I ❤ NY. It’s so common, it’s a cliche. Tourists buy T-shirts in airport souvenir shops. They crowd into long lines in order to ride ear-popping elevators to the top of the “empire state.” They pose for selfies in front of the Statue of Liberty and search for the names of distant relatives on Ellis Island. They eat lunch on the steps of the MET. In short, they visit all of the sights, but I contend that most of them have no clue what this city is really about. When I confess that I’ve only been there once, you may perhaps think me one of the least qualified to express it too, but I hope that you’ll hear me out. This city is the birthplace of my soul.
And this city has a soul of its own. It has captured the imagination of many an artist, writer, and traveler. More books, movies, and TV series have been set here than any reader or viewer with friends and a regular job could possibly consume. (See wiki’s list of books, movies, and TV shows.) We have the Great Gatsby, Sleepless in Seattle, and Friends, to name a few. When I toured Germany, Austria, and Hungary, nearly everyone who found that I was American asked if I came from New York City, which at the time I thought strange considering that I had not even been there. I did a quick calculation and discovered that nearly a tenth of the United States population lives-or-works in-or-around NYC.
Not everyone loves NYC. You mean to tell me that not everyone loves concrete jungles, subway grunge, jostling crowds, hot dog vendors, concerts in Madison Square Garden, the struggling artist scene, bagel shops, rude taxi drivers, Sunday picnics in Central Park, and people that aren’t afraid of telling you that you’re being a complete idiot? That’s right, my friend, they don’t like it. I can’t figure it out, either. What’s not to love? My older brother is one such person; he hates it. I think it has something to do with the New York Times. Hahaha. He uses NYC as a metaphor: he knows that God exists by the same principles that he knows that NYC exists; he hasn’t seen NYC (and he has no desire to), but he knows that it exists from the testimony of others. Well, I never bought that logic; it only made me want to go there and see it for myself. I was never keen on taking other people’s word for things. My brother’s influence made NYC a metaphor for me, also, but in the opposite way. I refuse to say that I know something until I really know it, and basically, I know nothing. However, I can tell you how something makes me feel. NYC makes me feel home.
Just as prophets may only catch glimpses into heaven, I only experienced NYC momentarily. I visited once and spent 8 nights in 3 days. How so? I was determined to experience as much as possible, so I raged until 5:00 A.M. and dragged myself out of bed by 8:00 A.M. to devour the city again. I bit off more than I could chew and didn’t even leave a wormhole in the Big Apple. That’s what New York is about. It’s about the soul of humanity. It possesses the flare, the hopes, the love, the heartache, the intimacy, and the isolation of the whole human race. It’s so big that you learn to live and let live. No one cares what you do, which can be disconcerting, but for anyone who knows the scrutinizing judgment of small town USA, it can be liberating, too. I will say, however, that New Yorkers possess a delightful sense for when to let people utterly alone, and when to connect.
It is a beautiful place. I was afraid that my expectations were so great, that NYC could only disappoint me, like a hyped up movie that falls flat on its face. Quite the opposite. I could almost hear the city say, “I’ll see your expectations and raise you a dream.” I’ve been to other large cities, quaint villages, and even the romantic Paris; I’ve been engulfed by mountains, pines, seas, and skies. Nevertheless, I’ve never been somewhere so near to the face of God. When I say that this was the birthplace of my soul, I mean that it is the cradle of my hope for the human race, that we can share a space, a city, a country, a globe and love each other without being a goddamned nuisance. Most people don’t think of New York as a city of love, but somehow I lost my heart there and found my soul.
Urban Artwork: Love Vandal by Nick Walker (photo credit here).