Like the gum littered on subway platforms, New Yorkers symbolize to some a clump of coldness and inconsideration to the rest of humanity. The word "coffee" from a local can almost sound as abrasive as an actual cup from a tin stand on the street at 5am on a cold February morning. As much as midtown is cramped between the hours of 8 to 8, the nose to the grindstone, “live-to-work” lifestyle pervades the city’s ethos. You cannot help but feel some collective pressure to be in motion, to engage tasks, sites, smells and to deliver as you hustle and bustle through your day.
Therefore, you might expect that I would be glad to rid myself of that city and embrace the peaceful, duderrific lifestyle of the left coast. This could be true especially when you consider how frequently I tried to embrace what “The City” had to offer only to commit faux pas that would cause any true Manhattanite to raise their nose. I proudly purchased both Mets and Yankees hats – much to the stern disappointment of my Mets fan friends and much to the mild indifference and perplexity of the Bronx Bomber bleacher bums. While living in a bastion of progressive thought known as the East Village, I voted for John McCain. I ordered pops instead of sodas and declined the offer to drink them with a straw. I attended a Decemberist concert at Bowery Ballroom before they were signed by a major label and did not have a degree in the humanities – let alone irony.
Considering myself a cultured soul, at other points I tried to take in the finer visual arts that bless New York. The Whitney is dedicated to American artists and the standing exhibit on its top floor houses big names of our tradition – Hopper, O’Keefe, and Whistler to name a few. Calder is known for his mobiles and playful geometric shapes. While in his section of that floor, I noticed a label on the wall next to a light source with canvas over it. As with other Calder pieces, the shadows hitting the canvas were geometric and delighted in constant motion. Wanting a closer look I leaned in towards the masterpiece. My admiration was only disturbed once as the security guard tapped me on the shoulder. I initially thought that I had gotten too close. That notion was corrected. “Sir, that is a window.”
Despite my best tendencies to distinguish myself as someone to poo poo, perhaps it comes with surprise that now two months removed I have a special place in my heart for New York City. New Yorkers are often mischaracterized as inconsiderate. To me instead, they are just indifferent. Encountering so many people in a New York minutes instills that survival technique. You have to be able to cope with a multitdue of sounds, sites and smells that avoidance is your only way out and saying a small-town hello to all passers-by on the street would simply be impossible.
But the cause behind this indifference is what makes New York wonderful. A diversity and vastness of people allows the Big Apple to support a diversity of activities – whether they be pillow fights in Union Square, Santa Con, or a new restaurant to try every week. This diversity of interest too creates opportunities for well-meaning but often aloof midwesterns to carve their own niche in a city that never sleeps. You can see the sights and love every new food you tried in both a Yankees and Mets hat. You just cannot expect a local to help you differentiate fine art as opposed to the mundane. That requires your own desire, resourcefulness and playful ignorance.