Stack eight million people in boxes one on top of another, and what do you get? New York, where your neighborhood dry cleaner closes to make way for a high-rise that will obliterate the patch of sky you can see from your bedroom. Where the
E train comes to a halt between stations, making you 45 minutes late for your 50-minute hour. Where bedbugs are on the march. Where sooner or later the same thought crosses the mind of every citizen, young or old, rich or poor: Life is a hassle.
Not every day, of course. New Yorkers can’t afford to think about the hassle too often or think about it for long. I know. I lived there for most of my adult life, and I couldn’t afford to think about it either. But ever since I moved away four years ago, I can and do.
People who live in other parts of the country—and here I am, one of them, to my own amazement—come to New York for business or a Broadway show, to sample a few restaurants popular last year with the locals, shop, and then head back to a place where they park their cars in the building they live in and drive to work when it’s raining, where the cable guy shows up at the designated hour, where the commotion outside their windows in the morning is birdsong. You may say, as I used to tell myself, that they have traded culture and conversation at the highest level for mere convenience and proximity to nature. You can argue that, as tourists, they barely scratch the surface of all the city has to offer. Because you’re eating at the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, or stopping by MoMA on your way home from work, or seeing Al Pacino as Shylock in the park. Or anyway, you could be.
Don’t get me wrong. I heart New York. I love its gritty glamour, its you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up serendipity, its adrenaline high, its 24-7 gratification, its philosopher taxi drivers, its come-one-come-all welcome mat. Any one or all of which, on any given day, can make the hassle worthwhile. When it is worthwhile.
But then there are the other days. There’s a New York state of mind, and though karaoke anthems by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, Frank Sinatra, and Billy Joel commemorate it, they stop short of spelling out its crowd-sourced manifesto—the ideas you need to buy into if you’re going to live in the city and put up with the everyday annoyances it hurls your way.
Photos: Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce