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New York…when civilization falls apart, remember, we were way ahead of you. -David Letterman

“Do you miss living in New York?” is a question I get asked on a regular basis these days. Some people look at me with great pity that I am no longer there; others look incredulous that I ever lived there in the first place. Do I miss New York City? No. Yes. Depends on the day, really. Today I feel compelled to elaborate on the answer “no”.

I do not miss the constant defensive posture you inevitably adopt to live there and just get around on a daily basis. I do not miss the suppressed animosity just behind the surface of almost everyone, in the street, on the subway, in line at a store… the attitude that everyone is the center of the universe and you are the nobody who is in their way. I do not miss the total anonymity, the never meeting anyone’s eyes, the constant en garde. I do not miss the unceasing racket that no matter how high up you are reaches you. (Even on the 25th floor of the Waldorf-Astoria you still hear the sirens and the honks.) I do not miss the feeling in many shops and restaurants that you just don’t belong there because you don’t have the right clothes, enough cash, or ‘coolness factor’. I don’t miss the $20 hamburgers and $5 bottled waters and the rents that require more than 50% of your salary.  I don’t miss the whipping wind and rain through the artificial canyons the tall buildings create that destroys your new umbrella 5 minutes after you purchase it. I don’t miss the unrelenting pace set permanently on high.

And the funny thing about all of the above is that I didn’t realize that it bothered me so much or how it was affecting my psyche. (I always hated the untimely demise of umbrella after umbrella.) I lived there over 12 years and enjoyed much of my time there- most of my time there. I won’t say all because that would be disingenuous. It is a hard place to live at the best of times even with all the money in the world (not that I would know about that). Even the rose-colored haze that came with falling deeply in love didn’t hide all the city’s flaws. But the noise and high octane pace- it actually gave me a great feeling of energy, action, get up and go excitement. The staccato, vivace rhythm and even the never-ending clamor invigorated me a good deal of the time. I developed a New York City walk to keep up, to sometimes even out-distance. It gave me a (false) sense of strength and importance at crucial times. The noise became a pleasant background chatter that kept me company when I was feeling lonely. (Except for the jackhammers. There is always a jackhammer yammering away when you are longing for QUIET!) I even thought I liked the anonymity. No one remembers you at a store or restaurant so it doesn’t matter if you buy something embarrassing or have to go back a third time when you forgot yet another item. The 8 million people zooming by you just don’t care that you are having a bad hair day-they aren’t paying you or your hair one whit of attention. And yet…

Now, here in the relative calm of Salem, I don’t miss what I thought I didn’t mind, liked, even. I love going out of my front door each morning to get the newspaper and breathe in the wonderful clean, earthy smells, see the beautiful foliage and changing sky, and hear the birds, the wind in the trees, the occasional car going up the street. I feel calmer after this ritual even when I’m feeling totally stressed out. I feel more connected to the natural world, more with the world rather than against it. I didn’t even know I felt so disconnected. A friend who grew up on a farm visited me in the city once and he thought it was an amazing place but said there was just not enough nature for him (no place for cows). And I remember that I replied that Central Park was enough nature for me. Apparently not anymore, I am discovering. All that concrete was wearing out both my soles and soul.

And human connection is what I had been missing as well. Don’t get me wrong, I had wonderful friends, wonderful students and of course my beloved Kenneth, but that’s not what I mean. The anonymity that I had once so enjoyed- to never be remembered, to hardly ever be acknowledged as a person- had been eating away at my psyche. And again, I didn’t realize it until I experienced the opposite: Ken and I ate at the same sushi restaurant in our old neighborhood at least twice a month. We were always waited upon by the same one or two servers and we more often than not ordered similar menu items. Not once were we ever recognized or did the servers ever acknowledge that they remembered us. We were strangers even after the tenth time dining there. (The restaurant did have the most incredible view of the city but that would fall under what I do miss about my former home which is a topic for another day.) We now go to our new neighborhood sushi place with about the same frequency and on our third visit the waitress greeted us warmly and remembered our drink order. I had not realized how important and valuable this human interaction, connection and recognition is to me. You do have pleasant, human interactions with strangers in New York City but in my experience they are few and far between. We’re all in too much of a hurry, too wary, too too. And we have to be because if you slow down too much or in the wrong place, you’ll get run right over, literally and figuratively.

So for now I will savor the soft gentle sounds of rain on my window, the shush of the leaves in the trees, and watch “When Harry Met Sally…”. For now, that is all the NYC I need.

See also:

Three Bucks, Two Bags, One Me

It’s Christmas time in the city


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