Why I Live in New York: Personal Indulgences

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  • Topic: Manhattan, Brooklyn, New York City
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Why I Live in New York: Personal Indulgences No. 13
April 1, 2009 by Tobi Tobias 26 Comments
Why I live in New York. New York City, that is. Manhattan, to be exact. Dirty. Dangerous. Expensive (so much so today that people who once thought of themselves as middle class now fear they’re only a few ladder-rungs above the have-nots. And the number of have-nots is heart-rending. But still . . . I was born and raised in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood and time suited only to people with a deep tolerance–or even need–for boredom. (Boredom precludes risk and can be very soothing.) I was not one of them. Even before I had two numbers to my age, I would often sit at our kitchen table and gaze through the window that looked out on the corner of the street and think, in a sort of melancholy stupor, There must be somewhere else. There was, and not that far away. It was called Manhattan. From my house, an hour on the bus and subway would get you there. As a young teen, I began to explore it. Eventually, in my early twenties, I came to live there, through a combination of stubborn perseverance and destiny. THE MIX OF PEOPLE

For me, one of Manhattan’s chief lures–the one people live elsewhere to avoid–is its rich mix of people. The first time I picked up the elder of my local grandchildren at the public school she had entered that week as a kindergartner, my eyes welled with tears when her class marched out into the schoolyard. Not only were the African-American, Caucasian, and Asian races just about equally represented, the blending of these groups that has occurred was evident in their looks, which often suggested that the human race was being gloriously renewed, even reinvented. Several grades later, I asked this granddaughter who, in her class of 28 or so, spoke a language other than English at home. She named seven, citing the language they used with their parents and siblings–Russian, Spanish, Chinese, French, modern Hebrew, and Korean among them–and reminding me that she didn’t know about everyone in the class, only her friends. Despite the poverty of the school–the middle-income parents willingly provided the most basic school supplies for the less fortunate children as well as their own–it was rich in its pupils, in some very savvy, dynamic, and empathic teachers, and in the steady acting out of its motto: “One family under the sun.” A MUSEUM

Upon hearing the official announcement that our country had gone to war with Iraq, I figured that a third-floor window–the highest I had immediate access to at the moment I heard the news–was too low for a successful death leap, and anyway suicide was a romantic, self-indulgent notion for someone in my relatively safe circumstances. On the other hand, I couldn’t pretend that nothing world-shaking had happened and get on with my usual writing, housekeeping, grandmothering, and exercising at the gym. (George Bush’s suggestion of going shopping–a favorite of his since the 9/11 catastrophe–was patently obscene.) So the next morning I went to the Metropolitan Museum. I walked to the Met through Central Park, which was as verdant as ever, a comfort in itself–trees are rarely affected by remote human disaster–and looked at some of my favorite pictures. On the walk home, I felt amazingly ready to face reality with the equanimity necessary to attempt constructive action. The question of whether or not my subsequent attempts at “constructive action” have done anything to better the state of the world remains moot. CENTRAL PARK

Central Park is my backyard, half a block away from where I live. It is replete with diversions, as any tourist guide will tell you. A native New Yorker (admittedly bridge-and-tunnel in my first youth), I long ago absorbed (and today regularly revisit) the highlights the guidebooks emphasize–among them the Shakespeare Garden, free theater at the Delacorte, rowing on the lake, the zoo, and the carousel–and appreciate many smaller charms. Do you know the Whispering Bench? Most...
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