As a lifelong New Yorker, I love going to the city and I love leaving it.
My happiest journey was always riding the Madison Avenue bus up to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in spring with my Aunt Mary for work. I still love riding the bus there for work.
But I always exhale when the train hits the ’burbs. Something about seeing a greater ratio of greenery to concrete eases me.
New York is a tough, tough place. Come to it with a chip on your shoulder, someone once told me, and it will crush you. Approach it humbly and it will open like a flower.
It was designed that way by the pragmatic colonial Dutch – who believed you are what you do – and that quintessential New Yorker Alexander Hamilton, who wanted New York to remain the nation’s financial capital even as his rival Thomas Jefferson lobbied for a political one close to his beloved, bucolic Virginia.
So a deal was struck that would seal New York’s fate, as narrated in Ric Burns’ superb “New York: A Documentary Film.” New York would go its own way – it’s an island city, for God’s sake – and in return it would keep the nation afloat and entertained.
That’s why Kevin D. Williamson can write in The National Review: “It has been said that you cannot understand America without understanding New York City, and the first thing to understand about New York is that it isn’t very much like the rest of America.”
That’s partly New York’s “fault” as cultural capital of the country and – I might add with a touch of New York braggadocio – of the world. It is both “Home Alone 2” and “The French Connection,” picture postcard and “The Bronx Is Burning.” It is, in the end, both less than its image – I don’t think anyone would say it’s as pretty as Paris – and yet so much more.
It’s a place where people go to invent themselves. And reinvent themselves. Think Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a native, after JFK. The recently deceased David Bowie – a transplant a part of and apart from the crowd, taking cancer on the chin by continuing to work – was a classic New Yorker.
Which brings us to Sen. Ted Cruz, who insults New York to get back at New York rival Donald Trump even as he relies on Wall Street money. Trump and other New Yorkers shot back in typical New York fashion. It’s a city that never takes anything lying down.
But qualities are neither good nor bad but context and perception make them so. The moxie that a nation finds noxious in moments of quietude serves the city well in tumult.
In my forthcoming novel, “The Penalty for Holding” – a tale of two surprisingly similar cities, New York and Jakarta – star quarterback Quinn Novak’s Aunt Lena, a glamorous New York editor, defends the city thusly:
“Whenever people say anything about New York, I like to remind them that on a very bad day when we saw the worst of humanity, New York showed the very best. New Yorkers acted with courage, purpose and without self-pity.”
I think that says it all, except perhaps for the last few minutes of the 9/11 postscript that Burns added to his documentary. It shows the city in evening, set to the Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields song, “The Way You Look Tonight.