Walking through Times Square the other day, I happened upon a gaggle of people huddled together, smiling, looking up, holding their smart phones up to snap a photo. They looked so perfectly poised, like a flashmob awaiting their cue. I turned to see what they were looking at and saw they were looking at themselves projected onto a gigantic jumbotron screen which, if you stand in the right place, in front of and underneath it, you can see your face in supersized proportions. If this doesn’t sum up New York City I don’t know what ever could: you can look people looking at themselves being photographed, photographing themselves taking photos of themselves.
Actually, maybe this could.
What are the chances I would walk thirty blocks to meet a friend in a bar near Penn Station, walk into the bar, look around without seeing her, use the bathroom in the meantime, decide to walk back out into the cold to wait there because it was so loud in there, realize it’s the wrong bar and that the bar I needed to go to was actually the bar next door, sigh with relief, go inside, sit down, take off my coat and scarf while hearing a man at the table behind me talk about the time he spent in that town right underneath the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Coppell, Texas, which happens to be none other than my hometown?
After spending a week in midtown, literally submerged in Manhattan, I can honestly say my nerves are absolutely positively shredded. I have gone from thinking, upon my arrival, that this town is devoid of wilderness, to recognizing it as its own wilderness – delusional, self-involved, self-obsessed, self-important because it is important and it knows it, THIS is New York, New York, the center of the universe. She is a living organism, monstrous sometimes in her chaos, her concrete craziness. Her anonymity breeds permissiveness, lends a yes where nos normally reside. Like the woman’s operatic voice which wafted up to meet me at my window from the street below. One, long-held note in falsetto, her voice carried over this city’s complications for no other reason than because she could. And because this is New York.
A bird pecks at a pulverized cracker in the crack of the sidewalk, an invisible phone rings somewhere on the other side of a bathroom wall, women hobble in heels hunched in fur coats, tourists take overpriced carriage rides through the park. There is so much life in this six-mile strip of our own construct, everything is at your fingertips yet nothing – absolutely nothing – is convenient. Except, of course, for the fact that you are in New York.
“In the wilderness is the preservation of the world,” said Henry David Thoreau. If this is true, the world is certainly well preserved in New York, New York.