Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Not Quite a New Yorker

In some ways, I feel very much like I am on my way to becoming A New Yorker. I am now perfectly willing to elbow my way down the sidewalk, and I am not put off if I have to squeeze onto a subway car in the middle of rush hour. Twenty-thousand bright lights and flashing billboards no longer make me feel as though I’m going to have a seizure (although I will admit to squinting, particularly when I emerge from the subway at ten o’clock at night), and brushing off the crazy bums soliciting my spare change is becoming a more routine annoyance than a pity-inducing spectacle. I know—at least vaguely—where each of the subway lines run, and I have finally figured out how to walk north, south, east, and west via the logically numbered street grid which is downtown Manhattan. (I am not nearly so good at navigating Queens, but I have found walking and subway routes to the grocery stores and libraries, which are my number one priorities.)

Likewise, my lack of “impressed-ness” by this city is another sign that I am no longer “just a visitor.” My friends Andy and Kelly came to visit this weekend, so of course, because they were from Out of Town, we met in Times Square. Kelly and I saw Aveune Q on Broadway and then met Andy on the flashing red steps of the billboard island at the intersection of 46th St and Broadway. Every time we would emerge onto the street, Kelly would cover her eyes, pleading, “Overstimulation! Too many people! Too much!” When we collected Andy and started looking for a place to eat, I continually caught him standing at the street corners as we waited for the light to turn, staring up at the buildings and lights with an awed, this-is-what-the-other-half-lives-like expression on his face. He is currently attending graduate school in The Middle of Nowhere, New Hampshire (otherwise known as Dartmouth); Kelly is living in the Siding-Covered Suburbs of Dallas, TX. Together, their reactions to what is my new “home” showed me exactly how much and to what I have become accustomed: crowdedness, noise, dirt, lights. People. Granted, as I told Kelly, I don’t go to Times Square on a regular basis. Tourists go to Times Square; regular people who live in New York go to their jobs and to apartments, and to anywhere that is not nearly such a gaudy, polluted, money-snatching person-pit. However, those things which so impressed them barely even registered on my radar until, noticing their reactions, I began seeing my surroundings through their “outsider eyes.”

Yet, their visit also made me realize that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, remotely close to being A New Yorker. (Yet.) My first indication was the fact that in spite of having lived in they city for five months, I had no idea where to suggest that we eat dinner. Over these past five months, I have not had the money or social connections to go out to eat much, if at all. Plus, within this short time frame, I have lived in three different communities (Upper West Side, Harlem, and Woodside) and worked for two different companies (Time in midtown and Wiley in Hoboken). One may think this means I should be more familiar with more areas of the city, but to the contrary—I have been so busy moving and readjusting all the time that I have not become well acquainted with any one area or its eateries. Moreover, I do most of my own cooking. I know where the grocery stores are in Columbia and Queens, but that’s about it.

The second sign that I fail to qualify as A New Yorker was the fact that I got us lost. Not “lost” in the sense that we didn’t know where we were, but we were between 7th and Broadway, and instead of going to 5th Ave, as I had intended, we ended up on 8th instead. It was a simply mistake, but was one that indicates how much effort I still put into thinking, “Okay, the numbers are going up, so that is north. Therefore, because I am at 7th, I want to go east, because the avenues go down going east, and I am trying to get to 5th.” I have struggled with my sense of direction since the moment I arrived here, and it is embarrassingly clear that I will continue to do so, especially now that I am working and not spending my time wandering the city in search of work.

The third sign that I am not A New Yorker—and judging from this sign, I may never be one—is that by the stroke of midnight, I am ready for bed. Even on a Saturday night with two friends in town, I was growing tired around 10 p.m. By the time Kelly and I made it back to Queens, it was close to midnight—time for the party to start, by New York standards—and I was ready to pass out. This could be attributable to any number of things: the thirteen miles I ran that morning, the fact that I get up at 6:30 a.m. every day of the week, the rock-hard futon that I currently use as a bed. However, the bottom line is that I do need sleep, and living in the city that never sleeps, I anticipate this as a sign of having trouble not only fitting in, but of simply surviving.

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