Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you’ll live through the night. ― Dorothy Parker
Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book -and does
― Groucho Marx
I believe in New Yorkers. Whether they’ve ever questioned the dream in which they live, I wouldn’t know, because I won’t ever dare ask that question. — Dylan Thomas
To be a New Yorker is to accept the fact that in a variety of ways you are delusional. The delusions can come in the form of grandeur or whatever the opposite of that is. On any given day New Yorkers can transition back and forth between extreme glee and an overwhelming desire to flee. We live lives not of quiet desperation but rather brash anxieties. We complain about the dirt and the noise, but without it we would feel less complete. The outside world sees us as rude and intemperate, but we know we are just hurried, because here speed can be the most valuable commodity. New York is quite literally the city that never sleeps. That adage is not just an adage, it is the truth. I have worked for years in the tourist industry and although most of the visitors to my town are excited about their visit and know enough to be respectful to their host, there are too many others who, after having spent all of an hour here are ready, willing and able to tell me all about what’s wrong with my city. Once, such a visitor kvetched to me that they stopped someone on the street to ask for directions and they could not believe how rude the person was. I asked them if the person gave them the directions they were asking for and they replied that yes, they did. I then asked if the directions were correct and they replied that they were. So, when I politely asked what their problem was, I saw their eyes narrow and imagined that the same judgement they had made about their “guide” was now being applied to me. I calmly explained to them that New Yorkers are used to helping out tourists, taking the time it takes to do that, and no more. We are not here to chat, unless we have nothing to do and nowhere else to be, which is rare. But in most cases, we will try to assist you. In times like these I have to resist asking these people, who simply must tell me how they could never live here, or how much they can’t wait to go home, or how dangerous the safest major city in the nation really is; why did you come in the first place? It is obvious to me that whatever little time they have been here has been spent searching the terrain for anything at all that will justify their predeterminations. So, when a helpful resident hurries off to catch a number one train to Harlem to make a gig on time after answering their question; their presumptions of rudeness have somehow been justified. I want to tell them that a lot of what they have observed is true. The streets are dirty, there are a lot of homeless on the sidewalks, there are some bad people (But oh my god lady, there are assholes everywhere, including Des Moines I imagine) but you might want to exercise care. I can complain all I want about my city’s faults, but you should tread very carefully with this native son of the city.
Too often I need to get out of here. Too often I feel as if this city is going to crush me. Too often I need to be in a place where I can wake up in the morning to the sounds of birds chirping and dogs barking and not the symphonic tones of emergency service vehicles. And always, whenever I have had a decent chance to decompress from it all, the genetic urge to dive right back into the urban primordial ooze of it is just as strong if not stronger than the urge to flee was. There are not many other places in this country where I can roll away from this keyboard at 3AM and grab myself a slice of pizza if I wish. Not that I do that kind of thing so much anymore. At 66 it might not be gastronomically wise, but it is nice to know that I can if I want to. If you like nightlife, in NYC, it’s never late until dawn and after dawn it’s early.
Unfortunately, for the time being, that late-night slice will have to be put on hold. As before in our historic battles with fevers called typhoid and yellow as well as cholera our collective identity is being challenged in a variety of ways. A grim visaged war is being waged on us by another invisible enemy and although it is as well a national and universal struggle, nowhere, at least in this country is its audacity being so roundly felt than here. But we are the heavyweight champions of national challenges. We have done this before. We did it in the 1970’s when an unelected US President told us to drop dead. We led the nation in compassion and fight when a mysterious disease infected a large segment of our community who either loved differently, suffered from drug addiction or simply were sick or injured enough to require a transfusion of blood from a supply previously thought to be safe. And when that president of the United States could not bring himself to even say the word AIDS, we put our shoulder to the wheel and acted. We have experienced more than our share of urban upset as well. We are not perfect. There has been racial strife, police brutality, riots and blackouts casting darkness over millions of people. And on Sept 11, 2001 we witnessed firsthand, along with the rest of the nation the long-term effects of the cocktail of terminal theocratic terrorist ideology, and ill-conceived and often inhumane foreign policy in a part of the world we never have and likely never will understand. 343 of our firefighters ran into buildings that everyone else was running away from and were never to be seen again. Over 70 police officers from 10 different agencies answered the call and never went home to their families. The same fate awaited many of the legions of construction workers and investigators who spent what seemed like an eternity working “the pile”. Over the years the cumulative effects of so much time in such a toxic environment had the effect of ending too many lives long before their natural time stamp. Meanwhile, New Yorkers lifted the burdens of each other. And when a storm named for a fictional greaser chick told us we better think twice in 2012, we took the lessons of our earlier experiences with tragedy and rose once more from the canvas together, as the city with a chin of stone.
New Yorkers understand the concept of collected humanity because New Yorkers all ultimately came from elsewhere, whether it be the Midwest or the southeast or the far west or any part of the nation or other nations in between. But make no mistake about it, once you have settled here, as an escapee from the rest of the available world, you are now as much of a New Yorker as a native like myself and you make this metropolis hum like a Mariano Rivera slider. A nation birthed by settlers in lower Manhattan, in time provided a landing spot to others in a place called Ellis Island. There, hope was offered to others sailing through our harbor, guided by the mother of exiles to a place where the tired and the poor, yearning to breathe free were greeted by the glowing torch of worldwide welcome .
We will rise again, because we are New Yorkers and that is what we do. I can’t roll into a pizza joint for a slice or catch last call at 3:30 AM at my favorite Village bar, if I were so inclined at the moment. But I know one thing for god damned sure, those opportunities will be available to me again someday. Because New Yorkers are social distancing, we are washing our hands, we are calling on our neighbors and checking in, we are doing all the etceteras, and etceteras and etceteras that medical folks request of us. The darkened streets are deserted in the city that never sleeps, and for now, that is how it should be. New Yorkers are awake to all of it. Crap, I’m writing this at 4:30 in the morning.
We live hard here, we love hard, we laugh hard. When we weep the deluge calls for life rafts and then we row. And we fight, we don’t quit. Towels are for drying washed hands, not for tossing in the ring before the final round. In the end, we will, all of us New Yorkers, whatever our origins, find ourselves standing in the center of the ring, collective hands raised above our heads as our opponent is counted out at our feet. We are the champions and I am as proud of us as I have ever been.