Thursday, July 20, 2006

There Are No Foreigners In New York

There are a lot of times when I miss New York City. These times include, but are not limited to: when I watch a movie set there, when I hear a Brooklyn accent, when I go to a Jewish delicatessen, when I listen the music of the Velvet Underground, when I look at a great work of art, when I meet a beautiful woman who doesn’t take any shit off of anyone, when someone says “standing on line” instead of “standing in line”, when I see a train go by, when it seems that the sky would be better off hidden behind tall buildings, when I’m searching for a restaurant that’s open at three in the morning, when I’m surrounded by people speaking some other language, when I find a piece of especially well-conceived graffiti, when I overhear strangers telling dirty jokes, when I can’t sleep, when I dream of crowds, when the summer gets so deep that the city starts to stink, when the winter here has gone on for months and shows no sign of letting up, when these small cities on the plain start to feel too tame, when all the open spaces start to get suffocating, and when it seems like all the world needs is more strangers crammed in all around me.

I romanticize it more the longer I stay away. Minneapolis is tiny and provincial, filled with people numbly going through with routines they hate and lives they didn’t ask for. Minnesota is just a pretty patch of land scattered with insular and passive-aggressive Scandinavians. It’s a place where people politely shy away from exuberance, from passion, from difference; a place where the only acceptable course is a gradual tilt towards obsolescence and the only worthwhile vacation is to some lake cabin somewhere else in the state. I was born here, raised here and, in many ways, I love it here. But I don’t have any illusions about it anymore. To me, Minnesota is just a place. New York is more than that.

I sort of like having the city this way, understanding it only through my memories and its legend. That way I don’t have to remind myself of all the bullshit I put up with when I lived there. All the detestable rich kids preening and posing and driving up the rents. All the hours I spent uncomfortably contorted on some jam-packed subway train. All the times I was in a rush and got stuck behind hordes of slow-moving tourists. All the stares I’d get if I happened into a place already staked-out by some other subcultural grouping. All the fights the neighbors had on the fire escape. All the headaches I had that were made worse by the car alarms that went off every fucking five minutes. That’s all gone now. I’ve let it go and replaced it with the city’s grand and preposterous myth.

New York is for the restless. It’s for the striving, the troubled, and the dissatisfied. The oppressed gravitate there, and it doesn’t matter what they’re persecuted by. Governments, economics, ignorance, hopelessness—New York takes them all in regardless, gives them a home and shows them a world where everyone is escaping something, where every color, character and kind runs together in the city’s fathomless canyons. It’s the greatest cultural implosion the world will ever see. Everyone’s a foreigner in New York. Everyone’s a misfit. There are no foreigners in New York. There are no misfits.

And, on some nights, just the memories of it burn brighter that my sleepy new home ever could.