or three others she has written and has turned on her for staging the last two in commercial theatres instead of state-subsidised houses.

"The French mentality is to keep it small," she was cited as saying. "If you have ambition, you are considered egocentric. I got no help with Art."

Unfortunately, the comments were reported from here by the French newspaper Le Monde. Reza went ballistic, claiming she had been misquoted, and demanded that an apology be printed. Why she thought Le Monde was at fault is not clear.

It seems there is an explanation for the explosion of police sirens twenty- one floors below my office window. The local branch of the Chase Manhattan bank is, as I write, in the midst of a hold-up, gunshots and all. Ah, New York. Got to love it.