Jan. 3, 2013 10:33

I love to hate New York


I really hate New York. It’s not because I grew up as a Red Sox fan and hating the Yankees was a way of life, or because of the Brooklyn hipsters, though both help. New York is so pretentious that even though it shares the name of its state, if I say New York the “City” is implied because what else is there? I have a visceral reaction to New York City, but despite that, I chose to spend some of my few days off here.

Most of my experiences here have been overwhelmingly positive — I’ve been coming for years and was last in town a year ago for my uncle’s wedding. I can still remember my awe as a teenager visiting a friend in Manhattan, gorging on junk food that we bought at a store long after everything closes in my hometown for the night, and in walking distance too!

The disgusting rain/snow combination on the first day here soaked us as we looked for food, and as I sat using hairdryer on my pants to dry off, I felt validated in my repulsion for the city. Belowfreezing temperatures and high winds continued the trend on my second day, but in spite of myself, I kind of love it here.

I’m back in New York first because of the people, but in small ways I’m here for the city too. There are some things about this beast that I am attracted to — particularly incredible ’80s-style movies like the Warriors, Escape from New York and CHUD or the more recent classic Newsies (let’s also give a passing nod to Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, a masterful rip off if there ever was one). I guess it’s all about moderation — it’s the grit of these films that draws me in, but the true grit of the city has the capacity to push me away.

In ways I identify with Fievel, the main mouse in An American Tale. New York City is overwhelming and impersonal, hardly a land where the streets are paved with cheese or where an exploited mouse family can live cat-free. Instead mice scurry out of my friend’s stovetop and rats poke around under the subways.

I experience a form of culture shock every time I come to New York. I remember coming out of the train station as a kid and not being able to handle all the noises or take in just how mammoth the buildings were. Every time I visit, my friends have moved, and even if it’s just to a new part of Brooklyn it’s like an entirely different experience — this city’s too big for me to get my bearings.

I know that part of the problem is that I am projecting, laying my hatred for the hypocrisies of American democracy and capitalism at New York City’s feet (is anyone surprised that I dislike Washington, DC too?). To an extent I feel justified hating on the behemoth that is really five cities consumed into one anonymous mass, but I also know that my disgust is partially unmerited.

My sister recently moved here, subletting in the Lower East Side until she can find somewhere to live more permanently; she’s searching for a job. The intersection near her apartment brags of falafel, banh mi, a record store and a burrito joint that’s supposed to be on point. A few blocks away we fought over bites of a massive crepe, and around the corner I introduced her to Bluestockings Bookstore.

I’ve already seen Jersey Boys, lost half a dozen games of pool to my dad by scratching repeatedly and tried Korean food for the first time. Short vacations are always packed with activity and people to see, but trips here offer little downtime. It’s part of the reason I can visit, at least occasionally, but would never consider living here — life isn’t supposed to be lived this quickly or with this much concrete around.

Everything is in your face here — which can be a good thing. New Yorkers, stereotypically, are flashy and don’t like tucking things away, which means speaking their minds and sometimes being narcissistic. People are hustling, grinding and happy to say so, as illustrated by graffiti and murals extolling money, like song lyrics scribbled on a subway bench (“Showing racks, throwing racks”) or on a mix between an ad and a mural on the side of a building (“Cash rules everything around me” over a painting of a wallet).

The people here love their city — it’s too expensive to stay if you hate it — which is enviable to someone whose friends are ambivalent about living in Greensboro. They’ve got style, from the fly Pratt kids to the hipsters rocking retro haircuts and a style with shaved sides called the “Brooklyn Boy.” Mitt Romney might have had a better showing at the polls if he had bought into the trend, and he would’ve looked damn good doing it.

I don’t judge New York for the same reasons my grandmothers do. My Midwestern grandma worried that people here are mean based on a reality fashion show or that they are dirty because some unkempt New Yorkers rolled through town, while my more urbane grandmother feared for my sister’s safety. My problem with New York is that it’s too cold, too anonymous, too self-important and the rent is too damn high. Everything is too expensive here, from property taxes to a domestic beer, but sometimes it’s just worth it.

The ubiquitous ads fade as you hit Brooklyn, and the allure of a city busting at the seams with impressive food and culture is real. I’ve started to hit my stride here a little bit, and even if I haven’t bumped into any celebrities yet, I did see what must have been Lars Ulrich’s square brother on the Upper West Side and Amanda Lehmert’s lookalike dressed as Little Red Riding Hood downtown.

Tomorrow I’m getting fresh bagels and going to the Park Avenue Armory Museum, but my last few days are mostly unscheduled.

I can’t wait.



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