Manhattan: Sketch

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New York will break your heart like no other city. New York doesn’t like you. No, that’s giving yourself too much credit. You are just another person who slipped into Grand Central amid a stream of striving people and New York doesn’t know who you are. It has no stake in your welfare. If New York were a person, it would be Mariah Carey:

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Everyone else on the planet, including denizens of confused tourists, loves New York. And by New York, they mean Manhattan, until they actually set foot on the island. This concrete jungle will assault your nostrils and jostle your person and drive you to a road rage that can only be accomplished by walking through Times Square.

New York will stealthily pilfer cash from your wallet. New York will bring hallucinations of a white picket fence with every attractive person you see on the subway. New York will shove you and your closest friends together in an overpriced walk-up and subject you to a sick version of Survivor whenever the rent increases.

New Yorkers live in fear of a few words: bedbugs, construction, rain. Conversely, New Yorkers will salivate like a Pavlovian dog to other phrases: rent-controlled, no cover charge, rooftop access.

You will contradict all of your personal morals every time you do not help the homeless. You will, at some point, wake up too early just to beat the three hundred people who all want to go to the same event that you do. You will cry on public transportation.

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And yet.

New York improves my faith in humanity daily. I see people making room for each other on the subway and guiding confused families to the Empire State Building. I hear strangers chatting, speaking words with elongated “o”s. I feel the rush of standing in well-worn tracks where so many others have stood, steeped in literary, musical, cultural history. Eventually, I forgive the sore feet, sweat, and occasional crankiness for the chance to be in awe of my surroundings with every step I take.

Only in New York can I score changes to a life-changing musical, meet one of my idols, and then run giddily through Times Square with the exhilarating feeling of being close to greatness.

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THIS IS NOT A DRILL PEOPLE

Only in New York can I sit at my favorite coffee shop, which lacks WiFi but has a bathroom covered in poetic graffiti. Only in New York are my senses peppered by a strange combination of Spanish and urine and sidewalk flowers. Only New York can make you feel like a Joni Mitchell song crossed with a Virginia Woolf novel that also features Puerto Rican plantains and sidewalk pretzels. Also, the best bagels known to (wo)mankind.

I don’t know. After a quick weekend foray to Manhattan, maybe I’ve become the charmed heroine of a Joan Didion essay:

I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.

Eventually, you give up your first love, as Didion says “goodbye to all that” to New York after eight years. But you can still summon that charmed feeling for a moment. And it’s more than charm – it’s also warmth, nostalgia, a present sunny joy.

This weekend, I sat in the High Line Park with one of my favorite books, recently acquired at The Strand. I commandeered one of the reclining wooden chairs, watched the passerby, and chatted in Spanish with Argentinian tourists who sat next to me. I can’t remember the last time I was that mindful of my surroundings, so completely in the moment, so enthralled by what was in front of me and also what flowed in front of my eyes.

I wore that day until the night came. I hope to don it for longer.

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