My father, in one of those shocking moments of absolute clarity that seem to punctuate our relationship, breaking the fights into managable chunks of memory, told me the one remaining deep psychological secret about living in New York City that hasn't been washed into the gutter with the rest of the clichés like "New Yorkers aren't friendly".
I was having a miserable time when he hit me with his little nugget of truth. My job was sucking the life out of me, my then-girlfriend was away in California for the summer (only to dump me when she got back; that didn't help), my summer classes were dull beyond imagining and my friends (with a few notable exceptions) didn't have time for me. I felt like I was treading water with the sun beating down on my head. The monotony was eating away at my sanity and making itself comfortable inside my skull.
My dad staged an intervention of sorts (though he'd laugh at the term) when it got particularly bad. He came into the city, sat me down at a table in our local irish pub, ordered me a bigass steak and listened to me tell him what was going on.
When I was done (and it felt great to be done, to get rid of all that suck) he said "New York is filled with lonely people. It's one of the things you accept when you live here. Some people have a harder time adjusting than others but it never really goes away."
Looking back on that conversation some four months later, I can truly appreciate what he meant. I, along with the millions of other people who choose to fight with the insanity of day to day life here, view the city as mine and mine alone. I'm territorial and possessive. I know my city better than anyone, a fact that is actually True (with a capital "T") because MY New York is Mine and Mine alone. It is My creation, the sum total of My experiences and My Stories.
My New York will die with Me.
This is all well and good and I'm sure my attitude does much to add to the city's...charm, but in the process I think maybe I've lost something, some kind of warmth that gets sucked into the concrete beneath my feet. Connecting with people is incredibly difficult here. I don't recognize my neighbors on the street, those people who have to deal with my subwoofer at 2am, pumping out Crazy Life over and over again, though they don't know who to complain to any more than I know who to apologize to.
It's a lonely town that I'm helping to create, and I do everything I can to alleviate that feeling within myself without, truth be told, fixing the actual problem. I go to shows and movies, to drawing classes at the Met, to coffee joints and bars. I take walks and smoke way too many cigarettes in the company of the other disenfranchised nicotine addicts bundled up against the winter cold or wincing in the summer sunlight. I drink cheap beer and expensive whiskey. I make eye contact, listen to what people say and use their first names in direct address once I learn them (if I learn them) just like Dale Carnegie taught me to do. I have opinions, and espouse them at 3am on a monday night in (mostly) empty bars.
I have, in short, no personality or self-worth outside of what people think of me. I slide out of people's memories like a fried egg off of teflon. Welcome to New York, now Fuck Off.
It's a lonely town all right, and it's all our fault. That's the thing I think we can't come to grips with. I run through the streets like I'm wearing blinders. I order in from the chinese place around the block. I take the subway three stops to work (about twenty-two blocks, or a 20 minute walk) instead of enjoying the scenery even though the train takes longer on average. I spend my lunch breaks holed up in the basement of my bookstore rereading the cartoon clppings blue-tacked to the walls and memorizing book reorder codes. I could, of course, spend my breaks out on the sidewalk introducing myself to anyone interesting who happened to walk by, but I'd be ignored.
We don't talk about real emotions here.
I've thought about walking into a bar (completely sober, mind you) and shouting "EXCUSE ME, BUT WOULD ANYBODY LIKE TO HAVE A GOOD CONVERSATION AND (MAYBE) GET LAID TONIGHT?" but I don't have the guts. For a town notorious for its sarcasm-slash-honesty, such behavior wouldn't go over too well.
New Yorkers want someone to call up and ask how we're doing, to take a passing interest in our existence. And when they do, we want to be able to tell them to fuck off, saying "Of course I'm fine. I'm a New Yorker, I can handle anything."
But we still sit by the phone, waiting for that call.