A Somewhat Existential Glossary for New Yorkers

-fifteen years in, a guide to the banal, beautiful, and existential life of this new yorker

Squanting- Verb used to describe the runwalksquat with hand apologetically raised that people do when rushing to cross street against the light. Squanting is also a popular form of forward movement when rushing to an approaching train. It is important to note that squanting makes one move more slowly than when simply walking. ‘The lady squanted across 4th avenue, sheepishly hurrying to outpace the rapidly approaching bus’

Tipsy Jaunt- Post cocktail, the walk to wherever you’re going next. It’s a happy jaunt, as you joyfully tipsily traipse somewhere while listening to a a favorite song with your jacket on and you’re cute and the wind is brisk and the city is alive and you’re alive and you can pay your rent and you have money for drinks and maybe you’ll grab a slice or text that cute guy or maybe you’ll go home and sit on your fire escape and just take in all of the goodness this city has to offer.

Steps Fatigue- Sometimes halfway up the subway stairs, your body siezes, begging you to stop. You cannot keep going up but you must keep going up. You will keep going up. Must you? (you must). You’ll be stronger for it.

Suddenly you flash forward to being 78 years old. Oh dear god, are you going to be dragging your body up these stairs for All Days? Will you ever reside somewhere without stairs? Where could that possibly ever be? What will countless stairs feel like at 78? Your imagination reels forward — will you be ambling down Avenue of the America’s in a housedress? Will people slowly amble behind you, sighing? Will the stairs ever be nothing to you? Are you here forever? Is that a blessing or a curse? Keep going up them. You must.

Near-Dinner-Darkening- The sudden realization you don’t have plans but don’t feel like being stuck inside or alone for dinner. So you begin reaching out to friends and one by one they all have plans and you realize with eyes darting around, that the only way to see someone somehow is to tap on the door of that third tier friend who never stops talking. Sidenote: You did nothing today. NOTHING. You didn’t move forward. You didn’t come further to accomplishing your goals and now you will either sit and listen through a long dinner or you will have to face this day entirely alone. The darkening begins.

Surprise transit heckle- When you speak out on the subway or on a bus or in a crowd against some form of injustice. (careful to never yell ‘this is ridiculous!’) Perhaps it’s to someone hogging space on the subway or a person checking their phone when walking down the subway steps or being rude to someone working hard at a store.

young newyorkers taking up too much train (photo by me)

You publicly dress-down behavior, shocked by the sound of your own voice bellowing from your usually silent form. ‘Please don’t hug the pole’ and instead of not hugging the pole anymore and politely stepping back, they insult you so you insult them and then we have a public heckling going on in full view of the public. You walk off the train or out of the store and you think ‘Was that me? Did I just become that person who publicly has an altercation about etiquette?’ Yes you did, because we all do. Some we are proud of, some we will never speak of again.

The Fuckits- Often a Sunday activity, strongly hitting those single or living alone. If you work Sundays, then the fuckits can fall on whatever day of the week you have off when you find yourself at home alone during the afternoon — tired from working and also short on creative plans out in the city. Should you go to a movie?

No. The subway steps. You need a break. You open and close the windows thoughtlessly. You pause, your hand absent-mindedly resting on the back of your neck as you ponder life’s choices. Maybe you’ll go the the store and buy what you need for soup that’s always nice, right. Maybe you’ll organize your books or begin writing that thing stuck in your brain or will begin to ponder which items you should donate. You stare out at the concrete below while a few trash bags lazily float by. A siren drones in the distance. You hear the screech of the city trucks down the block. A dog barks, his yelps bouncing off the concrete beyond. You close the windows again. Acknowledge the fuckits. Contact a true friend. Break bread together. That is often how they go away.

Wonder Woman-ing- You go to your job, or have a day off and wear your sweatpants to the movies, like the midwesterner you once were. You had no plans, other than returning home at the end of your nothing day, so you didn’t even apply mascara (Word to the wise if you wear mascara — always just apply it). Out of the blue, someone offers you a night out to the opera or to a big show or a person you wanna look nice for is like ‘hey girl dinner somewhere nice?’ You respond ‘hell yes I’ll do those things’. Yet! You don’t look right and you can’t go home because there’s simply no time to make it back to Brooklyn.

So you find the nearest TJ Max or H&M and you buy a new outfit for 19.99 and you throw your old outfit away because fuck that outfit, anyhow. It wasn’t the best of you! You run to Sephora and are the customer who’s like ‘No thanks I’m just looking’ and you do your face and you use their dry shampoo and you show up at 7pm like a million goddamned dollars because you live in a city where you can leave your house in a crappy pair of jeans at 8am and show up to the opera in a dress with some cat-eye liner at 7pm and no one needs to know how you hustled that look. Twirl,girl — twirl.

‘Corner Nostalgia’- “See that corner there?”, you say to the person you’re walking with — you had an an emotional experience there. A part of you molted there. You kissed a perfect gent or cried into the phone with someone back home. Hell, there should be a plaque on that there corner. My grandest nostalgic corner is on the corner of 2nd and 2nd, just after my roommate told me she was leaving New York for awhile. We were best friends and were beautifully co-dependent. She told me she was leaving the city at an Italian restaurant on 4th and 2nd, which is (to this day) a new restaurant every 6 months. Before we got to the subway I burst into tears and sat on this little dirty slab of concrete that juts out and I wept like a little baby while we talked about life, our friendship and why we came to New York in the first place. Every time I walk by that corner, I see a faded hologram of us, perched there with eyeliner running down our faces, pledging lifelong friendship to each other. That corner is a coffee shop now.

Slutty City Day- It’s the perfectly warm New York day. No humidity. The temperature is just right. Everyone is out. It’s a holiday weekend so the assholes are gone. The locals are out. The city parks are packed. The dudes who ride their bikes with boomboxes on their handlebars are riding around, yelling happily. People are day drinking but not Santa-con levels. You’ve got five-separate offers for plans, but no one cares if you come or go or stay too long, so you just show up whenever wherever. Everyone is tipsy but not sloppy. Well, maybe they are but not in a sad way. You’ve just had nachos and you don’t know what time it is. If you make it home, you take a cab home late, with the windows rolled down and if you ride the subway everyone is glassy-eyed and happy. What a gloriously slutty city day that day was.

Lazy Cab- When you should walk but you take a cab. You should be walking! It’s not that far. It could take longer by cab. Why are you taking a cab? Why not save that money? IT’S ONLY A TWENTY MINUTE WALK. But some of that walk is uphill. You look so cute. Isn’t it humid? Have I paid my electrical bill yet this month? You get into cab and mutter desperately like a criminal in confession that you know you should be walking it but you’re lazy. Your cab driver does not care. See ‘steps fatigue’.

Sidepony/Sidepony-ing- When a friend gets you out of bed to go do something late at night, like gossiping, people watching or snacking. This is a platonic friend. This is not a booty call. The origins of side-ponying date back to 2008 when living in the east village and a specific friend would stop by after 1am to have a tipsysnack and would drag me out to sit on the steps of Eleanor D Roosevelt Park. We would people-watch between the hours of 1–3am (after 3am the all of NYC turns into a sad pumpkin). This author would put her hair in a high side ponytail, and ‘sidepony-ing’ was born. You can sidepony anywhere. You can even sidepony in your own house, as long as you’ve been in bed and your friend brings you a snack and a good story. But is best when done outside on a stoop.

Cleared Board- Try to imagine New York as though it’s a giant video game. When do you realize when you’ve cleared a level? Is there a fireworks display or a loud ding? How do you realize that one specific phase is over. When that old apartment, or neighborhood, or job, or relationship, or skill, or emotional state has been done to the point of being ‘mastered’ . Imagine Super Mario Brothers. Imagine the first level you mastered. You have been through it a hundred times.

You know where all of the coins are, and know which block to bump your head up into to get the prize. You even know which turtle to bounce on and slide in any direction. If you have all of that information, it’s probably time to not play that board anymore. An unknown board can be terrifying, but so is hearing the same theme music, symbolically, day in-day out. Know when you’re done with a phase. Need a ceremony? Buy a cheap firecracker and set it off on your stoop. There’s your ceremony! Now, begin the next board.

Sigh-blocking: You’re waiting for the subway to arrive, or are on the subway and it’s not moving. It’s been awhile, everyone waiting will now definitely, tragically be late to wherever everyone is going. The person next to you is outwardly angry and my-oh-my, are they sighing.

photo by me. delayed train sadness

They want to express to you/everyone how stressed they are about how late they are going to be. Acknowledging this will only make your stress worse — so you remain stone faced. You are screaming and dying inside but isn’t your book still so interesting <you turn the page with a stoic look on your face> You hear the sighs and the tongue-clacks with annoyance. They are now doing it directly at you, aggressively. They are sigh-ing at you. They say at you “can you believe this shit?” You cannot break. Once eye-contact is made and you acknowledge their stress, it will become your stress, which will compound all stresses. You don’t need that. No one needs that. We all are in this together, but silently. You must block the sighs. They do not help.

Class-slap: When you realize you’re living well below a specific poverty line. When you realize others are living well below your poverty line. When you realize others are living way above everyone else’s poverty line. Unless you’re homeless or have a butler, you should be gaining perspective on both sides. I work often in private homes as a makeup artist. I’ve seen butlers and maids appear from the shadows with beverages on silver trays. My first year here, I cut the crust off of grown men’s sandwiches and scraped the mustard off a sandwich as though it contained arsenic while a grown man sat with his arms crossed, watching me. I have tweezed a woman’s eyebrows while she bathed. Yet, I’ve never slept on the street or have been unable to eat. The idea of not being able to pay rent or never having to pay rent are both narratives that make my eyes pop out of my head. I’ve had actors and struggling artists pay me in rolls of quarters. We see people daily living on the streets. Sometimes we block out their stories and sometimes we choose to look and their stories hit us hard in the face. Sometimes we all need a class-slap.

Ratso Rizzo-ing- Once I joked with a very tall fashionable friend of mine while out that I was her Ratso. To dramatically prove my point, I jogged pitifully next to her. I was also sick but pretending like I wasn’t, which I always do. The cough/scamper made quite an impact next to her long confident stride. I am always ‘not sick’ until I literally can’t leave my house. To ‘Ratso’ is to pull yourself through the city when you’re at your sickest. You show up at that job. You don’t call out. You scamper alongside friends with long legs when yours are tired. Smacking the hood of a car if it’s inching it’s too near you or nearly hits you also falls under the umbrella of ‘Ratso-ing’. Yell as you do it. The first time I did so, I bellowed from the center of my gut ‘I’m walking, yo!’ It felt to be a pure New York moment. *Yes Ratso dies on a bus in Miami next to Jon Voight. So please go to the doctor eventually

Quiet Small Success Party- The first magazine I ever had my name in was called Heart & Soul, about 13 years ago. I’d assisted a friend who let me do two model’s faces. While walking down the street, I saw the newest edition on a newstand. I bought it, ordered some fries from that fancy fry place by St. Marks, and slowly flipped through the magazine until I found two images, with my name written real small in the corner. I had to crease the page far back to read it. It was the smallest of victories, and I silently smiled and celebrated what was my first ‘success’ after a few early years of constant obstacles. First years here are hard — if you don’t agree I don’t believe you. We all have that small moment. Hearing our names announced on small stage in a shitty bar. Being listed in an off-off-broadway playbill. Seeing an article published. Being placed on a call sheet. Getting your New York hair or law license. Names in and on documents that make part of your hustle seem legit.

Hail Mary Pass- When you order in breakfast in at 2pm. Sad? Fine. Does the delivery person know this is your first action of the day? Maybe. But also, maybe that someone can bring you a bagel to your doorstep is perhaps brilliant? Also true. I will always take your possible pejorative and spin it into a positive, especially when it comes to the ‘things that make life here a tad easier’ (see ‘steps fatigue/fuckits.) There is great beauty in a bagel at 2pm when leaving home is not possible.

Terrortory- You fall deeply in love then it ends, terribly. Thus is the stuff of life. It was never supposed to end this way, and yet there you are; ruined briefly, in a place that can be hard on the broken-hearted. The streets and avenues you ambled down together with fingers locked — the bars you kissed at and the restaurants you canoodled in for awhile are now ‘terrortory’. Some return to those haunts quickly, adopting the rules of aversion therapy as their guide. ‘Screw that’ a friend once said to me. ‘This is my city and I won’t let a person take even a block away from me.’ I respect that. I see ghosts everywhere in New York, and know this can be detrimental in initial stages. For a spell, I will avoid that one subway stop. I will walk down a different block. I may never eat at that Chinese restaurant again. I am respectful of my cityghosts. Eventually the hauntings stop, and the full length of the city is yours again, the terrortory flipping its script and becoming its warmer tangent, corner nostalgia. Life goes on. The board is cleared. The city is yours again.