By: Revanche

18 days of Manhattan

July 24, 2009

There was the insta-rage lady at the newly open, already crumbly pizza joint in Chelsea. A brown paper bag and crumbs on the bench seat set off a tirade, one part speculating, two parts accusatory, regarding the probable lupine parentage of previous patrons. There was the bewilderingly affronted lady, forced to stop for our street crossing when she came to the intersection and stop sign. Evidently had it not been for our outrageous legal use of the crosswalk, she’d no intentions of stopping. And then there was the bellowing chess player on the top step at Union Square. Screaming and shaking his righteous fist at the sky, he refused to be judged by an unseen, unidentified, unprintable word of an unspeakable origin. This was the New York I expected: a raucous landscape textured by the terse, the taciturn, displaced, misplaced fear or anger. My most vivid memory of New York to date was an extremely hostile woman on the subway, shoving her way through the mass of transit passengers and cursing out my luggage. This fit my mental picture.

It wasn’t until 45 minutes after boarding my return flight to Los Angeles, 45 minutes of creeping along the tarmac with no real intent to take off, that the real New York really settled into my bones.

Entering the city, the strobelights of the brilliant, the driven, were blinding. Time and again I was told: New York is the best city in the world. The food, top flight theater, medical centers, art, music, everything here was the best. [It’s worth the rent!] Residents and transplants alike resonate with an instinctive fight to survive, thrive and endure. To create, produce, dominate. It’s dirty, rough, very rough on the senses of a tenderfoot. The incredible anonymity and isolation was evident in the straight-ahead stares of so many fellow pedestrians, alien glares and snips and bites of the yellow cab drivers. It’s a prizefighter’s city, in a way. Nothing here comes without sacrifice and ever higher prices. How much a sacrifice, and of what, remains a point of pride among those who live(d) there. This I felt to be a true challenge of surviving this city.

Truth be told, I harbored a lurking, nibbling away fear that on July 1st, I’d arrive and immediately wish myself away, discover that I desperately wanted a job in New York while desperately hated the city. On July 4th, I could hardly fathom how complete strangers, incomplete strangers and acquaintances could be almost uniformly gracious, welcoming and friendly. By July 6th, I’d tentatively accepted that this strange city was stranger still than I’d imagined. By July 7th, I’d gone so far as to ask a random lady, another subway rider for an assessment of my appearance pre-interview. I was that nervous. And she was that nice, to approve my get-up and wish me well.

After extending my stay, I pointed half a dozen strangers, tourists all, along their way. I discovered that the subway system was navigable and had only gotten completely turned around underground twice. The subterranean treks, in no small part thanks to dressing for extreme humidity, were endlessly amusing as I muttered directions to myself, gesturing as needed, blending all too well the mentally unstable denizens of the streets. I still haven’t got the subways and all the stops down, but I note for posterity that the entrance at 60th and Lexington as an easy alternative to 59th and Lex is a lie, while the 59th and Lex escalator qualifies as Mt. Kinley when it’s not working. During one of many thunderstorms the first week, fellow pedestrians similarly caught without umbrellas chatted easily about the weather and their interrupted days. Again, I cannot believe the number of people who asked me for assistance. I charged my phone three times a day, I was using the Google Maps and subway app so much.

Most of all, the personal and professional encounters during my stay were phenomenal. Despite my otherwise near hysterical insistence on anonymity, I don’t regret meeting up with fellow bloggers. To the contrary, they were highlights of my visit. Friends I’d gotten to know through months or years of correspondence were gracious hosts in every sense, offering their time generously and without hesitation. I’ve never been so flattered than when a highly placed professional judged, “After speaking with you for ten minutes, I would call you a leader, not just a manager.” Another acquaintance, fast becoming a friend and mentor, then topped that compliment the following week with, “You have a writer’s voice. You have potential.” Both individuals followed up their statements with recommendations and introductions to their professional networks, suggesting they weren’t just feeding me a line. And who am I to merit that kind of attention? Nobody to them, not before that day. Certainly I understand cronyism and nepotism, I’ve seen it many times in previous employers, but I must conclude that these are true scholars of the pay it forward philosophy. Good people to learn from in so many ways.

What’s that saying? “New York: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Is it true? Perhaps.

I feel like I’m slowly coming back from a foreign country, that this New York of 2009 is intricate and exhausting. The city can really wring it out of you, but I’ve met so many genuinely nice, thoughtful, interesting friends in my short time here that I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve learned to love the complexity at least a little bit.

2 Responses to “18 days of Manhattan”

  1. You have managed to capture the spirit of NYC in this post! 🙂

    And I’m sure all the compliments were WELL DESERVED a thousandfold.

  2. Revanche says:

    FB: Too kind, but I accept the kudos 🙂

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