New York City breathes. With every screech of the subway car’s metal wheels upon metal tracks, with each pedestrian’s quick-paced step onto the next block, it inhales and exhales with the collective breath of 8 million interwoven lives.
Pick one thread out of this moving, evolving tapestry and you’ll find the attractive French-speaking man, dressed to the nines, speeding down Sixth Avenue while chattering away into his phone. He jumps over a puddle, almost bumping into a woman who looks thrice his age and walks with her figure hobbled over, as if the exaggerated angle of her back marked her years. She looks back at him as he navigates through the throng of the weekend crowd, eyes plaintive with wrinkles carved into their corners like fjords. They walk on in opposite directions.
Pick at another thread and you’ll find two girls, tall and leggy and blessed with long virgin locks down to the middle of their backs. Their easy confidence in 90s grunge gear mask their youth, but each open-mouthed stare at the heights of the city is far more telling of their story — young girls seeking to take this town upon themselves. They walk in sync, stopping only to ask a man advertising a tour bus service to take a picture for them in front of the deafening light and glitz of Times Square. He obliges, side-stepping their dropped “Modeling School” bag to capture the right angle. He says “cheese.” They smile. He does not.
This is a city of dreams, they say, a place where people come from far and wide to accomplish goals, to establish lives, to find themselves. And that’s a horribly romantic vision (and this coming from a self-professed romantic).
Maybe it is those things, but this city is also confrontation. When so many lives are packed together, moving on the subway together, eating in crowded restaurants together, you cannot help but notice how all our threads are intertwined, and yet, how we manage to live on separately, pretending we never knew the others existed.
I encountered many lives during my short trip: the kind traveler who watched over my things in Penn Station; a young Thai restaurant waitress who accidentally knocked over a glass of water that splashed onto my bag; a recently-graduated friend with whom I shared late morning burgers; an inquisitive bookstore cashier with a love of Proust and The Avengers; a gaggle of tourists who bought handbags of questionable origin in a Chinatown park; a bartender with an ass to die for who danced atop the counter in skin-tight jeans to country anthems; a stranger who thought it would be a good idea to rest his hands on my waist for a few fleeting moments; an older couple who shared my joy for brunch and chicken-n-waffles.
We will probably never meet again — the odds are certainly stacked against us. But in that moment etched in my memory, we cross streets together, we breathe in the same stale city air, and we exist. We live together in this crazy, crowded, loud, and unforgiving city. And that’s kind of a beautiful thing.
This is part three of a four-part series of pieces that I wrote sometime during this past year. As we move forth toward 2016, I find that some introspection and reflection serve as a useful exercise during the final days of 2015. Please find the other pieces in this series, Things written in 2015, on my profile page.