Though I ragged on The Falconers in my latest book club post (yikes), I did enjoy the descriptions of New York. Like a true New Yorker, the protagonist vacillates between romanticizing its energy and history and despairing of its endless movement and occasional grotesqueness. At a low point in the novel, the protagonist projects her angst onto the city, writing:
“The world is indifferent and uncaring and New York is its agent of apathy. New York doesn’t give a damn. New York sounds like a choir conducted by the devil. And that’s on a good day. New York will take all your money and all your kindness and all your love and will keep it for itself. There is no return on your investment…New York is an orchestra in a constant state of warming up. It never, ever finds its tune or any semblance of melody.”
I see in this portrait some of the vitriol I have occasionally let fly on particularly bad days, when the worst of New York tends to surface, as though the city has some sixth sense: Aha, she’s having a toughie. Let’s show her our worst, gang. Or, the opposite: when you’re waxing poetic about the city, New York will be sure to serve you up something disgusting. That’s a little too Pollyanna for our taste, lady. Try this instead. On days of either extremity, weird subway juice drips from the ceiling onto my brand new dress, or a cockroach lands on Mr. Magpie’s back, or — as happened a week ago — I witness three strung-out teens shooting heroin on one of the gently sloping hills of Central Park, while children blithely kick a ball to one another just a few yards away. I called Mr. Magpie, distraught, not sure what I should have done. Do I keep moving? Call an ambulance? I had noticed one of the teens was wearing a hospital bracelet — a detail that has haunted me and left me wondering over his wellbeing ever since.
This is New York: the hideous and obscene and disturbing abutting the overwhelmingly romantic and stately. Just head to Midtown: it’s desolate and overcrowded, overcluttered with chain restaurants and filth–but then you’ll catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building or find yourself in a weird state of inward content as you watch the world pass you by, and it feels like magic, or poetry, or something ethereal and out-of-body you can’t quite put your finger on.
Mr. Magpie recently asked me whether I felt more at home in Chicago or in New York. New York was an easy, at-the-ready answer. I loved our home in Chicago but it felt distant from everything I knew: a plane ride away from family, a subtly though distinctively different culture and mentality. Even its landscapes felt foreign: endlessly and expansively flat. I always felt minuscule there, like a tiny pin-dot on a map, the corn-fields and farmlands extending into oblivion over and around me. New York feels narrower and easier to wrap my head around, and the rolling hills that met us as we approached the East Coast for the first time on our pilgrimage here felt like home.
But there is something else, too: in New York, I travel everywhere by foot, and most of my life is spent within a 10 block radius of our apartment. Because of this intense pedestrian-ness, I know every nook and cranny — the spots I am likely to run into dog poop, the stinky trash corners to avoid, the intersections I hate. I know where I’ll be heckled by folks pushing a political agenda or asking for donations, when to stop by the grocery to avoid lines, how to order at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Building (it’s an odd layout). I know my neighbors and the doormen and the barrista at my coffee shop and the cashier at my local Duane Reade and the “regulars” at the playground and the nail technicians at my salon by name and I interact with them all so frequently that I feel braided into the community here in a way I never did in Chicago. We have deeper roots here, too: siblings and cousins and an expansive network of friends and acquaintances I never had in Chicago. Beyond that, blessedly, my parents are now an easy three-hour train ride away.
I don’t know if New York will ever feel like “home.”
D.C. continues to occupy that spot in my heart and head. If someone asks when I’ll be going home, I reflexively think of my parents’ lovely home in Spring Valley, D.C., and have to do a quick mental shimmy to acknowledge that New York is, in fact, my home at the moment.
Will this change with time? If I stay in Manhattan for, say, a decade — will it then become my home? Home-buying did not transform Chicago into “home,” although I felt comfortable and secure there for a time, so I don’t know that it’s tethered to property ownership. Maybe watching my babies grow up here, plugged into schools and activities and budding friendships and soccer on Saturdays and donuts after Church on Sundays will make this city feel more like my own?
On the flipside, spending a week in the leafy, Suburban-esque bliss of the Hamptons earlier this summer left me aching for space and nature, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I will slowly emotionally alienate myself from the concrete jungle of New York, longing instead for cricketsong and the normalcy of an American youth for my children.
I don’t know. But I can tell you that I feel that life has brought me here for a reason — that there is something brewing here, something important — and that Mr. Magpie and I are determined to take advantage of this incredible town for however long we stay here.
So two years in, I continue to tango with New York, loving it on the good days, telling myself “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” on the mediocre ones, and wondering how impractical it would be to up and move our family back to the nostalgia-lined mid-Atlantic on the tough ones. Somewhere in that dance, my two year old daughter informed me, rather haughtily, that we were “in a taxi, not a car” as we zoomed up Broadway to visit a girlfriend; a stranger helped a man up after he tripped over a curb in Union Square; I was nearly run down by one of the furious and insane cyclists in Central Park who are always, apparently, in the midst of racing the Tour de France and have no time for pedestrian walkways; an old woman shoved me out of the way as I attempted to board the Subway; and my manicurist made a point to ask after my son, noting, with accuracy, that “he is two months, right”? It’s a weird thing, the swell and give of this city, the small kindnesses against the unseemly rudenesses, the poignantly personal against the inhumane, the dingy against the magical. At the end of the day, it’s a city of extremes, and, as a moderate in all things, I don’t tend to like living in the poles.
But New York may prove to be the exception.
Because even though New York will knock you down a peg when you’re feeling too good about it, it will also always finds small ways to make it up to you. A conductor holding the door of the Subway car open for you as you race through the turnstiles. The quiet of Central Park on a weekday morning. The elegant stateliness of Lincoln Center, the hush of its fountains temporarily suspending you from the din of the city. The knowing look of a fellow New Yorker as you edge your way around a clump of tourists. The proximity and urgency and thrill of it all.
I’ll take it.
+A few moms have written to say that Yumbox lunchboxes are THE best (leak-proof, great for organizing small toddler portions, etc). I already ordered mini one of these monogrammed styles but am wondering if I should buy a “bento-box” style insert? Currently, I use these inexpensive tupperware for her lunch when she’s out with the nanny.
+Is it horribly embarrassing that I can’t wait for this to arrive in the mail?
+Absolutely in love with these hand-painted custom Corroon bags.
+These discounted Jimmy Choos are so fun.
+Love this dress! Wish it were nursing friendly…
+I had a lot of questions about a dragonfly mug I posted on Instastory not long ago. It was from our wedding china, the June Lane collection by Kate Spade.
+Have heard such good things about these pre-bottled coffees!
+Swooning over this tweed jacket with jeans for fall.