Saturday, June 11, 2016

New York

My college roommate was from Wayne Township, and spoke glowingly of going into The City. There were all manner of people, and of restaurants, and entertainment venues.  He was fond of folk music coffee houses and other small concert settings, where you might go to hear Peter, Paul, and Mary yet be sitting just down the row from Tom Paxton. He liked the street vendors, or the little places you could get a cup of coffee and a piece of pie at midnight before heading out. The variety of people was endlessly fascinating, he told me, describing some of the characters he had seen on the street.  This I found a bit uncomfortable, as some of them were clearly ill and unhappy.  Providing entertainment for kids from Jersey wasn't a suitable counter for that.

My other close friend was from Long Island. He had little use for the city. Once he transferred from Adelphi to William and Mary, he only went back for family events. Greg would nod and laugh about the wonderful things Paul enthused over, but would frequently demur as well.  My favorite: "I'm not sure it's a good idea to put that many people in one place."

My continued contact with people who love New York has come two streams: in a minor way, the denominational camps we have camped at in NH, both of which draw from a considerable southern CT presence. Lots of people as oriented to NYC as to New England, who would talk often about working in the city, or going into the city with the family to see this or that. Restaurants!  Museums! People!  Noise!  Bustle!  They just couldn't get over how things were always happening there.  So much to see. In that group there is an interesting subtext. Among seminarians and writers for the denominational magazines there was this recurring theme of God loving the city; of the Church needing to maintain a presence in the city; of churches abandoning the city for new suburban structures; of struggling urban congregations that we should take an interest in. The subtext of that was Lutherans and Covenanters of Northern European extraction being uncomfortable with changing neighborhoods (wink, wink, changing color). They are more often talking about Chicago, however.

Even more common were the coworkers from New York and environs. Plenty of Jewish psychologists and psychiatrists to go around, either directly, or coming down as students out of Dartmouth. Tri-State emigres of many hues. The ones on internships fell into the usual pattern of making sure we knew that the restaurants up here aren't very good, and the museums aren't really museums. No theater worth speaking of. Architecture. And always, strongest of all, the fact that places outside of New York quiet down at some hour (sometimes early, the rubes), so that if you wanted to go and Do Something, you just couldn't.

The ones who came to stay are more like my friend Greg. Or even more like my friend Frank Schwartz who shrugs "they mean restaurants. Most of them don't go to shows or museums more than every few years.  Which you could do from Chichester just as well." Even that's not quite true, I don't think.  I think the bustle, and the idea that there is always bustle, is an enormous piece. When I went on Maggie's Urban Hike there was a lot of shining eye pointing out where some famous thing or another had happened.  Some movie scene.  Some historical event. Neighborhoods which had their own names. There was a certainty they were approaching the center of the universe.  I had the same feeling from Londoners. But there actually are famous or historical sites just about everywhere.
This fits here about as anywhere else, I guess.
Stuart Schneiderman laughed about it when we were walking together. One of his patients is a woman in her late fifties, widowed, who is going to pick up stakes and leave New York.  She'd be happy enough to stay, but her daughter decided a few years ago that there were not the job prospects she wanted in NY, so she sent out resumes and got a good job in Oregon.  She now has a husband and a small child. A powerful magnet for a Jewish grandmother, he chuckles. (And I approve of that.) But it's her son she is worried about. He has a terrible job and makes little money, with not many prospects for improvement. But he can't leave New York. He explains to his mother "Every morning I get up and I can go down to (cafe I didn't recognise) and have a coffee and a bagel.  Right there. I can actually go there every morning just by walking. I can't get that anywhere else." She worries about leaving him behind.

From some lips this is irritating to me, but that doesn't happen much anymore.  Mostly it's just puzzling. The fact that the events of 3pm also occur at 3am does not stir my imagination. Architecture is nice. I can see making an effort to go see that. I never did get back into the habit of theater, but I know enough that an adequate production has the same effect upon the soul as an exceptional one. I look at this year's Broadway lineup and see that there is  much I would likely find enjoyable. That some of it is irritating is no matter - that's true of everything everywhere. But I can't see why one would bother.  My other college roommate still directs and choreographs for a living.  He is up at Cape Cod Playhouse every few years - there are circuits of theaters, much as in baseball, and I think his is about AA. That would be fine.


RichardJohnson said...

Some historical event. Neighborhoods which had their own names. There was a certainty they were approaching the center of the universe. I had the same feeling from Londoners. But there actually are famous or historical sites just about everywhere.

One thing which reduces the historical connections for NYC is that there are very few old buildings left standing. Most were torn down long ago to accommodate a new skyscraper. I get a much stronger connection w history in strolling the streets of Boston.

One attraction of NYC is running into famous people on the street. My freshman year roommate was from West End Avenue on the Upper West Side. He told of seeing Richard Nixon walking on the sidewalk.

One rural-urban difference was that my roommate from Manhattan would turn on the radio to go to sleep,whereas I needed absolute silence to sleep. He was courteous enough to get some headphones. Another rural-urban difference was that he freaked out when a horsefly got into our room. My reaction- what's the big deal?

Around a quarter of the members of my freshman class were from NYC. I found them lively, interesting people. Nor did I find them parochial- none of the NYC is the center of the universe talk from them. Or at least they were discreet enough not to express such an opinion in my presence.

I have cousins who have lived in NYC- SoHo or Brooklyn- for decades. One cousin and her husband have a house out in flyover country w room for her horse. She would be content to live out in the country in flyover country, but her husband makes his living as an artist, and needs the contact w the NYC galleries etc. to keep going.

I know more childhood peers who moved from the country to NYC than I have neighbors who moved from NYC.

What I like about NYC is just walking around. I have already seen the big tourist sites years ago, so I see no need to revisit, with the exception of art museums. But just walking the streets is fun. You never know what you are going to run into.

Sam L. said...

I get enough theatre locally (in town or within an hour's drive). I've seen George C. Scott and Lee Marvin at the Tucson airport. I did miss Ahnold Schwarzenegger when he was in the area, though

Texan99 said...

It has a pedestrian scale I appreciate, and a much wider variety of ethnic food that I can get in Texas--worlds beyond what I can get in my little town. It's also loud, crowded, hostile, claustrophobic, dark, dirty, smelly, and on such thin ice that something like a garbage strike can make it unliveable within 48 hours. Really, though, what makes it unbearable to me is the provincialism.