I've said it countless times by now; New York City is the only real finishing school a girl needs. With just nearly seven years of Brooklyn living behind me, I'm still hardly considered a New Yorker. An honorary title one must fully commit to putting in the time to earn, and one I truly respect. There's a reason the old adage, "if you can make it here you can make it anywhere", is widely thrown around and promotes pure truth. Even for a billionaire, this is no easy place to settle into. Which is exactly why NYC can be the very best teacher for anyone willing and able to stick around for awhile and learn a few things.
There are tremendous treasures to inherit when you're raised in the deep south, and I'm not referring to money. Etiquette worthy of Emily Post engrained in us at birth and a genuine kindness from our neighbors to mere strangers. Patience and ease are rights of passage in the towns where soups and stews take as long as pickling and preserving--common concoctions served daily and nightly by mamas, daddies, grandmothers, and papas from tried and true recipes handed down for generations. Say what you will about the south, even amidst the unfortunate past and unflinching stigmas, there's a sweetness to the air that's impossible to deny, nor is it comparable to any other part of the world. Perhaps it's a southern prerequisite that can best prepare a young woman for the meaner streets of big city living in her adult life. Or, maybe not, and it really just all depends on the strength and even a bit of masochism of any woman. Either way, I'm here to attest; give this city ample time and you'll walk--or at least hobble--away having learned more in a year than any finishing school will teach you.
Patience and nurturing an inner calm are imperative for a New Yorker to make it past dinner without hurting themselves or others along the way. The former I've never been cozy with, but undoubtedly I still try to summon daily. Nothing can be counted on here except for your rent to go up. Train schedules, weather, fares, attitudes and neighborhoods all change on a dime with zero to very little warning. Need to get somewhere on time? Leave two hours earlier, even if it's a thirty minute commute. It takes a great deal of zen not to come completely unglued on an over-crowed, stalled train car when you're running twenty minutes behind and you left your apartment an hour earlier than usual. The same can be said when the cabbie insists he's "unable to take credit cards right now" and "can only take cash" after you're a block from home and you already know this game. In a city swarming with culture you best not show up to any gathering without an encyclopedic mental guide to the latest exhibits, theater, film and music offerings, or prepare to be demoted to the kid's table, where even they'll know more than you do, which they'll inform you in French. Restaurant and bar gigs are as hard to come by here as office jobs. Unless you've worked for Keller or Batali, fully understand the massive difference between a fresh truffle and truffle oil, or have perfected your beaujolais breakdown and how to make a mean Manhattan--without Google's help. In New York, you're cracking jokes with your Muslim cabbie, haggling with a Chinese purveyor, giving directions to Finnish tourists, pondering Dominican pastries, initiated by beggars at every corner, feeling like a beggar at every corner--all before lunchtime.
In the City That Never Sleeps, it's impossible to feel strange. You encounter just about every type, personality, association, caliber, race, religion, mindset, disability, inability, class, title, professional, unprofessional, idiot, genius, profound, basic, known, unknown on a regular basis. What or whom was once foreign now feels like an old friend. Or, at least, something or someone oddly, even ironically familiar. A 7-day MTA pass will grant you VIP access to the best bible pushers, breakdancers, mariachi trios, guitar strummers, bongo thumpers, preachers, peddlers, naysayers, criers, crazed slashers, and story-tellers you'd hoped [or not] to encounter when you're just trying to get to work. Live entertainment has never been more affordable, more accessible, nor more common than it is in this town at any given moment. As unwelcome you feel its intrusion is on the sourest of days, the sounds of a cello, violin or acoustic guitar greeting you in the catacombs of filth and despair that is New York's subway is a gift you never knew you craved.
New York City is a hodgepodge of everything in the world being thrown at you at once. Whether it's yet to be discovered trends, breaking news, culture clashes, advanced technology or media sensations it's impossible not to be "tuned in" to the latest, greatest, and lamest. Even for the hipsters-too-cool to own cable TV, they're still surrounded by world views the minute they leave their tiny Bushwick crawl spaces. I thought I knew a thing or two about life, the world, and sharing it with billions of others unique to me. Turns out, I knew enough to get by, thanks to my southern roots, but the buck stops there. Hailing from the Hospitality State, naturally adopting kindness and flattery will get you in the door. A crash course in NYC-living may just get you a seat at the table. Being polite and sincere cushioned the reaction from a Hasidic landlord when I went to shake his hand and look him in the eye before I realized my faults. Interviews with angry fashion execs have been far less painful, thanks to a little southern charm, even if I didn't get the job and walked away hiding my tears.
In just 6+ years of living in NYC I've learned tidbits in Korean thanks to Seoul bosses, proper Italian food and wine pronunciations [so I don't look like an asshole] from Italian employers. I've learned the difference between Cézanne and Matisse, Munch and Van Gogh, de Kooning and Pollock. Graffiti and differenciating between tagging, pissing, wheat-pasting, throwing, and stenciling. I've learned that 99 cent Jamaican beef patties, street meat, and Polish knishes are deliciously satisfying when I could barely afford to eat. Give her enough time and New York is guaranteed to kick you when you're down. At least once, you will be that person sobbing on the train, falling down in the icy streets, begging for an apartment, clocking in at multiple jobs for rent's sake, getting pushed or pushing back, getting dumped by everyone not just a lover, feeling utterly hopeless, like you can't go on and why on everything that is holy did you move here. It will happen. It happens to everyone, and the good news is you're actually better because of it. Even through the bitterness, you've conquered so much, when it mostly feels like nothing at all. You stay, because the good days are enough to keep you engaged and ultimately curious. That, or you really are a masochist.
It's impossible to feel superior to any one group in a town that is completely saturated with every identity out there. You share the streets, seats, even buildings with people you've never encountered before, and you certainly share an underlying bond. In a city where so many dreams come to die or thrive, you're all just trying to make it out alive. You get it, and each other. You might never make eye contact or utter a word to the stranger pressed up against you on an overcrowded train, but there's a weird kinship there, like we're all in this together. That's why NYC truly is the greatest city on earth. She's also the best teacher, if you're willing to learn from her. My graduation is still pending, but I came here to fight.