Sunday, October 19, 2008

For Better or Worse, A New Yorker

This past week, while walking down New York City streets, I've noticed a trend. On at least four occasions, strangers have stopped me and asked me for directions. In each disparate location, I had the right answer for them.

One time, one man stopped me and asked me the way to Columbus Circle. I told him we were standing in it. Seconds later, another man asked me where 59th street was -- I pointed directly behind us.

Instead of my default reaction of, "Why the hell are you talking to me?" which has evolved swiftly over the past several years, being able to answer these questions for these people has made me envision my place here in the micro-cosmos of this city. I am no longer looking at it as an outsider. I am part of the machine.

When I first moved here, almost 10 years ago, my father had already been living in Manhattan for 6 years. Ultimately, I've had a type of home in this city for nearly half my life. Yet, in those early days, I couldn't escape the constant comment, "You're not from around here, are you?"

I would say, actually, "I sort of am." Even if it wasn't in NYC that I originated, like Walt Whitman, or Teddy Roosevelt, I'd still only come from New Jersey, which in the grand map of the world, is not THAT far from New York.

I learned that when these people insisted I wasn't "from around here," they didn't mean, from across a river. They meant Denmark, or Austria, or some small country in Eastern Europe. I don't know what it was in my demeanor that made me appear so to be so green. I've always sort of had a youngish looking face, but there are plenty of young people who've grown up in New York. And I could sort of say the same thing for myself...

Was it an innocence? A naivete? A profound appearance of one who is lost in the woods? I cannot claim that I possessed none of those things. Somehow, I was proud that the city hadn't claimed me...

I haven't decided whether or not this new-found appearance of me as someone-who-belongs is a good thing or not. Because appearances are deceiving. I could always leave. Anyone could, and many people do.

And if I look like I'm one to ask how to navigate these streets, does that give me some sort of authority here? That is something I thought I never wanted. Not here. New York is wonderful, but anyone who knows me, knows that it has kicked my ass from the Bronx to Brooklyn and back.

I wonder if all this is related to the new direction I'm taking -- leaving the workaday world to work on what I care about? Exploring this city on my own terms, to find inspiration for my writing. Maybe making a choice like that is what gives me authority -- not in the city particularly, but in my life. Maybe that's what people are seeing in my no-longer-so-young-ish face, and maybe that's why they finally feel like I'm someone who knows the way...

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