Going Soft

July 12th, 2008 § 0 comments

Levon Helm said of coming to new york from Canada:

A dream come true. Fascinating, scary. Kind of hard to take the first time. You have to go there about two or three times before you can fall in love with it. But that happens eventually. New York, it was an adult portion, an adult dose. So, it took a couple of trips you know, to get into it. You just go in there the first time, and get your ass kicked, and take off. As soon as it heals up, you come back and you try it again. Eventually, you fall right in love with it.

After a few days of wandering the length of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs, I thought about his drawling little speech made thirty years ago. At a high point in the day, after food, water, and a brief rest I laughed at its relevance. New York is an uncompromising city. A friend told to me it doesn’t matter if you have 2,000 or 20,000, you will never find a place for the price you want. Discouragement ran high by the end of everyday, and when it did I felt disgusted by anyone who would fight hard enough to live in such a place. For such a small packed place, Manhattan’s diversity is incredible. The city is torn apart by unwanted gentrification and poverty. The rich, high above the streets in door-maned buildings, don’t seem to notice their own reflection in the eyes of those around them. Spoiled students run rampant through the streets of the village spouting nonsense into their iPhone. Because everything is so difficult and expensive, discontent in general is high. Flying out of jfk last night the flight was delayed 20 or 30 minutes, which caused such an outbreak of anger and violent verbal abuse I was startled—do these people never fly? I wondered, as on time flights have become a thing of the past. 


In some cities the difference between visiting and living is far greater than others, and the difference in nyc is considerable. I loved being a tourist, going where I wanted when I wanted, wandering the parks and museums, having dinner with friends and crashing on couches, enjoying a range of food you can’t get in Richmond. Trying to integrate yourself into its way of life, by contrast, is a tight squeeze, like getting on the subway during rush hour it is easy to get pushed out of the way. You have to be as determined to live there as you are to get onto a particular train and none other. I silently fought with a large man on the subway one night who cut in front of me, trying to shove me off the train. I made it as hard for him to get on as he made it for me, however, and I smiled after we were on as though I had won some kind of victory over the city pushing and shoving us about. Who did it think it was, really, being the most expensive city in North America? New York seems alive, more like a person or a beast than a city made up of people, it changes by the minute like a child.


On the way back to Richmond I talked to a new yorker leaving for his secluded house on the river in Virginia, a weekend away where he planned to spend time boating and doing other such Thomas Crown activities. He asked a lot of questions about my stay and impending move, and I felt a little embarrassed talking to the wealthy about the joys of youth and poverty. He was a good sport, however, who lived on Long Island working as an optometrist. No matter how it turns out it will be good for you, he said as we bumped our way through the air, everyone should live in Manhattan at least once, it will make you appreciate places like Richmond. I laughed as we parted thinking…I already do.

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