When I first clapped eyes on New York City, I was a starry-eyed young idiot following my first boyfriend to his native haunts. Like most Americans back then, I was terrified of the whole idea of New York City, but I was in LUUUUVVVVV. The boyfriend turned out to be gay, but I stayed on and never looked back.
Back then, the city was in the grip of the bad old days. Crime was up, things were falling apart, the city was broke, and pooper-scooper laws were years away. It took me less than 3 months to fall in love with the place. After I got over the shock of having to walk! Three blocks! To a bus! I began to realize the absolute freedom that I had in New York City. No more societal norms. No need to own a car. Complete freedom and mobility. No rules. Well, that’s exactly the kind of thing a young adult needs, and I drank the Kool-Aid right off the bat.
Some of you out there didn’t grow up in New York. You grew up in a place where there are very structured expectations for each and every person. You’re supposed to be and act a certain way. You’re supposed to marry a certain type of person of the opposite gender. You’re not supposed to ask too many questions, or try too many new things. The place I grew up was like that. It didn’t take me long to figure out that New York City is different.
New York will allow you to be anyone or anything. Yes, she’s an unforgiving task master. You can find any number of alienated artists and writers who tell sad tales of the cruel cold urban world, the uncaring multitudes, and the way the city will chew you up and spit you out, and you’ll never see Aunt Mildred again.
As Sherlock Holmes once said, “imagine all the little horrors that go on in the countryside, Watson!” That may not be a direct quote, but the idea is that it takes a city to set people free. It’s true that New York City doesn’t care if you sink or swim, but then again, it doesn’t care if you cross the street at the corner on a green light, if you went to the wrong school, or if you never married that nice boy Grandma kept steering by the elbow over to your table at the last Cow Fry and Ice Cream Social before you left home. You can look like Lady GaGa or Mother Theresa, and no one will care. Even the Naked Cowboy is pretty mainstream by now. Some
people find that terrifying – here I went to all that trouble to be outrageous and tattoo Satan on my elbow, and no one is noticing it! Personally, I find it liberating.
It’s always been like that. My favorite poem about New York was written in 1889 and starts out “Vulgar of manner, overfed, overdressed and underbred…” You can hear the whole thing here. In truth, the poem is about New Yorkers rather than the city itself, but it comes down to the same thing.
The only problem is, it misses the whole point of New York. There are many, many New Yorks and the one you experience is the one you looked for. Tourists don’t see the New York I live in, and I don’t ever experience the overheated bubble that houses the Park Avenue Primate. That’s not the type of world I want to live in, anyway, and New York City offers many people and many worlds
I’ll explore some of those worlds later. In the meantime, check out Humans of New York to get a head start.