People can’t seem to agree on how long it takes to become a New Yorker.
“Someone once told me that you know you’re a New Yorker when you reach this breaking point: As much as you may hate the city on any given day, you hate the thought of living elsewhere even more.
I know that there are certain things that lead to the jaded, New Yorker mentality. You stop questioning the cost of rent. You’re on a first-name basis with the neighborhood bartender, coffee guy and dry cleaner. You give cabbies specific directions. You stop to argue with delivery cyclists and cabbies when they nearly-hit you in a cross-walks. You say “hi” to routine street performers and homeless people. You pre-walk the subway platform to the car that will be nearest your exit when you arrive at the next subway platform. You can’t help but smile and feeling resentfully cheesy whenever Empire State of Mind plays. These are the things that develop over time and make one a New Yorker.”
I can see my own New Yorker-ish changes developing in the short time I’ve lived there. Every morning I walk by and say hello to Junior, the doorman of the building next door. He’s got a young face but silver grey hair. Regardless of the weather, he wears a black fleece pullover and grey slacks, sometimes jeans. We nodded and smiled at each other for two months until one morning he said, “Hey, what’s your name?”
I told him.
“I’m Junior,” he said.
“Junior?” He was kind of a big guy.
“Yeah,” he smiled, “Junior.”
On the same route there are two “regular” sedentary bums. I smile at them in the apologetic way I smile at less fortunate people. They nod back. Sometimes, when he’s not sleeping on plastic crates, one of them holds the door open for me at Zabar’s. I buy a bagel or sandwich, paying with cash, and give him the change.
I’ve finally figured out how the express trains work, I think. I’ve learned I can leave my house at exactly 9:44AM, walk to the far right of the platform and get to class exactly two minutes before 10AM, though by then the only seats available are those along the wall. I know now not to wait for the “walk” signs because I could easily waste whole days’ worth of time that way. At night, I’ve noticed the squirrels turn into rats.
I’m not sure the label “New Yorker” is something I’m striving for. The first time around I loved and hated the city, but the hate was misdirected. New York had disappointed me like a good-looking boy you eventually summon up the courage to talk to only to realize he’s dumb as rocks. But that’s not only unfair, with New York, it’s untrue. At eighteen, I expected much from the city and not enough from myself. Now, I still expect a lot from the city. But I expect more from myself.
I’m from Orange County. I’m from Taipei. I’m from everywhere I’ve ever been and loved and lived. Including, eventually, New York.
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