Over a year after moving to Manhattan, I found myself standing in the middle of Times Square, waiting on a grimy city block with a horde of camera-decked tourists for the light to change. Above me, the neon lights continued to blaze through thick sheets of rain. My umbrella flared precariously, threatening to turn itself inside-out, while I desperately tried to avoid poking out someone’s eye in the crowded street.
New Yorkers don’t like Times Square – in fact, it would probably be more accurate to say we avoid it at all costs. But I had no choice. I was meeting a friend for coffee in Midtown, and he’d picked a Starbucks by the southern tip of the flashiest, most crowded rectangle of real estate in the world.
I met Tom at a popular bar on the Lower East Side, which is where you go to meet people you probably won’t be interested in on a Friday night you’d rather be spending at home in bed. After a halfhearted gin and tonic with coworkers I made my excuses and got up to leave. But reaching the door required navigating my way through a throng of early-twenties finance-law-consulting men, and I was still too sober to do that with grace.
So when a tall, well-dressed British man stepped into my path and offered to buy me a drink, I did a quick cost-benefit analysis and accepted the proposal. By the end of the night, we’d ended up in Hell’s Kitchen, making out like renegade teenagers against the soot-streaked brick wall of a mediocre sports bar.
During the fall of 2014, on a rooftop bar on the Upper West Side, a crush of young professionals danced to the beat of vague house / electronic music. The hotel billed it as an “All Ivy” mixer, which really meant 40% smug Ivy League students and 60% smug other college students.
Compared to the other Axe-smothered graduates with too much hairspray, Steven seemed refreshingly normal and down-to-earth. His slight geekiness only endeared him to me more – I could never stand the smooth-talking frat boys who made me want to take a shower after a handshake.
The Upper East Side is the last good memory I have of my ex-boyfriend and the first good memory I have of a colleague-turned-close-friend. The pristine neighborhoods gleam in the moonlight, as if daring anyone under the age of 30 to walk their sidewalks. Silence reigns supreme, broken by the occasional wail of a baby on the 15th floor of a high-rise.
Meatpacking is where you go to forget yourself. In a too-short bandage dress and stilettos, anyone can become a different person for a night. The floors are perpetually sticky with expensive vodka. Sparklers provide bursts of light at regular intervals as the bottle service keeps coming and coming and coming. Everyone is looking for the same thing; hands stray from shoulders to waists to hips; the crowd breathes heavily but silently, drowned out by the rhythm of hunger and expectation.
Brooklyn is outside of my comfort zone. It is a place I only go to on the weekends or after the number of drinks consumed has hit double-digit levels. But it is flagrantly sweet, retreating from yet boldly embracing its rightful place as a staple of New York, capital N, capital Y. I want to romanticize Brooklyn the way I want to romanticize a new lover. I want to grab its possibilities fiercely in both hands and say “This is mine, all mine” even when I don’t quite know what it is I’m fighting for yet.
Give me reckless and brash and full-bodied sex; give me chicken and waffles curled up in the corner of a couch in an unfamiliar living room.
New York is love. It’s excitement, confusion, the acrid aftertaste of regret, and the delicately overpowering perfume of hope. Above all, it’s uncertainty, the only stable knowledge that the day, or week, or month, or year after this one will not be the same.