RETURNING HOME, I spent a few days with old friends that I hadn’t seen since I’d last lived there.
I jumped between late-breakfasts, and espressos, and brunches, and beers, and late-lunches, and overpriced cocktails, and dinners, and house parties in neighborhoods that I’d never really spent time in before. Moving around New York makes me feel like I’m on a backpacking trip; I end up covering a much smaller geographic distance, but I end up doing way more things in a single day than I would otherwise.
I’d never visited the new disused-train-track-turned-above-ground-public-park. Within two minutes of walking up the steps to The High Line, within my periphery I witnessed three photo shoots: a black fashion magazine, a gay style show, and a yuppie menswear blog. This did not include the photo that the Swedish girl wanted me to take of her, or the photo that she reciprocally shot of me.
In front of Madison Square Gardens I passed a mother telling her child the story of the Statue of Liberty — he was more interested in his Nintendo DS screen. I saw a teenage couple holding hands and talking about writing a script based on a party that they went to in New Jersey.
I responded to texts with “Great see you then” and wondered if my typical texting vocabulary overuses “Great”, “Perfect”, “Ok”, “Awesome”, and “Cool?”
In Midtown, I overheard a guy in jeans and a sports coat say that he was going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. I doubted that because people who compare themselves to outrageously successful billionaires are often full of shit. Maybe he just meant that he’s into dressing casually at corporate functions.
On the J-train a sad woman limply held a document from the New York State Department of Corrections. She tearfully glanced at the list of dates she could visit her inmate. Across the train car, a boisterous mother reprimanded her young son for weeping: “boys don’t cry!” Further down the train a gentrifying young goth wearing a Cure t-shirt seemed not to pay attention. He was focused on a man wearing a hat made from the business section of the New York Post — he was announcing seminal plot points to Scarface without first sounding a spoiler alert. I smiled at a girl I recognized from a comedy webseries.
Three blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge Hasidic Jews chased after each other. They looked like me but in heavier coats and with different haircuts. Our beards were the same length. I imagined that this is what I would have looked like 150 years ago, or if my family had never assimilated into secular Jews. My Jewishness is different than theirs. No synagogue, no Yiddish, no funny hats. My Jewishness is being liberal, and funny, and educated, and eating Pastrami sandwiches with coleslaw, swiss cheese, and Russian dressing. Watching Hasids chasing each other made me start to understand the value in adding hyphens to hybridize your identity. Maybe that’s what it means to be Jewish-American.
And I carried this thought with me as I walked through the Lower East Side where my great-grandparents from Russia and Poland and Belarus and Romania converged and started our lives in the tenements and sweatshops, and, unionized, established the precedent that makes 80% of American Jews vote liberal.
I walked into Union Square and saw old white guys with huge banners denouncing the existence of Israel. As a liberal Jewish-American I understand that Israel has major issues of equality that need to be addressed… and I completely understand why Palestinians oppose Israel — but when I see old white dudes standing there screaming at the top of their lungs about how much they think the state of Israel shouldn’t exist, I just can’t help but be reminded of the old white dudes who used to scream about how Jewish people shouldn’t exist.
But at the same time I’d rather have a conversation with these guys than the creepy dude that’s trying to offer me a free massage. Or any of the other gratis items and services offered to me in Union Square: free hugs, free pamphlets, free poetry, free potato chips, free iced tea, free gym membership.
A friend texted to meet for drinks around the corner. I texted back “Great” and walked over. En route I ran into some friends I hadn’t seen in a decade. I invited them to come with. It turned out that they already knew my friend through one of their friends, and our temporary newly minted group of friends drank rounds of dark beer for a few hours before I had to meet another group. And as I was walking to the train I had that moment I get on every trip to New York, that affirmation that this is the best city in the world, and I’m constantly amazed by everything, and that I want want to live there again.
And maybe the next time I come back, I’ll bring a bigger backpack full of all my worldly possessions, and find a sublet and move back, until I hate it again, and then repeat.
This piece originally appeared in Matador Network.