Monday, October 08, 2012

Why don't you shut up about New York Already ?!!

I'm a child of immigrants. And this city was built by immigrants and its kin. And continues to be a home for the world. That's extraordinary on many levels, besides my own very personal connection to this city.

Yes, I was born and raised here and am a proud product of its public schools. Both my parents worked for the City of New York. My father built the Roosevelt trolley in the 70s. My mother was part of the rescue efforts of 9/11.

But there is a simpler answer. New York has, and to lesser degree now, but still significantly, positioned itself in opposition to heartland America.

Things which are considered staples in the rest of the country are hardly central to NYC living. No cars and no TV needed here. You get all your entertainment on the streets, walking.  The midget on a tricycle with blue hair on the G train singing opera while juggling is a usual everyday occurrence.

In contrast to say, Ohio, there is a strong preference for the local, original, authentic mom and pops shops.  We don't like Big Box branded stores, as Wal-Mart, after all these years, still has not received approval for opening up its doors here.  We have our share of big brands, but we equally nurture and support local enterprise.  The Brooklyn Brand, focusing on the artisanal and hyper attention to detail, magnifies this trend and is in line with New York tradition.

New York is also the only major metropolitan area in the US where white people are a minority (since 1980!)  The minorities are the majority. This diversity lends itself to a city teeming with creative energy and a cosmopolitanism that's lived rather than imagined.  We're super into gay people and Jews. We are a bastion for the the historically oppressed and value difference highly.

And the diversity is much more than ethnic or related to identity, it's also ideological.  It's a city that attracts both the capitalist and the social activist. People with highly disparate world views and goals all congregate here and think this is the place to be. The place that will take them to greater heights. And they're probably right.

So all those people, those ideas and possibilities. It just makes everything go boom boom boom in your mind.

My father ended up building nuclear bunkers in Israel given his love of falafels. He got to talking to some Jews and one thing led to another and next thing he knew he was living in Tel Aviv being blind folded every morning to work.

I myself went out one night to find myself taking a flight to Namibia, a couple of months later, to fight the African Aids epidemic in the 90s.

You never know what could happen here. You meet people, you get to talking over drinks and things HAPPEN.

There are many more stories I have like this and I'm not alone, I assure you. It's kind of like one big human super computer. The city was the Internet manifested, before the Internet existed. A living breathing search engine, social network and connector. And still is ..

And then there are the other, superficial, aspects that may be superficial but add to make life pleasant and hedonistic. The food, the culture, and how the best of the best rolls through here. The competition leads to a quality that makes one often spend an enormous sum of money and think it's worth it.

Of course, the city also constantly destroys itself with its own success.  Neighborhoods get gentrified and historical landmarks are constantly under threat from over development.  Creative destruction is wired into the DNA of the city. Build it to bring it down and those very vicious and strong cycles keeps this place ...apocalyptic. A feeling that it can all come crashing down becomes slightly comforting and humbling. You take your highs and lows in stride as a result and know that neither is ever-lasting.

What most fascinates me though, is how this place is a dump in many ways, and not nice in the traditional common sensical way that Rio or Paris or anywhere else that shines and relies on its sheer inherent beauty to charm you.

New York is a glorified sewer and everyone knows it. It's an emperor without clothes, at times, and somehow creates meaning, myth and glory from what it's got. All this concrete. All this madness. It knows it cannot rest on its physical beauty so it creates its charm and a personality from the anarchy, energy and hustle.

Somehow all of its shortcomings become its strength. The dirt, the grime, the chaos, the frustration somehow become a badge of honor for people who are used to greater comforts, from wherever they come from, yet who continue to choose to masochistically live here.  You have to be warped to want to live here.  

We all question why we are here and convince ourselves that it's great. We over-sell New York, almost as a defense mechanism, in order to avoid confronting the sad truths about life. We make life extraordinary by feeling like we're a part of greatness when really, we're mortal and flawed like the rest of mankind.

But this city is a self fulfilling prophecy. And that's why it works. Somehow, confoundedly, it moves and works, in mysterious ways...

So that's my answer of why I don't shut up about New York. I've tried to provide some very objective reasons. Of course, I'm deeply biased as this place is Home for me and the one place in the world I am at peace and don't feel suicidal.  I've left for better and worse places and they all had me longing to come back and ride the subway and eat a bagel.  And I'm glad I'm here. I have a feeling I'll be here on the last night on Earth and feel perfectly content knowing I'm in the place to be.

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