Jacob M Appel HeadshotSo you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a bioethicist, a fiction writer, a playwright, a licensed New York City tour guide, you’ve published 215 short stories and you have nine graduate degrees.  Do you really exist?

Maybe. Schopenhauer wrote, “The world is my representation” (“Die Welt ist meine Vorstellung”), which suggests that I exist only as long as you exist to appreciate my impressive literary talent and rudimentary knowledge of German. However, Schopenhauer is dead, and also a rather tedious read, so he may not be the most promising authority on the subject.

I have discovered that I exist to the IRS and the folks who issue jury summonses.  Less so to the girl I had a crush on in tenth grade and to many major Manhattan literary agents.  But assuming I do exist, I am indeed the author of 215 published short stories and I do have nine graduate degrees.  Alas, none of that reduces my subway fare or helps me self-assemble an exercise bike.


Harlem sleeps late. The rest of the city has already accelerated to full  throttle. Along Canal Street, the storefront gratings have been up for  hours as the pungent odors of smoked mackerel, fresh shellfish, and cured meats slowly smother the background aroma of the metropolis, that faint blend of diesel fuel and decaying produce and bodily fluids to which urban noses have developed an immunity. The subways have yielded their stench of urine to the bustle of the early morning commute; Wall Street has papered over all memories of yesterday’s perspiration; in Park Avenue’s door-manned buildings and Madison Avenue’s upscale galleries, where the previous night’s frenzies still trail a scent of alcohol and vomit and lust, upscale matrons fortify themselves against the day with sprays of rose water and lilac perfume. Only Harlem ignores the call to battle, dozes comfortably in the fumes of its own refuse. It is as though a sanitizing cloud has erupted from the depths of the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Grand Central Station, rousing the downtown citizenry to industry, to sobriety, to spit-and-polish, and that this cloud—like just about everything else in New York City—will not cross 125th Street until all of the well-off white people are provided for.