Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

Treatise on New York

Treatise on New York
I tend to sit impatiently on airplanes, still waiting for the day that I can just be beamed places and don’t have to put in the hours to actually travel to distant lands. There’s something about knowing I’m either ending up somewhere exciting or going home that makes me antsy. Not to mention that, unlike a car ride, traveling on a plane is not half the fun of the trip. I check the weather out the window, look down at the patchwork of farm land that makes up the majority of the United States, read sporadically, watch tv or movies, listen to my iPod, any of the myriad of distractions afforded us in our modern technological age. So as I finally descended through the clouds into New York last Tuesday, I was nearly ready to jump out of my skin.

It has been ten long years since I stepped foot on Manhattan Island. The Twin Towers still stood, the city was still somewhat gritty and dangerous, and I was too young to really venture out that far on my own in the big, unknown city. At that point I had been studying maps of Manhattan for a year an a half, looking up the cool hangouts like CBGB’s and Gray’s Papaya Hot Dogs, dreaming of moving to the city of cities.

Of course, moving to New York City is expensive, not to mention the fact that my underage drinking schedule afforded me no access to NYU or Columbia, both of which I dreamed of going to. I plastered maps of New York City to the wall above my bed, studying how the grid of streets fit together and just imagining what the graffiti covered, piss stained walls would look like once I finally got to live there. I watched countless movies, television shows, and one particular play (ahem, Rent), hoping to gather any information about the city that had captured my imagination at the ripe age of twelve. I started reading Henry James, Edith Wharton, Dorothy Parker, Hubert Selby, Jr., and F. Scott Fitzgerald, trying to grasp a picture of a New York that had long since been covered up with sex shops and hipsters, but still lurked underneath the surface of Starbucks and H & M.

It was drizzling when I left the airport, skies grey and dreary. Having been in the too bright sunshine of Los Angeles just five hours earlier, the cloudy coolness of New York was a much welcomed change. That is one of the inherent quirks of living in a city where the sun shines most days of the year, it is a treat to experience rain. To feel cool drops on your face, to smell the musk of the air right before it starts soaking the sidewalk, cleaning away the grit of the city.

After hours of taxi rides to the hotel, checking in, and unpacking, I finally was able to venture out into my much dreamed of city. Two of my co-workers and I walked the two blocks to the subway and it all came flooding back. I missed New York, so deeply, so thoroughly that my entire body ached from it. The smell of the subway, the subtle scent of humanity lurking below street level, flooded my senses, memories from London, San Francisco and New York ran in a loop. Somehow all subways smell exactly the same, no matter what city or country they race under.

We got out at Bryant Park and walked two blocks to the famed Algonquin Hotel. The drizzle had all but stopped, still a slight chill remained in the air, a lethargic East Coast breeze cooled the air enough to require a thick sweatshirt. Even on a Tuesday night at 11:30 pm, the day after labor day, New York was bustling. People walking toward and away from Times Square, people drinking in darkened wood-paneled bars, looking like they’re from a different time.

Dorothy Parker’s presence permeates the old painted ceilings and big velvet chairs of the Algonquin Hotel. The hotel cat slinks around before settling on a luggage cart, claiming her thrown for the moment before moving on to a more private nesting place. The martinis are infamous here, known best for propelling the drunken wit of Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, and of course, Dorothy Parker, among others. The bartender knows the stories of the Round Table, the deep cutting wit, the strong drinks, it all sets the tone for a week of publishing meetings and parties, where the ghosts of a publishing industry passed looms in the shadows.

Throughout the week, between work obligations, and many times during them, I found myself in all areas of the city, discovering what I had known on my first visit with my 8th grade cohorts, I belong to New York. A part of me isn’t at home unless it is eating pierogis at Veselka in the East Villiage, reading Henry James in Washington Square Park, or strolling through the heavily wooded ramble of Central Park.

There was never any doubt that I belonged most hungrily to Greenwich Village, that in my dreams, I live in a tiny old tenement apartment, one with an old wooden water tower still attached to the roof, where a century ago my Irish and Italian brothers and sisters hung laundry out the window and suffered through the disgusting summer heat to afford a life here in this land of promise. A certain part of me forgets that sacrifice without seeing the remnants of it every day. Still, the Village and its history of intellectualism, of artists and writers, musicians and poets, radiates a kind of passion that seems lost on the large sprawling boulevards of Los Angeles. Where is there to have an artist collective in L.A.? Only Venice can boast any kind of artistic integrity, and even that ended 40 years ago.

New York is a wholly encompassing experience. The sights, the sounds, the smells, they stick to a person, sinking their soft claws in until you have no choice but to give in to the magnetic pull. I don’t buy the pretentious, snobby New Yorker adage that L.A. is not a real city, and New York is the only city that matters because it’s a ridiculous statement, but still, there’s a certain magic to the fire escapes and rooftops, to the narrow cobblestoned streets and the wooden watertowers, to the tenement apartments that practically beg to sing West Side Story, that is just not present on the dusty broad streets of a too crowded Los Angeles. There’s something about New York that screams to be loved and used, to be worked and appreciated. And though I won’t say it’s the most important city in the world, it just might be the best.

Peace, Love, and NYC,


June 3, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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