Friday, November 2, 2012

New York: "F You" City

The streets of New York City stretched on and on, lit up with endless possibility and gritty reality all at once. Bums spit and lurched towards us, people with heads down from the cold rushed past, mumbling profanities ( F YOU Mother F-er! to no one in particular) and smells of urine, coffee and manhole steam would attack our senses. And yet we strolled, arms linked and sang so loud our voices cracked "If you can make it there, you can make it anyyyyyywhere! It's up to YOU New York New Yoooooork!"
We were New Yorkers, my fiance and I, and we could do whatever the F*#$ we wanted to. So we did. Our voices echoed down the street at 2 am, we danced several times a week, tearing up the swing scene and we laughed with our posse of friends in coffee shops like we owned the place.
Living in New York in the early 1990's before 911, before Hurricane Sandy, before terrorism and nature humbled it's inhabitants... we lived in the most unstoppable place to be. We OWNED IT. You could do anything in New York City. You could be anyone. You were amiss to misjudge people as well... that scruffy looking guys stirring his coffee across from you could be a millionaire entrepreneur and the classy looking girl who just breezed past in Chanel might be a hooker. You never knew.

In New York, there were surprises around every corner, a movie being filmed and Sean Penn looking surly or a Korean bum lady who licks you on your cheek, leaving a slime of saliva and heebie geebies that last a week. Because of these constant surprises, New Yorkers are on constant instinctual survival mode. We (I will always be a New Yorker) develop a tough skin for shock and a radar for crazies. We gain a pace in our step that is unparalleled. We learn how to trust our primal instincts and can side step a bum and duck when an air conditioner is thrown at our head...and keep on walking. We get things DONE. We cut to the chase. We have little tolerance for laziness and we herald the hard working. We also develop a thrilling sense of creativity and we unfurl our inhibitions. When anything could happen, we become what's happening.

Some people go to New York and see the crazies and the hate. Todd and I saw the excitement. We saw what was possible. We connected in our love for New York.
Todd proposed to me within four months of when we met on our Alphabet city street on the lower east side. Like the city, we were fast. We knew. What we knew was that in being good match, we also expanded each other's worlds. Like the city itself, we sometimes scared each other with our ambitions, our reach and scope of what we considered possible. We were two independent adventurous souls, both whom at the age of 8, traveled away from our families for two weeks and loved it. We met and joined together in the city that never sleeps, dreaming of our life together. We were also clear that our independent selves loved the "F You" nature of the city, and therefore each other. We could say "F You" to whatever was expected of us, whatever we didn't like, whatever people thought of us. We got engaged quickly, lived in a tiny apartment with a slanted black floor in a great neighborhood in the East Village and we did things our way.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, just as after 911, as I see pictures of our downtown sidewalks flooded with water and mud, I wonder how it will change the city of bravado, determination, luxury and poverty. I wonder if the people, stricken in shock from the impact of mother nature's force, will look up from the sidewalk and into each other's eyes. I imagine that it will seep into their souls that they/we are not invincible, not only from terrorism, but from mother nature, something they cannot control. They will be humbled. They will have a new respect for the uncertainty of life and perhaps be a little less sure that they know exactly what they are doing is right and best. Why this is good, is because when you have your head down and are rushing to your destination, when you are an "F You", even in the most adventurous way, there is no opening for connecting, there is a callousness of the value of human beings and the preciousness of time. Not knowing has you stop and wonder, has you look to the side and be curious about another, has you speculate about what is possible again.

I wonder if New Yorkers will reach out and see, instead of the muck and dirty water on their streets and across the Jersey shore, will see what is possible. I wonder if they/we will become a little less "F You" and a little more "How can I help you?" and see not the distraction from their own mission, but power in that openess. I wonder if someone, somewhere at 2 am on one of those endless sidewalks, will belt out "It's up to YOU, New York, New Yorrrrk!" and have the streets ring with joy and ownership again.

Zen Honeycutt