A buddy sent me this sketch from College Humor last Sunday, which satirizes the stereotypes Americans have against New Yorkers. My favorite part was the joke about NYC getting criticized more than any other city.
“Nobody ever talks shit about Cincinnati,” says the man from Ohio.
“That’s actually a great point,” replies the New Yorker, before making his point. “Hey, you never hear people talk shit about Mudsville.”
Whether or not you think NYC is the dirtiest, filthiest, rudest city in the country, you probably accept that yours is a little too. Isn’t it grand, aren’t we all? And you’ll probably agree that there is some light at the end of this dark, dark tunnel that is living here. Most folks from around the country jump on board, live here for a bit, but, sooner or later, leave. What’s your stop off this train?
I was born in Houston, TX. I grew up in Houston, TX. I’ve lived most of my life Houston, TX, land of NASA and Beyoncé. For college I went to San Antonio a year, then transferred to Austin to finish my undergraduate there. There was Buenos Aires for a year. But then, then, I moved to where I knew I had to be.
New York City. What it means to me. To see, fulfill, and grow. Happy here I am, will be, and know. As the story goes…
2009. Trip with my father to meet my uncle and a family friend. This was the first contact with the concrete and glass metropolis. Blue Note jazz. Guggenheim dizziness. Central Park activity. “Too much to do…” we say, with patience. And it was on this trip that I knew I would come back eventually. I had to.
2010. Trip with my brother and our girlfriends to visit my uncle again. This was the second time, but it felt like the first — a feeling that has never left me. The city always felt new. Thus always feels new. (I turn out the window of my school’s classroom for a moment, breathe and reflect, and admire the sunbeams that warm the brick wall of an old still-running post office.) Subways, forcible crowds, a raging atmosphere, passion. It was on this trip that I knew I could live here eventually. I wanted to.
2015. Writer’s conference in upstate NY, past Albany, just before cool Montreal. The new dream of becoming a writer became laced with the old dream of living in NYC. I applied to a two-week workshop-intensive writer’s conference, and got in. It was there that I realized I wanted to “formalize” my writing, to borrow a brilliant word from the professor who taught the first set of classes, to “formalize” my passion, to “formalize” my goal. With the confidence and friendships gained in that conference, I decided to apply to MFA programs.
(I would like to highlight that everything I have ever reached for ties together — only because this is a personal blog, and I feel free to say so — moreover, the curious reader will note that, specifically, crafting art from multiple languages and living in New York City make sense together: like peas and carrots in a chicken pot pie.)
From the New York Times: “While there is no precise count, some experts believe New York is home to as many as 800 languages — far more than the 176 spoken by students in the city’s public schools or the 138 that residents of Queens, New York’s most diverse borough, listed on their 2000 census forms.”
I applied to seven programs. Three in TX, four in NY. You could say I stacked the odds, but given that my one writing sample led to five rejections, one waitlist, and only one acceptance, to my number one choice no less: clearly fate had its way with chance.
Enough flexing. Or shall I flex another?
2016. I hopped off the plane at JFK, with a dream and a jean jacket. Two weeks of generosity: friends let me crash on their couch as I searched for a job and an apartment, whatever came first.
Nothing to complain about. Little food, little cash, but friends, friends… with friends you can get away with anything. After two weeks I landed an interview with the school where I work now. They were the ones to first take me in. I have been loyal ever since. And housing came from the university Facebook page, and lots of hunting.
(“What’s your favorite thing about NYC?” The people.)
This is recounted not for flex, really. But to explain in some detail that New York City has always embraced me. I have always felt welcomed here. It’s where I feel big. It’s where I feel strong.
Those jay-walking moments crossing Fashion Ave despite the whistle blowing cops can’t stop you from getting to work on time.
Those hairy bagels you get on discount can’t keep you from satisfying your hunger.
Those movers that overcharged you just like you knew they would because who answers those flyers anyway won’t break you.
Even those 6:45 AM G-train scrunched-up pit-stained page-turning money-grubbing headache mornings can’t hold you down, if you have that shine that gleams off each and every one of the skyscrapers in this goddamn city as you exit the subway platform into the light of day, day, a brand new day!
New York City. What does it mean to me, a dream, a dream. The city of dreams. It’s here where I stand, sit, and lay. Here where I loafe, play, it’s here where I stay, for now, at least today. Hey… “I wonder what good things there are to say about the City.”
“Oof, so many.”
“Precisely.” Where to even start.
With a summary perhaps, of what it’s like to live in here, to me, anyway, in a series of firecracker paragraphs, until the end. New York City.
Self aware, self-affirming, and -avowed. You might not name the streets, but you decide what path to take, the when and why, too.
Exciting. I go to work teaching students from all around the world. Delectable. I cook any kind of food I like with any ingredients imaginable. Promising. I feel comfortable, safe, interested, offered something and asked for things in return.
Transaction. As Speed Levich puts it, New York City was founded on a transaction. The Dutch sold the city to the Brits who renamed it after a hand shake. Transaction. New York City charges you to be here.
When you want to refill a subway pass, the machine asks you, “Do you want to add VALUE, or do you want to add TIME?” As my friend Serena put it the other day, “That is the most New York question ever,” before we both paid for time, and kept the turnstiles turning.
Sigh. Gasp. Relax. Pass. I suppose I tried to explain “what it’s like to live here” by writing how it’s like to live here: bursts, lyrics, quotes, sketches, little bits of information and a whole lot of love, for those who make it all the way.
Hm. Who best put it? B’s hubby, Jay, in a ditty:
Que ” lindo” que escribis, Ivanchu!!!!
Y que increible misterio , que yo lo
Haya podido leer y DISFRUTAR!!
No hay casualidades.. Algun dia sabre como lo hice…
Y simplemente agradecere que sucedió…
Te felicito y me emociono…comparto totalmente tu amor por esta ciudad increible , unica,, que yo tambien ame hace 60años!!!!
Que puedas seguir escribiendo, con la misma pasion, acompañado ,inspirado y cobijado por esta,TU CIUDAD… Aba
Y que lindo leer tu reaccion, Aba, unica. No pense en los cuentos tuyos de nyc mientras escribia, aunque en retrospect, tu influencia sobre mi se nota en cada chispa de mis letras… gracias, gracias, gracias, y abrazo~
Best thing about NYC is the people and the City is fortunate to have you, Ivan. My heart is beating a little bit faster because you captured the City so powerfully and I feel myself yearning to visit. Your writing is a gift, thank you for sharing it. Wishing you time, value, and always peace.
Ms Henry! Thank you for your positive energy. You have been with me from the beginning. How could I ever repay you for inspiring a love of literature from so early on? I still smile at that last reunion we had at the Playback event. It was a pleasure running into you then, and I hope our next run in is soon. Wishing you all the best, including time, peace, and just a little more wisdom today than yesterday~