I haven’t lived in New York my whole life. This is important. New Yorkers–that is, those individuals born and raised in NY–are a special breed. [Pause for definition: New Yorker–an individual born and raised, having attended Public or Catholic school through high school, in one of the five boroughs. Usually Queens or Brooklyn. Sorry Upstaters, you might as well have been raised in Pennsylvania, or on the Moon.] Even if they have moved away from NY for long periods of time, these individuals return prepared; armored, fortified, energized, dauntless. Nothing about living in NY fazes these folks. For those of us who have adopted NY as our home, however, it is quite a different story. Despite residing on Long Island for close to thirty years now, I continue to wince on an almost daily basis. I wince at drivers deliberately driving through red lights in the middle of the day–because they’re driving a school bus. I wince at airport cops who bang on my car and call me things that would get you hit over the head with a beer mug in a Dallas bar because I had the nerve to slow down to pick up my daughter who’s standing right there with her luggage. I wince at the high school counselor that explains to me that “You gotta realize that maybe college ain’t for every goddamn kid just because they got a doctor for a parent, you know?” Real New Yorkers never wince. Rule Number One: Never show fear.
New York is a hard place to live. Real New Yorkers do not appreciate this fact. When informed of this unassailable truth, the New Yorker looks at you with a mixture of confusion and pity. “You from Jersey?” they may ask. But they really don’t care about your answer. Rule Number Two: Only New Yorkers can criticize New York. They don’t understand that both parents need to work two or three jobs, have Sis watch the kids almost every day, and put the weekly groceries on the credit card just to survive here. They have no clue that they could be living in a four bedroom McMansion with a live-in maid and two acres in 98% of the rest of the country for what they’re spending to barely make ends meet with the mother-in-law living in the basement and paying rent. She does, however, make her own sauce and have dinner ready almost every night. Real New Yorkers wouldn’t consider moving, because there is no where else in the world to live. Visit, sure. Maybe even for a few years. But not live.
In New York, one assumes that the car facing you at the red light will make a left in front of you as soon as the light turns. That if you want your groceries bagged, maybe you should reach over and put the groceries in the bag, why don’t you? That if you allow more than ten inches between your car and the car in front of you, somebody will cut in, maybe two cars and a bus, and that this process will continue until you realize that you are actually getting farther and farther away from your destination. That if you want to get over to take that exit, you are going to have to just close your eyes and turn the wheel as you listen for the sound of screeching metal. Rule Number Three: Never make eye contact.
New Yorkers don’t realize that there is no help in this environment. On the expressway, signs are either positioned to appear just beyond the exit you needed to take, or are rendered illegible by graffiti, or have rusted to the point of pointing in slightly the wrong direction. No matter how intelligent you are or how long you stand staring at the changing big board in Penn Station as throngs stream about you like so much spawning salmon, you will not get on the right train, and therefore you will be at least forty minutes late for your appointment, and when you do arrive you will have sweat stains under your arms and your collar will be two sizes too small for your neck. New Yorkers don’t realize that you could’ve gotten the six blocks cross town quicker by walking than by sitting in the back of a taxi that moves less than eight feet in thirty minutes despite blowing its horn continuously as the driver yells an unceasing stream of something unintelligible which you eventually realize is his hands-free cellphone conversation and not directed at you at all. They don’t realize this because New Yorkers don’t take taxis in New York. Rule Number Four: If you don’t know how to get there, you have no business being here.
It’s a great town, of that there is no doubt. The people are the best in the world. But it is a hard place to live. Rule Number Five: You have to want to be here.