I tell those new to New York there is a point at which you become a New Yorker. It happens either in the fifth or sixth year. Until then, you tell yourself, and try to convince others, you’re visiting or exploring the options, you’re going to school or “just taking in the scene.” According to every self-spun scenario, you’re here until you can go elsewhere.
I tell them, if you’re still here after six years you’re not going anywhere. You’re here because you belong here. Waiters, students, writers, interns—lanky women, eager tyros and wannabes—you’re stuck here. Give up the ghost of coming and going or e-mailing it in. Your adopted city has adopted you, sure as by fiat. You are no longer from anywhere else. You’re a New Yorker.
In New York, you are what you do. In Boston, you are where you went to school. In D.C., you are who you know. In LA, you are what you drive or where you live.
We live fast. It follows that we have to cut through the quick and initially get to know each other in shorthand—in a New York minute. Pass that test and likely as not you’ve made a friend for life, or at least for the life of the party, even if you never see that person again.
No one gives a damn where, or even if, you went to school—you are rigorously schooled daily and nightly by cab drivers, store clerks, waiters and doorman (from all over the world) in this city. Everybody knows someone well enough to suggest making anyone who makes trouble for him regret he did. No one who lives in Manhattan is foolish enough to maintain a car: if you drive and aren’t driven, if you use a car for any other reason than getting to the Hamptons, you’re probably a schmuck.
Once a New Yorker, you can say anything you want in the most public of places, and say it more colorfully, with a sprinkling of New York vernacular. Incomparable entertainer Mark Nadler used to hold court for fans and fellow performers Thursday nights at Sardi’s. Between songs, tinkling on the ivory keys he otherwise tickled or pounded, he would conduct running commentaries on whatever came to mind. One evening, after using a Yiddishism, Mark, originally from Waterloo, Iowa, said, “I’ve started to notice myself using more and more Yiddish words recently. I began to wonder—am I becoming more Jewish? And then it occurred to me. No, I was becoming more of a New Yorker.”
During my sixth year in New York, I was enlisted to write the lyrics for a Broadway show, “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.” The more I grasped who Sidney was, the more I realized how similar we were, culturally and politically. The audience discovers before Sidney does (if he ever does) that, fantasize as he may about leaving the city of steel and glass, New York, for the serenity of the countryside, he’s not going anywhere. During rehearsals, I discovered that while I had indulged in a similar fantasy, neither was I. Sidney and I were exactly where we belonged. For me, it’s been a love affair with the city ever since.