The Moment You Become A New Yorker

“So you’re a New Yorker?” asks a new acquaintance under the California sun.

I wasn’t sure how to answer. Aside from the born and bred, at what point during a journey does one become a New Yorker?

It happens when you try to quantify it. Is it in a matter of minutes or years? Or is it when the number of subway stairs you’ve stomped over exceeds the number of flash bulbs that swallowed the Empire State Building that night? It happens when you try to approximate how heavy a subway car is on top of the 85,000 pounds of steel. A couple more thousand pounds of body mass plus the weight of tension and hunger — some for clout, some for coins.

It happens when your outstretched hand on the promenade can trace the entire skyline with memories. Underneath your pointer is that street where you felt your heart shatter, but only because thousands of hearts trudged onto shore from that street and into tenements to build the life you complain about. You connect the dots.

It happens while you are a universe apart from the comfortable country smells and welcome mats and couches you sink into while experiencing this thing called life in the company of thousands of passing people. People you would, under proper circumstances, stop to look into their eyes and hear their breath and see their story. People you would love to love, love to kill, have a drink with in their hometown in Laos, or help walk to the market and back.

It happens when you’re walking rigorously toward somewhere you needed to be ten minutes ago and see ten moments of your past whizzing by. You scan a Chelsea block and pick up the bar that was home when you were completely lost –- it looks like a penny now in the shadow of the barbecue that you bolted out of. Your best friends’ parents were in town, giving you a little piece of the fishing community you once summered at and clinched so tightly.

It happened the time you were walking through a park that’s named for a thinker no one here would recognize, with the beautifully compassionate native New Yorker who hates when out-of-towners call themselves New Yorkers. All your pedestrian time spent desperately avoiding passing glimpses into souls gives you to the time to start a fictional count of how many soles that cost a thousand times more than yours have crossed this sidewalk. ??It happens when you lose track of the number of times your life felt like it should be on a screen – sometimes in the taste of a saccharine director, others in any style that captures the sheets of rain escaping from taxi tire bottoms to perfectly cover you head to toe.

It happens when you pass the school and see animals made of cotton and watercolor and toilet paper tube and wonder about the imagination a child’s mind can create. You then contemplate how your own imagination’s changed – how you’ve learned to see shadows. You once ran after them, but now exhale and enjoy their very existence as is. Lovers and coworkers and strangers pouring lessons and laughter into your soul and transiently fading behind the curtain forever when their lines are through.

It happens when you observe the historian who has waited a decade to stand in the tavern where colonel Washington bid goodbye to the Revolutionary War troops, while the drunk next to him simultaneously waits for his finance director to summon his “team” with his card to drown in scotch in a place where he doesn’t even know history exists. When you observe the woman covered in $5000 in slaughtered fur being judged by the woman next to her who just finished a meal that traveled 5000 miles to get here.
These moments and yours – let’s sit together and quietly reflect when we step away from our respective New York nights and ride home together. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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  • Joshua

    Very moving piece. Great job. 

  • Joliz Cedeno

    As us New Yorkers sometimes say “this made me feel some type of way”

    Seriously though, loved it. 

  • Scott Poniewaz

    Great piece!  So true… The chelsea comment made me think about the times you were out and about and being dragged around the city from bar to bar before you ever thought you could actually live here, and suddenly are back years later when you do actually live here and realize, wait, I’ve been here before.

  • NYer

    Was going to comment and say you have to be born here… but great piece. 

  • Mort580

    Cliche and trite

    • David Trahan

      Your mom

    • Anon <3

      Then please, grace us with an article – clearly you must be a far superior writer.

  • Ally Millar

    I am from New York and I have no idea what you are talking about, so I’m pretty certain you haven’t made it yet. Keep trying! 

    • Yesenia

      Hi hater

    • annoyed

      Wow Ally. I just clicked through to your profile and your beautiful website. Your Twitter, Flickr, and blog game me great insight into just how little depth you really have as a person. Also, it looks to me like you’re from Long Island. Is that true? If it is, you’re not a New Yorker and have no place commenting on this. 

    • Jackie

      Aww, thanks for the encouragement. Bitter looks great on you :)

    • Anon <3

      Ally Ally Ally. First – take the bangs back to Brooklyn. Second – You’re right. The author should apologize for writing something too deep for your simple mind. She should have spent time dissecting American Idol instead, right?

  • guest of a guest of a guest

    The moment when you read an article like this and say to yourself, “I fucking hate everyone”

    • Anonymous


    • David Trahan

      What a sad reaction…

      • hellfire

         ok “aspiring intellectual”.

  • Lisa Fanoni

    It also happens when a taxi cab nearly runs you over and your FIRST reaction is to slap the hood of the taxi and yell — in an accent you didn’t even know you had — “YO! Watch where you goin’!!!”

  • So 1985

    Thank God for all these New Yorkers telling us how amazing it is to be a New Yorker like 5 times a day on this website. Seriously guys, your big city originality and creativity is really shining through. Long live the Big Apple.

    • ray3

      you could try other websites too.  i think there are a few to choose from

  • JM

    Gawker put it nicely – “No, it’s after ten years in New York. Everyone knows that. Jesus fuck.”

  • David Trahan

    This is beautiful. Anyone who doesn’t understand it and believe it is only a New Yorker because they live here, and not because they experience New York. Every second of your life in New York is spent at the intersection of millions of lives, past and present. Your perspective on that as a New Yorker makes you a New Yorker. 

  • west_william

    this is so lame

  • PKzip

    I’m kind of vomiting at how cliche this is. I mean, really? Talk about flowery prose bullshit. 

  • LaShanieO

    Brilliant and beautiful. You threw your heart out there and anyone who disagrees doesn’t have one. And if there’s one thing about New York it is NOT heartless.

  • Anon <3

    This is wonderful. For anyone who doesn’t get it, step outside on this beautiful day and take a look around you. Don’t be bitter just because this writer was able step away from the hustle, bustle, elbow throwing, horn hocking, annoyance and put into words why we love this city.

  • Theresa Kim

    A true “New Yorker”  is UN-PHASED when:
    1.) you witness a cab hitting a biker
    2.) you’re on the streets of NYC and see a crazy person/ or outfit or both.
    3.) someone pushes you either on the street or getting out of the subway
    4.) you get seated next to Leo DiCaprio at a restaurant.
    5.) you smell putrid excrement in the subway for the entire summer.
    6.) you’re at a coffee shop and hear 5 different languages around you.

    • Blake Austin

      I get 2, 3, and 4 from living in Austin.

  • Colton

    The entire point of this piece was that being  a New Yorker isn’t about the moments you are no longer phased by a drag queen making out with a homeless crackhead. Or the moment you adopt a Brooklyn accent to yell at a cabbie. It’s about the moments you see the bigger picture of New York. Between the pavement cracks, there’s a rich history here and it makes our meaningless lives and all of the crap in it seem like a meaningless joke.

    Might I add that I am appalled by the mudslinging in Thought Catalog comments. I mean, really? Looking at Twitter profiles to extract an insult to throw at someone that disagrees with you? Name calling? It’s no better than the school yard bullying of late that I’m sure 80% of you are appalled by.

    I thought that this was a place of expression where people could post and discuss. Anything that’s even a bit whimisical on this site is labeled “cliche” and “trite.” Some of us actually like pieces written like this. The rest of you can go back to the last post on “10 Crazy Ex-Boyfriend Type Profiles on Facebook” and write your LMFAOS in the comment section there.

  • not happy, jan

    subject matter aside, this lacked the natural eloquence of a stephanie georgopulos piece, or the casual snark of a ryan o’connell creation. not to mention, the innate melancholy (and empathy) of something by mila jaroniec — where is she, guys? can you please bring her back? or at the very least, stop accepting/publishing mediocre submissions, and just start publishing more of your own work. after all, we deserve more than mediocrity. thanks & bye! x

  • Ian

    Being from Seattle, where we drown in a sickening amount of city pride, it would appear, from the content on this website, that we pale in comparison.  I don’t mean this to be a jab at the authors, but an honest observation.

    • Mung Beans

      I defected from NYC to move to Seattle and I’m glad I did 

      • Myong

        couldnt hack it, eh?

  • Lisa Marie Basile

    Can we save our nasty comments for articles that deserve it? Like pieces about war, or racism, or hunger? How about we just enjoy the fact that intelligent people are making intelligent observations about the world around us? When that ends, which apparently seems to be very soon as we can see, we’ll miss it. 

  • Bart

    what a pretentious load of garbage

    • Vspingola55

      my thoughts exactly

  • Johnny

    Could you be any more self-absorbed? Yech! Who cares!

  • Manchegogo

    The answer is you can NEVER be from someplace you aren’t from.  Why not just be proud of the place you come from? i.e- “I’m a native San Franciscan/Wisconsinite/Ohioan! Now, I live in New York.” I won’t think any less of you and you’ll be proud tell tell me things about where you’re from. I’ll be glad to listen and learn something new. Instead, some fantasy of how living in NY or doing a certain thing makes you “really a New Yorker” just looks like you ashamed of where you’re from and you wish you were some one else. Me.

  • Bman00013

    New York is a putrid cesspool packed to the gills. Cockroaches, bedbugs, and rats galore in this teeming filthy city. If I wanted to feel desperate, hopeless, and abandoned in an extremely crowded city I’d pick NYC to live in. 

    Oh, and everyone there is a pretentious a-hole…much like the writer of this article. 

    • J2g

      I’m surprised that some one of your intelligence knows how to use a computer. You shouldn’t disrespect an entire city and the people who live in it until you’ve actually have seen what it’s like. Instead of being the ignorant hick that is “too good” to experience New York City you should come visit. We’re not all pretentious a-holes, we’re people who don’t give a fuck about what people like you have to say, so stay in HicksVille if you want to continue being the close minded fuck that you are.

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