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New York & Me

 

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The human fan operates inside its steel encasement. “To the right you’ll see…” shouts a designated staff member from the top tier with his microphone close to his mouth . Red and mighty it trumps the street, letting all around take notice. Their beady eyes look down with fascination. I look back at them, every time, wondering if it is me, us, that they are observing with a critical eye. When the tour busses honk their way past me on my way home from school, I become a spectacle, New Yorkers become the sight to see.  We get shrunken down to one big mockery of what it’s like to be a New Yorker. 

As I walk up Fifth with my coffee in hand, lugging my heavy book bag after hours of class, I feel trapped. I know their eyes are on me, wondering who I am, where I’m going, if I am someone important. The worst accusation they seem to make is if I have changed yet. Are you one of them now? Or, are you still one of us, an outsider? 

When I open the doors to my building, I’m cocooned once again, away from judgement. I check myself—You are a New Yorker now, but you will always be a small town girl. 

When I look into a tourists’ eyes, I see myself—someone who did not know the real New York and thus judged it with the credentials I gave it. They are mean, hard, and narcissistic. I try my best to avoid this mold, to be anything other than one of those New Yorkers.  

One free Saturday morning, my friend and I volunteered to garden with preschoolers—at least that was what we were told. But much to my surprise, our real task was to watch over the preschoolers while their parents trudged in the dirt to remove heavy rocks and shrubs from the area in which they were going to plant. The “garden” was an old graveyard covered by mounds of ivy and cobblestone walkway. It would take days before the planting stage were to occur. As I entertained the children, I had time to overlook and observe the parents working together. I saw women digging up pounds of dirt, men carrying bricks in wheelbarrows, people disposing of leaves and shrubs. Every single person was busy and willing to help. I stood there in awe of these adults of their generosity and kind spirit to bond with their families,neighbors, and local community. They were no different than your own neighbors, they were just simply living in New York. 

When you live in New York you can experience an abundance of loud noises, inconvenient construction work, and crowds of people moving in dizzying directions. However, one of the biggest mistakes is to believe that one part of Manhattan is all of Manhattan. What we see in one area may be completely inaccurate of another area. As hard as you try, you cannot define New York City.

Perhaps there is a New York newcomers separate themselves from—a fear that we will one day wake up as a robot, unable to feel for anyone or anything, just perform. But I have yet to meet such a mystical creature. New York is complete with generous, outgoing, beautiful individuals. They are patient despite drums in the subway that penetrate their ears, or tourists who enter the train without letting people off first, or people begging for money all the time. Often the daily pains become numb to us as we find ourselves just one in a million whom are trying to survive. We’re in the chaos together and sometimes being “closed off” just means “I need some space.” And though newcomers may be weary of its demands, I assure you, struggle makes you stronger. So look down at me, perhaps there is something to see—a woman made of many parts, whom along with many others is proud to be a New Yorker.

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2 Comments

  1. Scott Korb

    This is fascinating, your effort to see yourself both as you assume others/tourists see you, and as you’re coming to see yourself as a new New Yorker. What strikes me is that your closeness to that other world—your relative newness—makes you slightly more defensive about your harried life than you’ll come to be as you grow into a kind of comfort in the city. There’s part of you that imagines yourself on that tourbus, still a tourist, and you seem to want to account for your life here, to those people (and to your imagined self up there “looking down”). What experience tells me—and this is common among people who have been in NYC a long time—is that the gaze you’re referring to may end up going the other way. The New Yorker no longer feels accused by the tourist for the life she leads. Indeed, the New Yorker ends up accusing the tourist.

  2. mollie

    OMG yessss Amanda!! But really- this is such a great piece. I love the idea of the “big red bus” being an accusation but an accusation of something you’re trying to avoid – the indifferent New Yorker. I think so many people can relate to the fear of becoming “hardened” by the city since it seems like everyone on the streets is a “robot”. However I love that you bring up the other side of being a New Yorker – the caring, passionate, patient side – that only people living here understand. It’s so easy to judge New York by it’s straight faced people on the streets and bustling Times Square. I think there are two phases of being a New Yorker, trying to fit yourself into that stereotypical imperturbable shell at first and then realizing that there’s so much more underneath it. I would love to see how this progresses!

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