Now I notice the streetlamps hum,
The ghosts of graffiti they couldn't quite erase,
The blank faced stares on the subway as people go home.
The parks lay empty like my unmade bed.
The streets are silent like my lifeless telephone.
And this is where I live, but I've never felt less at home.
--"The City", The Dismemberment Plan
The more I visit this place, the less I want to come back. I used to live in New York. It's not the people. Certainly not. If someone tells you New Yorkers are the least friendly, most pretentious people you will ever meet, they're lying to you. Leaving the Army-Navy Game on Saturday, an elderly man gave up his seat on the bus to Port Authority explaining that a Marine never allows an officer to stand whilst the Marine sits. As I walked back along Flushing Avenue, heading towards Marcy Avenue, I passed and greeted three people, and all three of them replied politely.
Of course, the noders of the city are the most hospitable people I met this last weekend. I stayed the night at The Compound where thefez shared his chicken, chiisuta shared her mashed potatoes, lumps and all, just the way I like them. WickerNipple shared his video game and some ideas for books that a young officer might want to read. perdedor even shared a moment to look up from his computer and crack a smile from under his hoodie. The Normally Skittish Grey Cat even provided a 6:58 wakeup call- two minutes before the alarm clock was going to go off. I guess it didn't want me to be late for my flight at Newark. Throughout the night, noders were dropping in to share music, a smoke, whatever they had. It wasn't much, but everyone brought something.
That's why I hate this city: it makes me realise just how much I have, and how unhappy I am. Everything I need or want is given to me. Food, medicine, a place to sleep- those are givens. Since I've been at the Academy, I joined one of those secret societies I guess. I've noticed my bank account randomly grows by large amounts. It's probably related to all those old graduates who drive their rebuilt 1978 Mercedes sedans around. I've been "adopted" by several. Heck, my bonuses were enough to pay cash for a fairly nice sports car.
That's the problem: it's a good thing I'm not a Zen Buddhist, because I'd be going to hell. I have too much. The midshipmen around me have too much. And none of us are happy. We're too busy trying to go up in our class rankings, trying to backstab one another to ensure an aviation billet at graduation, trying to out-train ourselves so we can be SEALs. And while most of us will claim we're happy, does someone who is happy try to undo the efforts of a friend to get ahead?
The people in New York look you in the eye. The midshipmen all walk looking at the ground in front of them.
The noders were happy- it reminded me of the best days I've had doing long distance passage races. A week from landfall, you start running out of food and water. Showers become impossible. The racks are covered in sails. But that's when you're the happiest in my experience. You start tying people up with the safety harness and pushing them overboard for a "bath". You start making explosions of Mexican/Italian/Asian/whatever else you can dig up in the pantry for dinner. And you start sleeping on deck, under the stars with a spinnaker bag for a blanket, rocked to sleep by the waves. You tell stories about what you're going to do in port. But once you get to port, that shave isn't so appealing anymore- in fact, it feels like outright awful because you realise one more chapter in your life is over.
New Yorkers don't have much. But it's theirs. And they share it. The man playing his guitar in the walkway from the E Train to the G Train didn't have much, but he smiled for the change I threw into his cup.
I was walking in Manhattan waiting for my bus at Port Authority on Sunday morning and saw FAO Schwartz- they had a big, life sized, overstuffed kitty in the window. I couldn't help it. I bought it and took it back to the Academy, and stuck it in the Toys for Tots box (the boxes are all over since the Marines run that program nationwide). I don't know why I was feeling such a guilt trip- I took out $20 on Friday night for snacks at the game, and wasn't hungry although I hadn't eaten since Friday, and I didn't go out on Saturday night like I thought we might. So I had around $40 in my wallet, and spent it all on the cat. And for a moment, I felt like the New Yorker I once was again because I didn't have a dime in my wallet, but I knew I had made someone else happy.