When I moved to New York City, my life immediately grew a jet pack. I could no longer spend lazy evenings watching Family Guy with my dad, eating six forms of carbohydrates without a single deadline to desiccate my schedule of fun and/or mindless entertainment. No; in New York, my days consist of a series of obligations, each met with a small but all-powerful check mark on my to-do list upon completion. If I’m lucky, I’ll grab some Key Foods apricots that are unquestionably sketchy but provide just enough energy to keep me going.
Sure, now it’s summer, and a break from school is nice. But the lack of class-imposed deadlines really only subtracts the once-constant feeling of impending doom and feasible mental breakdown from my life. In fact, I’ve noticed I no longer gravitate towards every window in a tall building and contemplate jumping out of it. Good for me, right? Baby steps.
So, after nearly a year spent in New York becoming a real New Yorker (I can give directions to tourists! I’ve made it!), I flew home to St. Louis for a long weekend. Within this time frame, I realized lots of surprising, juicy new bits about myself, thanks in part to lots of reflection and my mother’s not-so-subtle observations of how the Big City changed me.
1. I became an incredibly fast and dexterous walker, which proves inappropriate on St. Louis sidewalks
My first week in NY, I overheard a girl in my grad school program complain about how tourists have “space impairment issues,” and I thought she was a stuck up bitch. I even talked a little shit and unfollowed her on twitter. I mean, she’s not a native New Yorker either, so what was her deal? Well, it only took a week for my virtuous Midwestern patience to all-but disappear, along with any notion of sidewalk integrity. I became a monster. For instance, if you’re window shopping, you better get right up close to that window so you can practically smell what’s inside, because I will plow over you faster than you can say “does this Starbucks have a bathroom?” Who cares if I’m only in a rush to beat the line at Jamba Juice. The point is, you’re in my way, and I hate you. Now move. Obviously, this mindset is out of place in St. Louis, where patrons are only walking to their cars parked a block away and are, therefore, in no rush. Being aggressive is a luxury here, not a mindset.
2. Saying “no” is significantly easier than before
I once had issues saying no… to men who hit on me; to low-paying (or non-paying) writing opportunities; to my friends’ requests for intoxicated late nights; to carbs. I’d often acquiesce with a smiling “yes” while silently cursing myself for being such a pushover. But New York has taught me that saying no to almost everything is as easy as saying yes. There’s more men, more opportunities, more bakeries, and more to do at night New York, so saying no then just means saying yes later. I learned from a nervous breakdown last semester that I couldn’t say yes to every writing opportunity that came my way just so I could “get my name out there.” Something worth attending happens many nights out of the week, so missing a Thursday night event will only leave room for a Monday night rendezvous. And saying no to dozens of blubbering disrespectful men who hit on anything with two legs and a hole makes saying yes to a well-to-do gentlemen a hell of a lot more fun and exciting. Now, someone please teach me how to say no to cab-ride temptation and I’ll be golden.
3. I now think I am more cultured than everyone else
This is a classic mistake us new New Yorkers make. We leave our sheltered bubble in Elsewhere, U.S.A, and suddenly the wool (probably from a sheep on a farm down the street) is pulled from our eyes. I have an especially intense case of this new-culturedness because I am in school for journalism, where I was forced to learn a lot about the world in a very short period of time. I have also learned things like Dominican Spanish slang, (“dique” might be my favourite word), how to tell a hooker from a slutty European tourist, measurements and prices for a variety of drugs, and how to spot the vandal squad going undercover as taxi drivers (two in the front seat; who does that?). But I also realize that none of this makes me better than anyone from my hometown. And I need to chill out on starting my sentences with “In New York, we don’t ___________.” When I’ve traveled the world and traversed South American landscapes and solved hunger issues in third world countries, maybe then I’ll be cultured. ‘Til then, I’m still white bread.
4. I have sobered up
I know, I know: it seems like everyone’s boozing and sexing and sniffing in NY. But after living in a city that charges $14 for a drink (that I pay for with loan money) and in turn must nurse for a few hours until the ice melts (upon which I ask for an ice refill for appearance purposes), I appreciate a $3 beer the way a sex-depraved old woman might appreciate a hot young piece of ass: with fervour, graciousness and lots of gulping. I went to a local bar this weekend with a few high school friends, and a vodka-water, my poison of choice, was $4. 4-fucking-dollars. A shot of tequila: the same. And these prices weren’t due to some limited happy hour or a little boob-flashing to the bartender; these were everyday prices. I guess I forgot what it felt like to get absolutely wasted for the price of a few McDonald’s dollar menu items. Now I understand why some people from my school are drunks: while I’m in New York nursing a shitty cocktail for the span of an entire evening, partiers from my hometown are getting hammered for a fraction of the price. And they can do it every. Single. Night.
5. I am confused about almost everything my parents taught me
To be kind to strangers. To clean my plate. There is a God. Money isn’t everything. My time will come. I could go on. I moved to the city with 22 years of lessons stored neatly in my brain. Within a month, these lessons have been remixed, questioned, distorted and/or altogether discarded. I only have a few plates, and I can only microwave two of them, so cleaning my plate is no longer practical nor is it an option. However, I do lick the lids of my Starbucks cups. And in a city where the average price of a home is $1.4 million, and where people turn closets into studio apartments and rent them for thousands, money seems like everything. It dictates where I go, what I do, how I dress, what I read, how I get places and what I watch so much more than it ever did in a city that charges four dollars for a night of intoxication.
And the whole notion of “my time” coming “at some point” if I “work hard” is bullshit. I want success now. I want it fast. I want it because it is dangled in front of my face instead of just the idea of it being mentioned in conversations from afar. My ambition has grown fangs and legs and claws and it has become greedy and impatient. I am trying to remain the nice Midwestern girl my parents raised, but I find myself questioning not just some of the things they taught me, but everything they taught me. I thank them for instilling in me a sense of self-respect New York will never tarnish, but everything else is fair game.