Subway Station in Queens, NY

The Other New York Mentality

Three years ago my best friend and roommate of two and a half years left New York. She spent time teaching in Korea and Colombia. Her mindset was: anywhere but New York. At the time it seemed impossible that I could bring myself to live anywhere else than New York. I was in love with late night pizza, impromptu picnics in the park, and exploring hidden gems in Astoria. A year after my friend left the city, I had the beginning symptoms of the anti-New York bug that had bitten my friend. It was the sour expressions on people’s faces hurrying off the 6 train in July, shoving each other out of the way as we all tried to squeeze up a narrow stairwell to escape the smell of hot, rotting piss that permeated those tunnels. It was also the romanticizing of Brooklyn hipster life that I’ve never felt a part of and the nostalgia for places in the West Village that don’t really belong to my generation but more of my parents’. And it was who I was becoming: one of them. I was a grouchy, pushy, no patience for tourists hardened New Yorker. That made me sad.

I’ve been steadily trying to find a way out of New York for a solid year, but just like any habit, New York is hard to break. There are of course things that keep me holding on like eating my face off at Artichoke Pizza and spending late summer afternoons walking the High Line.

As much as the New York mentality is the reason for my distaste, it is also the reason for my staying. I leaned something crucial recently: this mentality is not limited to a make-or-break attitude – includes a sense of community and comradery amongst fellow New Yorkers.

I came to this realization whole sitting on the A train one morning. I watched a middle-aged woman as she smiled politely at a mother and son sitting adjacent to her. Then she turned to the mother and simply asked if she could read her son a book and suddenly she was extracting a picture book from her bag and the five-year-old was fully engaged and shouting Monkey! Bear! Lion! As the lady turned the page to a new illustration. Fashioned in a backwards hat and some pretty fly kicks the five-year-old giggled innocently. You almost don’t expect kids decked out like that to act like normal five year-olds – watching him restored something for me; maybe people in general here are not as hard as they appear. People in New York are squeezed together and forced to interact with each other, which can sometimes be a nightmare, but on those rare occasions when people who wouldn’t have otherwise known each other have a meaningful connection, it’s kinda beautiful.

I’m not sure when I’ll take the plunge off this island. What I hope to take with me from New York are the experiences of connectivity between people’s lives and stories. The ninety year-old woman who’s been here all her life waiting for the bus in front of an eighteen-year-old who’s first day it is starting out on her own in New York City. Living here is a unique experience that is a kind of a secret because what you encounter is inexplicable.