Smile Politely

My life in Manhattan

I get down on my knees every day and thank [insert your preferred source of unfathomable awe here] that I live in New York City. 

It is a privilege beyond anything I could ever hope to deserve. I take out the keys to my apartment and fondle them with pride and admiration. The apartment is a third floor walk up in the West Village, just a few steps from the Hudson River. Artist Julian Schnabel’s new hot pink apartment building, nicknamed Palazzo Chupi (my stab at a translation is “fellatio castle”), is just around the corner.

Some of the neighbors complained about the color while it was being built, but I don’t mind. I love everything about New York’s vital, constantly transforming landscape.

True, it’s a long commute. I spend about 350 days a year in Champaign-Urbana, working. But that is a small price I must pay to call Manhattan my home.

In New York, one doesn’t have to deal with the provincial attitudes of the rural Midwest. The city is a vast array of nationalities, languages, cultures. In fact, 40 percent of the population does not speak English as a first language. That’s true.

I can walk up the street into the meat-packing district and just disappear into a teeming display of wretched excess, multilingualism, and both literal and figurative slabs of beef (both of which tend to appear around 6 a.m.).

I read The New York Times every day. I do the crossword puzzle, especially on Thursday (wicked themes), Friday (evil clues), and Saturday (impossibly dense). Yesterday’s puzzle had me going with “They’re sold in oversize rolls” and “Battery, e.g.”, but I eventually figured them out (FOOTLONGHOTDOGS, TORT). Will Shortz called me on the phone once, offering me pointers for submitting puzzles. Then he rejected my submission. True story.

In New York, people do not remember what they did or who they knew in high school. They’ve left high school behind. They don’t admit to having been in high school. They didn’t even call it high school when they were in high school. They have left the mind-set of high school cliques and football teams far, far behind, embarrassed that those pubescent years ever existed for them. In New York, people become adults. They accept evolution, for one thing, and they don’t like to read letters to the editor trying to support it. 

Another thing. The New York Times edits out cranks. They don’t allow letters that include the words “wacky,” “idiotic,” or “loony,” that refer to “Rush” as a personal friend, or that claim a “part Native American” heritage.

Personally, I think The New York Times editors just misunderstood the whole William Kristol thing. They thought he was writing a humor column that just wasn’t very funny. Anyway, he’s gone now.

New Yorkers don’t have a group inferiority complex about themselves they way Midwesterners do. The News-Gazette is always boosting the community, trying to explain why things are so great in Champaign-Urbana. They insert whole paragraphs into wire stories if they can find someone or something local involved. When so-and-so wins Employee of the Month at Yahoo, for example, they promote the fact that he “attended University High School in Urbana,” thinking this proves the twin cities are a good place to live. It doesn’t. REO Speedwagon and Ang Lee have become sources of unfathomable awe.

New Yorkers can’t afford to disparage different races, sexual orientations, creeds, or political beliefs. That’s the benefit of diversity and proximity. I am pretty sure there are some social conservatives in Queens, but I’m not exactly sure. I’ll have to take the subway out and check sometime.

New Yorkers aren’t jealous of people who have lots and lots of money. There’s so much money in New York, it’s downright wacky and loony, and this is the one place in the world where a kind of actual trickle-down effect seems to work. We all feel rich here in NYC just by being surrounded by all that fantastic opulence and glitz.

When you live in New York like I do, you know how to attend the theater and go out to dinner without spending your children’s inheritance. You can get into the Museum of Modern Art when it’s not crowded and without forking out twenty bucks. Only tourists think New York is expensive, because they don’t know the ropes.

If it is nature you like and the change of seasons, Central Park offers you the best, everything you could ever want, while the Midwest has the worst. In the Midwest, the winter is terrible. The roads become impassible. In New York, nobody drives anyway. Snowdrifts are unheard of. People just walk everywhere, and fast, which makes everyone skinny, too, as an unintended and welcome consequence.

After winter in the Midwest comes allergy season. When you finish sneezing, it’s sweltering for three months. Then, it’s allergy season all over again before the snow drifts return.

I calculated it out. In all, there are a total of nine days every year that are actually tolerable to live in the rural Midwest. As fate would have it, I usually happen to be in New York on those nine days. But I don’t mind. Because I live in New York, where everything is always better.

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