I miss going to The Strand, the store with 18 miles of books. I miss walking and smoking by the Hudson, strolling into Chelsea galleries on a whim. I miss exploring the community gardens and street art of the Lower East Side, witnessing the struggle against gentrification. I never got to wrap yarn around the fences… I miss the small playhouses and underground comedy clubs, the well-deserved nights of good times and fun. These nights were so rare for me that they never lost their charm or magic.
I miss taking long walks in the spring, carrying nothing at all, my skirt billowing in the breeze. I miss sitting in front of Alumni Hall, sketching in the sun with a mug of hot tea by my side. I miss visiting the Barney building just to indulge in its comforting atmosphere and pleasing red-and-ivory color scheme. In the 2nd floor women’s room, there is a sunny stall missing a swinging door. The window opens all the way, so you can stick your head out and look down 9th St, my favorite street in Manhattan.
Tonight, i walked from Seoul Station to my hill barefoot in the pouring rain. It was the greatest walk of my life. For the first time since arriving here, i felt one with the city and yet comfortably alone, with only my thoughts and my music and the rain washing over my feet. There’s something about cities: no matter where in the world you might be, a city has this way of being welcoming and impenetrable at once, and you have to meet it head-on at its most vulnerable moments—when there are very few people on the streets masking its true qualities—to break open its shell.
That’s what i missed when i left New York. I missed making love to the city, taking long walks in the rain and at night, ignoring everything around me but the ground below my feet and the vague pulsation of life continuing in my temporary absence. I loved everything about New York: the people, the food, the culture, the beat it moved to. There’s nothing quite like the no bullshit attitude that New York breeds and takes pride in.
I hate most things about Seoul, especially the people, but as long as i can take barefoot, solitary walks in the rain, returning home to my quiet hill of friendly people, i think i’ll be okay. Navigating the city isn’t a concern; i just need to learn how to navigate the people.
There’s something about late night heart-to-heart’s in New York. The hustle and bustle of everyday life in the city makes you yearn so much for human connection that even sustained eye contact becomes something to be cherished, and soul-satisfying conversations crawl their way into secret repositories, like this one.
While the city was celebrating 420, my friend and i sat in bed, Guinness draughts in hand. We shared our individual pasts, reminisced over our high school years, and revealed our hopes and dreams. Maybe it was the Guinness talking, but maybe it was also our hearts connecting.
For the first time in a long time, i had what i call a “committed conversation.” We each had the other’s undivided attention for once, undistracted by the city’s beauties and failings. The tension of NYC in daylight fell away as we drank, leaned back, and indulged in the silence of my room and the authority—the sweet audibility—of our voices.
Last night replenished my soul, and i’m finally unafraid to plow through the three weeks i have left here.
It’s 6 p.m. My roommate Heather’s not back yet, so i have the luxury of listening to my music without headphones. The day is winding down, much too soon, and cars honk here and there as they rush home. Wheels sound slick on wet roads.
It’s 7 p.m. My suitemate Kristen takes her usual evening shower. Maybe i should shower early tonight, too. I’m tired and i’d like to go to bed early, maybe wake up early to finish studying. But Heather will be back soon and i wouldn’t be able to sleep with her in the room, typing away on instant messenger. My pills rattle as i look for my glass bottle of Vitamin B6. I press down firmly on my pill splitter until one tablet snaps neatly in two, giving me two manageable doses of 25 mg. No need for 50 mg at this time of the evening.
It’s 8 p.m. Our heat’s broken again; i turn on my electric heater. It clicks merrily as it heats up the oil inside. The satisfying click, the promising click… Heather’s back, and we make our usual small talk, but there’s more to talk about tonight. Sometimes i think we turn every mundane event into drama to compensate for the lack of excitement in our lives. An ambulance blares and honks its way down our street as Heather and i discuss the latest passive-aggressive behaviors in our suite.
It’s 9 p.m. The heater whines and buzzes to indicate that it’s reached maximum temperature. It’s still cold. I walk over to the room thermostat and press the fan button to no effect. The radiator makes a jerking sound as if it’s going to do something but doesn’t blow any air. Kristen’s removing her dishes from the dish rack; she closes the cabinets and returns to her bedroom, shutting the door. My turn to do the dishes. At least the water will be hot.
It’s 10 p.m. The wind howls through high-rise valleys and building vents. The locals next door to our building chatter into the night, savoring the last puffs of their cigarettes. Delivery trucks growl, rolling up 1st Ave. Someone on the street yells, “Watch out!” The city has so many people and sometimes it upsets me that i can’t care for every one of them, that i can’t know what happens to every one of them.
The past week has been the best i’ve ever spent at NYU. This is my third semester dorming (the first, fall of freshman year, and the second, spring of junior year), and i have never been this happy with my living situation. Alumni Hall was definitely nice–you can’t beat its location, neighborhood, and convenience—but it was too loud and hectic, and i spent many a night cursing off the sophomores gathered under my second-floor window smoking, chatting, and generally being stupid all night. And of course, there were the mice.
Now i’m at 26th and 1st, and while it’s the least popular NYU dorm, i’m very happy with the remodeled kitchen and i even like that it’s out of the way. The walk to the subway is not bad at all, and the lack of good, cheap eating options in the neighborhood compared to the East Village will mean that i’ll be cooking most meals, which should be a nice change. And it’s quiet. There are mostly juniors and graduate students here (i’m the only senior on my floor, the rest being juniors), and despite living next to two big hospitals, i’ve only heard one ambulance so far. While i sometimes miss the liveliness and convenience of the East Village, i’m relieved to be living in a peaceful, residential district this year.
Then there are my suitemates. I don’t think i’ve ever gotten along this well with assigned suitemates. We talk all the time, hang out all the time, and have tea and sweets together regularly (cute, right?). I actually look forward to them coming back to the room, and i already miss one of them who’s been in Toronto for the past two days. And if this weren’t enough, i have an awesome RA! He’s so friendly and helpful and i love running into him all the time. My freshman year RA was hard to get ahold of and ultimately failed to help me resolve issues with my disruptive neighbors (hence, the departure after one semester), and i never even formally met my junior year RA.
Recently, i’ve been experiencing NYC in a strangely sentimental way every time i commute into the city for work. I find myself snapping out of my usual thought-filled daze, looking up from the sidewalk, and just taking everything in, as if i were discovering the city anew. And i can’t help but assume that i wouldn’t fit in anywhere other than New York. I have these thoughts regularly, but these days, the conviction is so unshakable. Sometimes when i ride the subway, i like to stand and hold the pole even if there are empty seats and casually look around and observe the people. I don’t know what it is about subway trains, but i instantly feel comfortable and content in that sea of strangers who are so absorbed in their own bubbles but also refreshingly friendly, when given a chance to be. New York friendly is a rare kind of friendly: not overwhelming, not interfering, and most definitely not forced. Friendliness in New York is warranted, not expected, but it’s also surprisingly prevalent, if you know how to interact with the people. It could be in a quick nod or even just a glance. Wherever you find it, it’s cool, never clingy, and it always brightens up your day, if only for a fleeting moment. Perhaps “friendliness” is not the right word. Maybe it’s solidarity.
The bubbles definitely exist, but they’re so clumsy and thin and easily breakable, and not many people realize that everyone needs and wants to break out of them sometimes. There’s a secret camaraderie among New Yorkers, and i’m not sure how much of that exists—and if it does, what it’s like—in other big cities. And so this is the question i’m faced with now: do i leave New York knowing that physically, it’s an unhealthy environment for me, but risking never getting used to a population that behaves differently? Do i go for the people or the environment? In a way, i guess they’re one and the same. What i really wanna know is, what are people in other big cities like?
*photo is of street artist Keith Haring and was taken by Chantal Regnault. found here.