I’ve been meaning for some time to link to this dazzling David Samuels essay here at CSTB, but there was one thing I wanted to do first, and I’m only now (and only barely) doing it. Which is try to figure out how a sprawling, multi-thousand word essay — on being a baseball fan in New York during the global economic collapse, by former Atlantic writer David Samuels — wound up in The National Newspaper, an English-language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi. I still haven’t figured that out.
The National Newspaper is a little over 18 months old, it turns out, and is — as one might expect from the garish but very willing-to-pay-for-quality Emirates — pretty deluxe. Its editor-in-chief comes from the London Daily Telegraph, other staffers have experience at The New York Times, among other places. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it also pays ridiculously well — the salaries of its staffers were briefly linked (and then removed from Google Docs), but EIC Martin Newland’s salary is, per the Guardian, “a cool tax-free annual take home of about £320,000 a year,” or roughly $532,928. I can only hope the writers get paid just as well.
As befits the UAE’s weird status as a nation in which bottomless money has replaced politics seemingly entirely, The National appears to be a reasonable, mainstream-y paper that balances faintly cheerleaderish UAE national news coverage — a headline today: “Students prefer jobs in public sector” — with consensus-y international stuff (Kofi Annan has an opinion piece about strengthening the Geneva Conventions, for example). It’s something you wouldn’t mind reading if you were, for some reason, in Abu Dhabi.
Where Samuels’ long, searching piece on the strange tension and feeling of dislocation he experienced at the new Yankee Stadium this year fits into all this, I don’t know. I sense that it says something about the state of the media — or of long-form writing, or of the simple weight of money and its ability to simply make things happen — that Samuels’ piece ran as it did, in the place that it did, but again I’m not entirely sure what that is. I’ve always had the sense of the whole UAE/Abu Dhabi/Dubai Thing as just being something that didn’t really exist — George Saunders wrote a terrific essay about Dubai’s unreal reality in this book — or shouldn’t; a fake country, built on phony money, that reflected fraudulence and folly and not much else. Maybe this is what writers should be hoping for, now — to be snapped up by some mysterious sheikh-run newspaper far away, to write the best we can about whatever we want. I think that’s what I thought the world was like when I graduated from college. It’s a fantasy, but realities like ours call for that.
At any rate, here’s a smallish taste of Samuels’ piece, which is too long to excerpt effectively. If you have time, I really do recommend reading the whole thing. But you’ll need time. Okay:
By the middle of the summer, half the people I know, myself included, have been laid off or are simply working less. œI definitely have a lot less money than I had before it happened. I absolutely get fewer Starbucks Coffee things, says my friend Jon, a former head writer for David Letterman, as we sit in the stands eating sandwiches that we brought from home and watching the Yankees defeat the Blue Jays by the score of 4 to 3. He recently bought his own espresso machine, which by itself isn™t much of a sacrifice. Nobody we know has lost their home. Still, everyone is worried that things could get worse, and that we could wake up one morning and find that the world that appeared to welcome us with open arms and bright smiles had been replaced by a sour old hag who is not persuaded by our attempts at reform.
I tell Jon about a game I attended in June at Citifield, the home of the hapless Mets, which also opened this year, at the bargain price of only $850 million. In the sixth inning I went to the bathroom, where I tried to balance myself to avoid a pool of stagnant water by the toilet while a speaker overhead broadcast offers for two-bedroom condominiums in Rockaway Beach, which could be mine for a $10,000 down payment. It was a reminder, I thought, of the link between the loose public economy that pumped money into two baseball stadiums the city didn™t need and the loose private lending that inflated real estate prices to the point where ordinary New Yorkers could no longer afford to live here.
Between innings, the groundskeepers jog out onto the field and swap in new bases. The old ones will go to feed the booming baseball memorabilia market which has monetised every square inch of the nostalgia-laden playing field and made the actual third base at Yankee Stadium magically transferable with a swipe of the family credit card to the lawns where fathers and sons play catch.