This is sheer brilliance from Zadie Smith.
Across the way from our apartment—on Houston, I guess—there’s a new wall ad. The site is forty feet high, twenty feet wide. It changes once or twice a year. Whatever’s on that wall is my view: I look at it more than the sky or the new World Trade Center, more than the water towers, the passing cabs. It has a subliminal effect. Last semester it was a spot for high-end vodka, and while I wrangled children into their snowsuits, chock-full of domestic resentment, I’d find myself dreaming of cold martinis.
Before that came an ad so high-end I couldn’t tell what it was for. There was no text—or none that I could see—and the visual was of a yellow firebird set upon a background of hellish red. It seemed a gnomic message, deliberately placed to drive a sleepless woman mad. Once, staring at it with a newborn in my arms, I saw another mother, in the tower opposite, holding her baby. It was 4 AM. We stood there at our respective windows, separated by a hundred feet of expensive New York air.
The tower I live in is university accommodation; so is the tower opposite. The idea occurred that it was quite likely that the woman at the window also wrote books for a living, and, like me, was not writing anything right now. Maybe she was considering antidepressants. Maybe she was already on them. It was hard to tell. Certainly she had no way of viewing the ad in question, not without opening her window, jumping, and turning as she fell. I was her view. I was the ad for what she already had.
But that was all some time ago. Now the ad says: Find your beach. The bottle of beer—it’s an ad for beer—is very yellow and the background luxury-holiday-blue. It seems to me uniquely well placed, like a piece of commissioned public art in perfect sympathy with its urban site. The tone is pure Manhattan. Echoes can be found in the personal growth section of the bookstore (“Find your happy”), and in exercise classes (“Find your soul”), and in the therapist’s office (“Find your self”). I find it significant that there exists a more expansive, national version of this ad that runs in magazines, and on television.
I love Manhattan at four in the morning, when the night has only the music of taxicabs and town cars. That period of time on the cusp of one day ending and a new one beginning – where the energy in the air is dense and palpable. The streets are dark and the pavements cold while women and children lay asleep, safe in their beds. Drunkards wallow half-conscious on barstools and twenty-somethings frolic in and out of doorways, alleyways, and streets feeling awake and alive and anxious with the possibilities of the evening.
I love being one of those twenty-somethings. especially with you. We meet in a bar but you’re hardly a stranger. An old friend who fell in love with New York a long time ago, just like me. Our hands are almost touching when the night begins – the tension between us, hesitant and awkward. We’re unsure of what’s allowed and what’s not. Our bodies stand rigid and separate. The taste of the chilled sweet liquor in our hands has yet to leave our glasses and melt away on our tongues. Soon that magical hour hits and it’s as if a veil has been lifted. Suddenly, everything’s clearer.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged bars, boys, four am, georgia o'keefe, girls, island, kissing, love, manhattan, new york, new york city, streets, traffic lights
We’ve all seen the movies, heard the songs, and read the novels romanticizing the “greatest city in the world.” New York City is the Big Apple, the City, the Melting Pot where lives from all over converge to create a bustling metropolis of wonder, excitement and success. And aren’t those components what make the grand cliche of New York? Isn’t that why everyone has grown to revere this place? Well, it’s not for me and I’m willing to bet it isn’t for a lot of you too.
I want to be in New York because it is a city of brilliance. The city is bursting with inimitable musicians and engineers and journalists and politicians who defy all preconceived notions of what it means to be “intelligent.” It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Ivy or community college graduate or perhaps even sans degree, this city measures your brains by your brawn. If you have the drive, the passion, and the savvy, this city doesn’t tell you “no.”
I want to be in New York because it’s a hub. It’s a short LIRR ride from my home on the south shore of Nassau County. Seeing mom and dad is as simple as checking a train schedule. There are four airports within an hour from midtown. There are trains and buses and taxis in a constant state of flux. You’re never stuck here. One might say that knowing there is a way out of the city at any given moment makes it a melancholy and transitory sort of place. Another might say that it’s the most inviting sort of place because there’s also always a way back in. How full is your glass?
I want to be in New York because it’s what I want. I love this city for the reasons that are trite and naive and arrogant. I love being a regular at that restaurant on MacDougal and reading in a park while some stranger dances the merengue for money in front of me. I love bar-hopping in the East Village and spending half my paycheck at happy hour. I love going on terrible dates that end in tears and my friends pick up the pieces with a raucous night of karaoke. I love being able to have a job doing what I love, even though I’m struggling to pay off my student loans.
Being an overly typical twenty-something starting her life in New York is what I want. It doesn’t matter whether you’re of the crowd who thinks this life that I want is banal or guileless. It doesn’t matter if you’re of the crowd who thinks this life is splendid or admirable. The ineffability of the city of New York is the same as the ineffability of my love for New York. So, maybe why I want to be in New York is best said by a fellow New Yorker: “I don’t have any reasons. I left them all behind. I’m in a New York state of mind.”
This piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.
Posted in Essays, Life, Travel
Tagged billy joel, cliches, LIRR, manhattan, new york, new york city, The Big Apple, travel, writing