1,000 Words on: New York City
A friend of mine e-mailed me a few weeks ago, relaying to me that he has passed along my information to someone else as a professional courtesy. This solicitation was a good thing, and I thanked him. The event in question was an event that I was unable to attend because my wife, her parents, and I were driving to New York to visit my sister-in-law and her husband, who are expecting their first child.
“It’s a different kind of fun we have these days,” I told my friend in that e-mail. When my college roommate lived in New York City and we were both in our twenties, the night’s would end early the next morning. Our bodies simply can’t handle that anymore. Visiting New York was fun when we had the energy and tolerance we did.
Now, more has to do with my aversion to going into the city. It’s too much. Too many people, the buildings are too big, too much stimuli, too much going on. It’s the complete opposite of my dead-end street a half-mile from the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border. Luckily for me, my wife feels the same way. This isn’t a trait developed with age, it’s an antipathy she’s always possessed.
I understand we’re in the minority here. People love traveling to New York. They enjoy the culture, the diversity, the museums. They want to take in a show, have a slice of pizza, take horse-drawn carriage through Central Park, go shopping, and visit the sites. And that’s okay. That’s their prerogative. It just isn’t for us. We’re vocal about this, but her sister lives on the edge of the city in nearby Queens. We wouldn’t avoid going to see her just because she lives in New York. That’d be selfish. But it doesn’t make us like it.
Novelist John Updike wrote, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” This statement is true, I think, to many people. If you are a person willing to live in or around the city of New York, you are also probably a person that cannot fathom why someone wouldn’t want to live in or around the city of New York.
I do believe there’s one reason that I envy the people of New York and that’s the amount of different types of food available. Shawarma, Thai, Japanese, Greek, Arabic on every corner. I’d like that. It’s a diversity of food options that I simply don’t have. Still, I do alright. I’ve never once stood at my counter, waffling over take-out menus, lamenting the lack of good chicken tandoori in my neighborhood.
People tend to equate lack of preference for fear, particularly in defense of New York City, which I never quite understood. Every time I hear someone chide my wife about her lack of preference for visiting the city of Manhattan, they some manifestation of, “The Big Bad City.” Even when we were there recently, she was questioned, and endured sarcastic comments like, “Oh no, all these people and big buildings.” Now, I understand these remarks were made in a jesting manner, I still take minor offense to them because they suggest that people like my wife and I are afraid of the people, buildings, and offerings in New York.
I’m not afraid of all the people; I’d just prefer a smaller population around me. The rapid pace of pedestrians, the cabs honking as they pass are sensory overload. I’m not afraid of the tall buildings or urban setting; I’d rather the skyline shrink and see more grass than concrete. This is when someone inevitably chimes in, “But what about Central Park?! That’s in the city. There’s grass there.”
To these people I say, “I get it. There’s a huge park in New York. Still millions of people, some hawking for money, putting on shows and offering rides or caricatures. Still an environment I don’t particularly favor.”
There are millions of people who live the city. Many of them are the same people who’d come to our little neighborhood and be discomforted by the silence (and maybe the lack of chicken tandoori), and I’d question their sanity.
It’s also not hatred, for place or for people. When I do get to the city, I look around at the fodder for fiction: the people on the trains, the diversity in landscape, the magnitude and size of things, the nuances of life encompassed on one island. There are literally millions of stories to tell. I envy the writers who live in a place with so many stories to share, embellish, or make up entirely. I envy the sense of community that the writers in New York are a part of, inasmuch as the arts are strongly embraced there like no other place.
For the romanticism of going into the woods to write – a la Thoreau – let us not forget people thought he was crazy. To be a writer in the city of New York is supported and embraced more than out here, in a quiet office, the leaves piling in the front yard. Descriptive landscapes and lengthy introspections dot our writing out here, as opposed to the aforementioned wealth of backdrops in the city, where stories sometimes seem to tell themselves. A writer in less cultured areas is an alien sight.
Aesthetically, the state New York is a beautiful place. I’ve been upstate, stayed on and hiked mountains around Lake George a couple of times. I’ve driven along the backroads of northeast Long Island and visited wineries. I’ve spent hours on the beach in the southern part of the island.
But in the city people walk too fast. They can be rude (“So can anyone!”). They’re in too much of a rush. And there is just too many of them. Also, in my neighborhood, there’s no surveillance cameras watching me while I walk my dog. Yes, sometimes there is beer in that coffee mug.
I always refer to places I enjoy like this: “I feel like this place really gets me,” meaning it’s suitable to my temperament. What place “gets” you? Why?