So, I’m walking up 3rd Avenue with a shopping bag on my elbow when my phone goes off. There’s a new email from my dream tattoo artist. She’s not available for three months because she’s shooting a TV show. I sigh, think about hailing a cab because it’s humid as dog breath out here, but end up walking. I need the exercise.
When I get home, I order groceries delivered to my door and takeout gluten-free pizza to tide me over. I’m feeling good because I finally have both the right health insurance and the right doctors, and for the first time in five years, I’m getting better instead of worse. My biggest stressor is anxiety about my novel. My fourth novel.
When I sit down to write the week’s blog post, I get a left hook of surreality to the face.
Who’s life is this?
But then I shrug. Same me. Different circumstances.
I don’t look at my past and shake my head (though I sure as hell had a lot to learn). I won’t look at the present and do it, either. I always knew it was going to be a weird life. No one who starts adult life getting knocked down a flight of stairs by a flying hug at a ska show after winning a $2000 writing scholarship is doomed to have a boring run. A stint in Manhattan writing novels is just more Escher progression.
But this city is a trip all by itself. I’ve moved around a lot, and most places in the continental US are basically the same; Moderately shitty apartments, a few dive bars that call themselves “world famous,” a McDonald’s, a city hall, and an Elm Street.
Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas fight over the reputation of “keeping it weird.” Phoenix, Arizona is too hot and tired to bother developing character. Montpelier, Vermont is full of character but can’t avoid being comprised of the same basic elements as its gossiping little neighbors. Boston, Massachusetts (much as I love it) is still AnyTown, USA on steroids and Guinness.
Manhattan, on the other hand, is practically another planet. Drop a tourist here and they don’t know how anything works.* If humankind ever exports an international people-sampler to Mars and leaves them to forge civilization out of their variety for a few generations, the result will look a lot like New York City.
Living here, I’ve seen a very pregnant and body-painted Amanda Palmer stand naked on the steps of the public library (the one with the lions) to gather book donations for children. I’ve skirted the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square to spend midnight at a karaoke bar frequented by Broadway hopefuls. I’ve brushed off street hustles by faux-Tibetan monks and played my ukulele in Central Park. I’ve watched the Empire State Building light up in rainbows for Pride. I’ve been to a multi-million dollar picnic. I’ve gotten texts from excited friends who just saw Lori Petty on the L train.
Many of the world’s most interesting people end up here at some point, but most don’t stay. New York only sees them in their prime.
And you can sit in Bryant Park and watch them go by.
Do I belong here? Hell, no. Almost nobody belongs here. It’s not jigsaw puzzle. You can’t fit. It’s more of a Bingo ball cage that occasionally spits out the next big thing in American culture. The question isn’t whether you fit, it’s whether or not you think getting tossed around in an ever-rolling lottery of near-infinite outcomes is fun.
And I guess I do.
*I thought I would add a few tips for tourists, because seeing you struggle is sad and, honestly, creates traffic jams.
- If the number on top of a cab is lit, then it’s available. If dark, the cab is engaged. Also, don’t try to flag down a cab where there’s barriers between you and the street, like scaffolding or fences. Move to an open curb with a place for them to pull over & for you to hop right in.
- If anyone tries to hand you something on the street, pretend they don’t exist. They’re playing on your trained behavior to be polite and take it. They’re selling something.
- Yellow cabs take plastic. Dive bars and food carts, 90% of the time, still don’t. Keep a little cash on you if you’re out running around all night.
- You’re almost certainly not going to get mugged, but that’s no reason to carry your bag like a tourist. Bring something with a crossbody strap. Also, clutches are stupid. Bar bathrooms are the black hole of clutch purses.
- Stop looking for famous people. Seriously. Yes, they live here. No, you probably won’t see them. If you do, they’re just trying to go about their day like everyone else. Go to Brooklyn and count Rent cast lookalikes.