There are times, when I bike home through Grand Street in Little Italy with its twinkle of red, white and green lights and the street is basked in a rose-tined hue by the time I reach the precipice of a nicer part of Chinatown that I think to myself that New York is a quaint, almost pleasant place to live in.
“Look at me!” I scream as I guide my Citibike through lower Manhattan, “I am living the dream!” And when that cool autumnal wind blows through my hair, the back of my Barbour jacket flips up ever so slightly, and I think to myself that truly – I am Hashtag Blessed to live in the World’s Greatest City.
New York! Concrete jungle. Where. Dreams. Are. Made. Of.
And then the reality of New York comes crashing down on me, like an oppressive August heat wave mixed with the distinct odor of the fallow rat you’ve watched decay on the Allen Street bike lane, it slowly dawns on you: New York sucks.
People envision living in New York as if its some blissful universe of Broadway! Celebrities! SoHo! The New York of our celluloid dreams prolongs this myth, with its romanticism over Macy’s Christmas Windows, Central Park foliage, and quaint West Village apartments. Even at its most cinematically janky, New York is the city of Seinfeld, an esoterically awkward metropolis, filled with crusty and loveably eccentric oddities.
I suspect that most people know in the back of their minds that the New York of their dreams is a superficial construct and yet in a state of feigned ignorant bliss they want to believe that you are living some sort of New York dream. They also don’t know that the reality of a West Village apartment involves a heat pipe that loudly and uncontrollably bangs for six months of the year.
And so going home becomes a chorus, “Don’t you love New York?” “Isn’t it amazing?” “Isn’t it the best city in the world?”
And you nod your head because what can you say to ebullient aunts who come to New York on long weekends in September and walk the Highline, only to taken in by its novelty: “I am in a park. It is above street level. There is Ethan Hawke.” All of this is true; there is Ethan Hawke. This is how New York gets you, spend a weekend here and you’re enveloped by a warm hug and the sugar based euphoria of a Magnolia cupcake, spend a year here and you realize that that hug could turn into a straight jacket.
As is now requisite, I should check my privilege, because I get that I’m lucky to live in Manhattan. I’m luckier than most in that my Manhattan is not like the countless thousands of people who faceless Uber drivers, Seamless delivery guys and nameless underclass that delivers your wash and folded laundry, maki-rolls and Munchery orders.
Instead – I am a white, upper middle-class, gay male. New York is therefore a Disneyworld of great restaurants, men who went to Ivy league schools and more Soul-Cycle locations than a boy can shake a fist at. Some people come to New York to see the birthplace of Lady Liberty. My people come to New York to see the Birthplace of the J Crew Mens Store.
I mean its nice that Adele and Jennifer Lawrence went to Cosme together a couple of weeks ago, but I was there in August.
But beyond the dream of Manhattan as Main Street USA (for the gays) is the reality of living here. New York is at once both a personification of the New York Dream and also completely dissonant. New York is the city of hour long line ups at Trader Joe’s or Uptown 1 trains that run on express tracks for NO REASON. For all of its vaunted convenience Manhattan is a horribly inconvenient place to live.
“What are they lining up for?” My father asked me when I took him and my mother to Trader Joe’s.
“Pre-cut kale.” And there is nothing to say beyond that. Because there is something that seems so foreign in this. There is no reason for any of this beyond: New York.
Visitors to New York do not realize that the Highline is useless as a local park, its beauty encapsulated on a brief hour every Sunday morning before the hoards of tourists arrive where you, the tax-paying citizen of Manhattan, can enjoy a lawn chair without Susie and Sheila, in their Tory Burch flats, yapping about how ah-may-zing it is. The stupidity of the Highline, as a park, becomes encapsulated by the lone runner, who for some reason thinks that running the Highline, which has the width of a sidewalk and sees the traffic level of Long Island Mall on Black Friday, is an acceptable thing to do.
Would you jog through the Mall of America?! Are you new?
What’s more frightening is that you adapt. Eventually you start ordering pre-cut mango from a random bodega off of Seamless because WHO HAS TIME TO CUT A MANGO? But that’s just the New York talking. Because you are like Patty Hearst and New York is your abductor. You may not love it, but you don’t know what to do without it.
And perhaps the only way to live here is to feign such Stockholm Syndrome romanticism – that is why New Yorkers default to the fact that New York is the Greatest City in the World, because if you don’t believe that – then what are you doing pushing yourself onto an F Train every morning?