Saturday, July 21, 2012

Becoming a New Yorker, one moment at a time

Last night, I had dinner at my friends Steve and Naama's apartment off Park Avenue in Manhattan. I arrived when they were still getting ready, and asked to use the bathroom just after Steve had gotten out of the shower. "It's pretty hot in there," Naama said. "That's okay, I'm from Brooklyn," I responded. This after a week that saw temperatures in the upper 90s, with the mysterious RealFeel hitting 100 on the day I cleaned my apartment, mostly sans A/C.

Right after dismissing Naama's concern, I paused. I'm from Boston, and I have consistently wavered in my mental migration to Gotham since moving here in 2005. I'm a Celtics fan who loves Lou Reed's "NYC Man," and I think it's Reed's literary, Jewish sensibility, both as a solo artist and with the Velvets, that has drawn me here, like an antique phonogram  that sucks up its listeners. I'd like to think that coming here made me part of the ever-evolving soundtrack of New York, but being here, I know that it takes constant work to get into the groove, as Madonna sang, and I agree with this quote from Jane Jacobs' book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, that appeared at the top of the April/May 2011 issue of the Williamsburg Greenpoint News and Arts: "Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody." I feel like New York gives when it gets.

The last time I made a transformative step towards a New York identity was, ironically, in Penn Station, before boarding a train to visit family in Boston. This was last winter, when Linsanity had infected the city.  My friend Larry, who went to high school in the Bronx, told me that New York was crazy for the Knicks during the Patrick Ewing / John Starks era, and his history lesson helped me feel the excitement when Lin's subtle, persistent style was confounding opponents in the Garden. For some of my friends and me, Lin's Harvard education validated the tweedy, Woody Allenish side of our fandom, and that didn't hurt, either.

In the station, near the escalators underneath the information board, a heavyish, middle-aged guy wearing a blue No. 17 jersey walked towards me. "Nice jersey!" I said. "Thanks," he replied, not pausing as he passed. I texted my friends in triumph.

While brightening at the sight of Lin's jersey was an initiation into the big, whooshy spirit of the city--think the montage before each episode of SNL--claiming Brooklyn as my home while walking into my friends' steamy bathroom was an identification with the Sweathogs of Welcome Back Kotter, a dip into the second city blues, a reference to a mundanity that, as a recent transplant to a gentrifying part of a culturally burgeoning borough, I haven't often experienced. I guess sweeping and mopping in the RealFelt heat will inspire all sorts of delusions. But the city's best point guard is now a G train ride away. Anything can happen.

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