Thursday, November 12, 2009

Once a New Yorker, Always...

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.


  1. a facebook friend of mine, just two weeks ago, posted this in response to a status update of mine:

    "i love your love of new york"...

    you are SO right - it is truly a "love affair" we new yorkers have with this wonderful town...

  2. A few years ago, my wife and I decided that we wanted more space and more outdoors, so we shook hands with the owner of a beautiful town house an hour away in New Jersey.
    But the seller could not live up to his offer to sell.
    Shortly after, we were walking down Broadway - jostled by the crowds and paying more for everything than we should - when we stopped simultaneously, looked at each other, smiled big smiles and said "What in the world were we thinking?"
    And here we'll stay, jostled by the crowds and paying more than we should for everything, happily ever after.

  3. I met New York at 10 years old, when I snuck away from a Miss. America Pageant tech. rehearsal with my mother to go see Bernadette Peters in "Annie Get Your Gun." When I stepped onto the sidewalk infront of Penn Station overlooking the Pennsylvania Hotel, I know I had met my soul mate. I continued to have a secret affair with this city of mine until I finally was able to make the commited move to be as close to her as possible.
    We have been inseparable ever since.

  4. everything you write: so true! I got hooked in my 2nd year, left in my 13th -for reasons of the heart, which my reason doth not know- however: you can take the girl out of NY, but you can't take NY out of the girl. And i can't wait to get back, one way or another.

  5. what email address Ray? and yes, it's been way too effing long!

  6. Having visited New York just once I will have to say I could never live there. It was a nice place to visit. It certainly isn't for everyone... but no place is.

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  8. New York has always been the seventh member of my family. All my life, my dearest relatives lived there: my aunts, my uncles, my countless cousins, a handful of second-cousins, and all my grandparents. It was where my father grew up, and where my mother immigrated as a girl. As a child, it can truly be said that I had more love for New York City than anywhere in the world, even Disneyland (which I have yet to visit).

    I have crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge more than 1,000 times. I remember buying Mets cards for a quarter with Darrel Strawberry on them. My father taught me how to parallel park under the B train (now the D train) at 86th Street. I have seen more New Years in Prospect Park than I can count. I have spent more time away from home in The City than anywhere else I can think of, even school, even college.

    So, am I too a New Yorker? Probably not, but you'll never get the Brooklyn out of my blood!

  9. Ray, just having the pleasure of enjoying your writing. A great insight into the energy of each city and why New York is so amazing. It's a city that builds character and where anything can happen at any moment...Looking forward to reading More...

  10. "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."

    That's going in my book of quotes, Ray!

  11. An ex-pat, I left Brooklyn in 1970. Every morning when I have my cawfee I morph back into a New Yorker. Visits to Brooklyn are both exciting and repellent.