When I first moved to New York to start college, every few weeks my mother would recieve a phone call from me, over the course of which I professed my devotion to the city and swore that I would never leave. The calls would be placed from some awe-inspiring vantage point, like the rooftop terrace of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (overlooking Central Park) or Battery Park (overlooking the harbor). Surveying the enormity of the city choked me up, as I fell prey to the romanticized notion of being one small peice in New York’s giant assemblage of parts.
My mother still gets these naive calls–most recently from the lighthouse on Roosevelt Island, overlooking the skyline of the East Side–but just as frequently she finds voice messages chronicaling the realities of living in a sprawling metropolis. Some are barely recognizable as messages, mere phrases punctuated by panting, recorded as I dash from trains held up by track fires. Others bemoan umbrellas, blown inside-out by forceful winds funneled between buildings. I’m sure she deletes the tirades about the cost of cereal after hearing only the first few indignant words.
Last week, during a particularly tedious workday, I put down the down the doodle-covered post-it I had been contemplating and asked myself a question reminiscent of Dilbert’s workplace-existentialism: “Is this worth it?” Did I make the right choice, compromising on a job to stay in the city I love, with the man I love? As this economy has crippled the prospects of my peers, regardless of city, I accept my job for what it is. But how to justify staying in New York, paying through the nose for just about everything?
I made a list, a list of my most classically “New York” experiences. In my (going-on) five years spent living in Manhattan, I have eaten countless numbers of the world’s best bagels and more than a few pastrami on rye at Katz’s Deli. My intestines will never recover from the street fair food, the gyros and fried dough and pickles that I eat every summer.
I have worked out at a branch of almost every gym chain in the city, including Chelsea Piers. From Columbia, I have biked to Brooklyn, to the Cloisters and Battery Park, and once, up Sixth Avenue in rush hour traffic. I paid a lot of money to participate in the 2008 Five Boro Bike Tour. When running used to feel pleasant, I ran races in Central Park, Riverside Park, and even through Washington Heights. Last summer, I spent twenty minutes kayaking on the Hudson River. Taking advantage of opportunities to cheer on others, I have seen both the Yankees and Mets lose. I have also seen them both win. I only saw the city’s lacrosse team lose, however. At the 39th Annual New York City Marathon, I passed off an energy drink to a friend in the middle of downtown Brooklyn.
Before they were famous, I boogied to Vampire Weekend in the basement of Barnard’s old student center. I dressed like a slut and shook my ass for Ghostface Killah, Del the Funkee Homosapien, and Blackalicious, who performed at Columbia for Bacchanal. Dressed more conservatively, I stood with a audio recorder in Columbia’s Low Library and covered Orhan Pamuk’s press conference when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I have seen writers speak about writing: Toni Morrison interviewing Fran Lebovitz in a concert hall, Nathan Englander at the New York Public Library, and Sarah Vowell at the Brooklyn Public Library. With a free ticket, I got in to the New Yorker festival to watch a writer interview the actor Stanley Tucci. I saw the actor Joshua Jackson on 123rd St. and St. Nicholas, filming a scene for his show, “Fringe,” but did not catch a glimpse of Tina Fey when I stumbled upon 30 Rock filming at Barney Greengrass.
I once rode the train all the way to Coney Island, Brooklyn, for a hot dog and a ride on the Cyclone. More recently, I rode the train all the way to Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, for the Dragonboat Races. I did not have to take the train very far to see a media preview of Meryl Streep as Uma Thurman’s therapist in the movie Prime.
I danced the Charleston at Midsummer Night’s Swing with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, jumped up and down on the springy floor at Webster Hall to the tunes of Old Crow Medicine Show, and swayed back and forth listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the River to River Festival. I ate brie in the park and listened to the sounds of the Pretenders drift in on a breeze from the faraway stage. I was Norah Jones’ guinea pig at (le) Poisson Rouge, as she practiced performing her new album. I stood for 4 hours in the rain to see Mos Def on Governor’s Island (only $35!). I had great seats to the Moth at the Nuyorican, The Marriage of Figarro at the Met Live in HD festival, and the revival of A Chorus Line (student rush, front row center). And I even had my portrait drawn on the subway for $5 dollars and three Starburst candies.
Sitting in an office all day, I now tell myself, simply forces me not to take New York for granted.