There’s no place like home

“If you’re bored in New York, it’s your own fault.” — Myrna Loy

I’m always amused when people who don’t live in New York think that those of us who do spend all of our time doing Touristy City Stuff. As if just because we live here, we’re always going to museums, gallery openings, book signings, and street fairs. Swinging from the antenna atop the Empire State Building. Waving to our friends from inside the Statue of Liberty’s head. Hanging out in trendy bistros. Lounging on plush, overstuffed sofas in a quaint coffee shop with five of our most cloying friends, wearing oversized sweatshirts from colleges we’ve never attended and dabbing cappuccino foam on each other’s rhinoplasty’d noses.
I love the touristy New York (with the exception of the Disneyfied Times Square). Indeed, I like to play Tourist In My Own Town, and, in “It Lasts Longer” (link on the right side of this site), I include two “albums” of photos that I’ve taken on jaunts to Battery Park and the Brooklyn Bridge. I, too, look up at the buildings to see the gorgeous architecture. I love seeing this city in the movies and on TV shows. (Although, for the record, not everyone lives in amazing lofts or in colorful spreads a la Monica and Rachel from Friends.) I love reading about it in books and magazines. I can’t get enough of it.
And because I live here, I do like to do a lot of New York-specific stuff, and I do take advantage of the fact that I live in one of the most amazing cities on the planet and not in Boring-Ass, U.S.A. (pop. 1096). With a few exceptions, I try to avoid stores and restaurants that can be found in the suburbs. I prefer to patronize “mom and pop” shops. The tiny Kitchen Market in Chelsea, where $1.25 gets you a delicious takeaway cup of iced Mexican hot chocolate and conversation with the cute Latin boy behind the counter. The tinier Casbah, a closet of a store in the West Village, where the owner knows everything about every item there and who hands you your purchase with a bright flash of his gold-capped teeth. Among countless others.
But what I enjoy most of all is just existing in New York. Walking down the sidewalk doing “nothing special”. Going to Java-n-Jazz just above Union Square, getting a huge iced coffee (yes, the love affair has resumed), and finding a bench in the park to watch people and dogs pass by, and even the occasional cat on a leash. Squirrels. Pigeons. Everything. Even the guy who carries on a conversation with himself, only one side of which I can hear (or two if I listen really carefully).
What I love doing the most, however, is going off the beaten path. Going to other neighborhoods — not necessarily the most beautiful or trendy — to see the “ordinary” elements. Dry-cleaning establishments. Corner delis. Laundromats. I like knowing that these places are common to those who live in the area. I like knowing that the deli I just passed is the one that that girl over there runs to at 11:15 p.m. when she really really needs a Dr Pepper. I like knowing that the guy behind the counter knows what her “regular” sandwich is. Stuff like that makes me giddy.
I love finding places that other people would probably overlook. An intercom store in Chelsea displaying a row of dusty old telephones in its front window, a 100-year-old elevator call box from the Flatiron Building. And, while admiring these objects, having the store’s owner come out and invite me inside to show me the intricate, ornate intercom system used by an impossibly rich woman to summon one of the many servants who ran her outrageously large Manhattan home. (Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture.) (Fortunately, this means I must return to get one.)
One of my greatest “finds” was a tiny, rinky-dink beauty parlor (definitely not a “salon”) that still has and uses the old-fashioned bubble-type hair dryers. Every time I pass by, I can’t help but glance inside and smile at the quiet line of pensive, tiny old ladies reminiscent of my grandmother.
I love walking down the sidewalks of a residential neighborhood, far from the throngs of people, far from the gawking, squawking, “fanny-pack” tourists, and guffawing when encountering a fantastically hilarious metal sculpture on a gate. Walking ten more paces and meeting gorgeous new friends. Looking down and seeing their two-dimensional counterpart. Looking up and seeing evidence of someone’s caprice.
These are the things that draw me out into the streets of New York. These are the things that captivate me. These are the things that I consider parts of My Own Private New York. Sure, the Empire State Bulding is fantastic. Sure, the Brooklyn Bridge fascinates me. Sure, I love the Statue of Liberty and the Flatiron Building and the Chrysler Building and all the other fabulous buildings I crane my neck to see. But I really do love to stop and smell the flowers (but not the ones painted on the sidewalk). As corny as that may sound, and as corny as I know it is, it is still what gets me going. And what keeps me coming back for more.
Immediately following September 11, people kept asking me if I was going to stay in New York. I couldn’t understand why they thought I’d want to leave. Would I abandon a friend who’d just suffered a terrible tragedy? No. Still, now, almost a year later, people ask me the same thing. And my answer remains the same. No. I’m not going anywhere. Why would I ever want to live anywhere else?
I’ve been to Paris quite a few times, and every time I went, I asked whomever I was with, “Do you think these people think, when they walk around this city, ‘Wow, I’m in Paris, one of the most amazing cities in the world?'” It wasn’t until I lived in New York that I realized that people who visit here think the same thing about MY amazing city. Sometimes I think, “Yeah yeah, it’s just another place to live.” But then a red double-decker tour bus will pass by, and its brightly-dressed passengers will be looking every which way, taking in more than their eyes can handle, and I’ll think, “My GOD. I live in New York.” Then I smile up at the Flatiron, I turn and wink at the Empire State Building, I step slightly to one side to air-kiss the Chrysler Building, and I sigh.
There’s no place like home.
Damn it, I NY.