New York state of mind

16 Apr

I saw a dead body the very first time I was in New York, a homeless man in a gas station, surrounded by police officers. In retrospect, he may have been merely passed out but I was horrified, shocked and unjustifiably titillated in my belief that I was seeing my first dead body. I should have been put off but I saw it as another defining moment in my love affair with the city.

I can’t remember my first yearnings for NYC. It was probably a culmination of years of Hollywood movies, novels and falling in love with Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees in his 1996 rookie year when they went on to win the World Series. I mean, Godzilla and Armageddon hit New York – which I saw as a metaphor that things just happen there. Never mind that if Godzilla ever happens, I should be as far away as possible and if Armageddon happens, who cares where you are at that point?

All I know is that seeing the New York City skyline, complete with the Twin Towers, was a joy I could not describe. I had dreams of finding little cafes that nobody else knew about, going into underground clubs, being on intimate terms with the owner of that tiny boutique in the Meatpacking – paltry dreams but they speak of one thing: I wanted so badly to be a New Yorker.

Instead I found myself wandering in Times Square, battling my way around thousands of tourists, taking a cab because I disliked being jostled around in the Subway, and walking only on Broadway in Soho, paralyzed with fear of getting lost in the maze of streets, named rather than numbered. And of course, for every day that I visited the city, I had to take the train back to the quiet of Westchester, where I lived.

Eventually, because we managed to convince my boss that moving the boat to Chelsea Piers would be one way to reward us for years of dedicated service, I realized my dream of living in the city. And not just anywhere – right on 14th street, smack in the middle of Chelsea and the Meatpacking. It was heaven on earth.

It was only step one though. I didn’t have friends in the city. I had a high school friend living in the Bronx but he, unfortunately, was a he. Just like before, I wandered the streets alone but this time, in the quiet, tree lined streets of the West Village and found, that just like any New Yorker, I began to abhor the bustle of Midtown Manhattan.

I did find my little cafes, closet sized in fact with heavenly sandwiches and curious people in their hats and scarves. I vowed to go to breakfast every weekend to a different restaurant, armed with my pocket sized NYC map and print outs (this was before my awesome Iphone) from the NY Magazine guide.

It took two summer seasons of living in the city before I began to acquire friends. And THAT transformed my New York experience into something unforgettable. There were the speakeasy bars in the East Village, sample sales in Soho, rooftop parties, clubbing at Marquee and Tenjune, the W, 4 AM macaroni and cheese, gay clubs, tapas bars, 4th of July with a panoramic view of the fireworks where we had to sign waivers that if the building collapses, we’re not going to sue anybody. And when somebody stopped me on the street in the Meatpacking to ask for directions, I felt like I belonged. This was my city. It didn’t matter that, unlike others, I sailed away into Miami as soon as it got the least bit chilly every October and waltz into the city only in April.

No wonder then that D does not understand my love for NY. To him, the city is ugly, dirty with rude and noisy New Yorkers in their high powered suits and thousand dollar shoes, constantly clicking on their Blackberrys. But even if he experienced what I went through, I don’t think he would get it anyway. Because I saw what I wanted to see. I really did perceive New York with sparkling, rose colored glasses. I did not see the guardians to the city’s high grounds and underground to be self-important starving nobodies or thriving jerks. I did not see the dirtiness and stink of the MeatPacking as one big marketing gimmick, powered by Sex and the City. I saw its charm in the way that boutiques that I could never afford sit right next to former and still existing slaughterhouses.

Now, mired in emacs, git and tax credits, that world seems so far away. Montreal may have an underground but I have not invested the time to investigate it. Who is this woman, newly married, perfectly content to watch House on weekdays (alright, maybe even weekends)? Is this the same person who could not sit still as soon as the sun set because there’s just so many places to go to, so many restaurants to try out? And this was before Twitter or Facebook where people’s constant updates of the cool things that they’re doing make you envious and angry at the same time (seriously, can they stop already?).

I’m still the same person, except I have moved on. Living in New York was part of my adult phase – where I may not have been profoundly transformed but I felt empowered. And when you’re from the backwoods of the Philippines, forging a life in a different country, feeling empowered and independent are the best tools you can have.

These days, when I say I miss New York, I don’t miss the parties or the late night walks in high heels on 9th avenue and 14th st. Because that was not what made New York endearing to me. It was the fact that you could do all those things. It was the endless possibilities, the beauty next to the unwatchable; the idea, fostered by the great marketing that is New York, that this is the center of the world; that if you make it there, you can make it anywhere mantra.

Although I’m not sure if I can be as cavalier as when I saw my next dead body floating on the Hudson on an early Saturday morning, and all I could say as I blithely walked on was: “Poor man. Only in New York.”

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4 Responses to “New York state of mind”

  1. Tita April 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    What a great blog…even when I didn’t get convinced about NYC’s bright side, I enjoyed the writing.

    Fantastic point of view.

    • sussurus April 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

      I thought you might like that, unconvinced you may be 🙂

  2. Rivenrod April 19, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    I LIKE because you describe so neatly and I comment because I can relate to what you are saying.

    I very much like that you have expressed your views and feelings in a forthright yet tender way. Cities, any city (and I have lived in a few across the world), are daunting and exciting evoking a million emotions and attachments every minute. Perhaps it is only when we leave that we recognise the excitement, the awesomeness and the emotions because when we live in the city there just isn’t time or space.

    Don’t know, whatever, leaving was the best thing I could have done and I’m sure you find that too. Eh?

    • sussurus April 22, 2011 at 1:42 am #

      Just like anything that we have, we don’t really appreciate it until it’s gone. It would be great if we can spend our energy focusing on the things that we have instead of missing things that we should have appreciated when it was there. When I lived in Miami, I even got tired of how sunny and blue it was every day. I miss that for every winter, cold and wet day in Montreal.

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