New York·er (yôr′kər), a native or inhabitant of New York (State or, especially City)
This week, we are lucky to have a guest post contributed by writer Julia Gordon. Enjoy!
When Lisa asked me to be a guest blogger (thanks Lisa!) on The Dictionary Project and told me that the word she’d chosen was “New Yorker,” I immediately started to think about what it means to be a New Yorker, and the different connotations that appellation carries within different spheres: upstate, downstate, Manhattan, boroughs, suburbs. I thought about all of these things and I thought that I would try to touch upon all of them, in some sort of expansive way…and then I realized that all I could possibly talk about as a New Yorker was my own experience of the city, the people, of my life before I got there, of my life while I was there, and of my life before I left. This is nothing less and nothing more than my New York, my version of its reality, my corner of its soul.
// New York, 1978-1996/1999-2009 \\
Knee-high landscapes. Stiletto heels. Subway suits. Blue-suited coffee cups. New gum under new soles. Trains jerk to a stop. Bodies pressed together. Shoulders: intimate friends. Tunnels to nowhere. Tunnels that are homes. Tunnels with rats. Tunnels with mice. Tunnels with spiders. Tunnels in walls. Tunnels underfoot. Tunnels under water. Tunnels through bedrock. Rainboots are in style. Snow is never white. More cars yellow than not. Steaming asphalt. Smell of rain on tar. Rockefeller Center. Times Square smells of guilt. You can only buy chestnuts in winter. The steps to the Met are bigger each time you see them. The Temple of Dendur is magic. You fit your head into a library lion’s mouth. Central Park. Shakespeare outdoors. Class trips to see the dinosaurs. The planetarium was better before. Class trips to see the monkey house. Class trips to the old Westchester manors. Class trips to the Tenement Museum. Guss’ Pickles. Ten feet of buried cobbles. Ten streets of hidden Jews. Class trips to South Street Seaport. Dates who take you to South Street Seaport. The Avenue of the Americas has many fountains. Running through fountains will get you wet. Metro North trains. The subway is a train. Getting on a train going the wrong way. Getting on a train going the right way. Getting on the wrong train. Realizing trains are not right or wrong except for the one that goes to Roosevelt Island. Trying to take a ferry to Roosevelt Island. Finally taking the tram. Perfect makeup. No makeup. Umbrellas open under scaffolding. Getting mad that umbrellas are open under scaffolding. Scaffolding. Ice falling off midtown roofs. Soho costs too much. Smell of parties on tar roofs. Climbing up fire escapes. Climbing down fire escapes. Barred windows. Sixth floor walk-ups with no elevators. Crumbling marble staircases. Intercoms that don’t work. Lowering keys tied to twine on fishing reels. Bodegas on every corner. Ailanthus cracking concrete. Blue trains, green trains, yellow trains, red trains, three brown trains, then two. Living in Brooklyn. Living in Manhattan. Living in Queens for two minutes. Living in Brooklyn. Living in Brooklyn. Living in Brooklyn.
It is Tuesday and we are very busy. It is Election Day and we are even busier than usual. There are planes and they crash. Planes have crashed before; we are still very busy. The governor has yet to speak. People are calling their wives. People are calling their children. People are flying to the ground. Ash is falling from the sky. The governor has yet to speak. We are still very busy. Upper left-hand corners of envelopes with return addresses of One and Two are falling from the sky. The governor speaks. It was Tuesday and we had a plan and now there is not one. We go to the roof. We are on the roof and the big cloud gets bigger and bigger and biggest and there is one shadow less in the world. We climb down off the roof. We get high. We get higher. We get highest. She kept her bunny ears and so we go there. There is snow everywhere: broadcast snow, ash snow, concrete snow, bone snow. Snow is never white. We get more high. We sleep in a tangle. My arms are his and his legs are mine as I always wished they would be, and I am glad and I am guilty that I am glad and it is morning. There is a train that will run. It is yellow. It goes above ground. It crosses the bridge. In unison, we stand. We go to the western windows. They are dirty but we do not care. We press our palms to them, our foreheads, or mouths, our cheeks, we cannot get close enough to the western windows or what lies beyond. What lies beyond is burning. It is people burning. There are Jews on the train and they do not like that there are people burning. There are gentiles on the train and they do not like that there are people burning. There are no Muslims on the train. There are no Muslims on the street. Then there are Muslims on the street with American flags. It will not stop the Sikhs from getting knifed. We go to St. Vincent’s. There is nobody to help. There is nobody there. Everybody is already buried. Everyone is already dead. We vomit tears on Seventh Avenue.
We hear helicopters and we cower. We hear firecrackers and know they are guns. The lights go out and we cry. The lights stay on and we cry. We are very friendly unless you look Muslim. Which means we are very friendly unless you are a certain kind of brown. Or we are overly friendly if you are a certain kind of brown. We watch the news. We can’t watch the news. We wear flag pins. We tie yellow ribbons. We pray. We refuse to pray. We blame prayer. We blame God. We are dogs. We travel in packs. We lie awake at night. We sleep all day long. We drink too much. We smoke even more. It looks like 1986 in that bathroom, there’s so much cocaine. The green trains run. The blue trains run. The red trains run except for the stop that doesn’t exist anymore. There are smoking holes in the ground. It smells like rotting flesh. We drink and smoke and do lines on rooftops against the backdrop of jet fuel flames. We forget. We remember. We forget.
We love each other on the subway. We love each other on the crosstown bus. We smile at each other like it’s Christmas. We talk a lot about just how much we love each other. We wait patiently at stop signs. We stop at red lights. We wave pedestrians past. We hold the door open. We offer coffee. We put change in tin cups. We buy beers. We go to soup kitchens. We donate coats to the homeless. We gather our canned goods. It gets colder. We smile a little bit less. We try to get warm. We make love in Prospect Park. We make love in Fort Greene Park. We make love in Green-Wood cemetery. We make love in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We make love under the war memorial at Grand Army Plaza. We make love at Manhattan Beach Park. We make love at Coney Island Park. We try to make love in Central Park but it hurts too much. In Washington Square Park we fare better but stop halfway through to buy pot. We are remembering again but we are trying to forget. This will go on for years.
It has been years. We are better. Firecrackers are firecrackers. Guns are guns. The lights go off and we laugh. The lights stay on and we laugh. Helicopters are helicopters. Thunder is thunder. Rain is rain. We frown again on the train. We lean on our horns. We block the box. We do not like our mayor. We do not like each other. We do not make love. We do not go to holes. We do not look out western windows. We do not wear flag pins. There are no lights in the sky. There are no cranes in the holes. We do not talk about it. We talk about it too much. We lie awake at night. It has been years.
Movies in Bryant Park. Concerts in Prospect Park. Shakespeare in The Park. The monkey house is gone. We are too big to ride the giraffes. Holiday parties at the MOMA. Coworker trips to the Guggenheim. Rockefeller Center. Times Square smells like the color pink. The steps at the Met are smaller than they used to be. The library lions roar. You can’t buy chestnuts at all anymore. There is a right train and a wrong train. There is your train. There is your corner. There is your store. There is your door. Tar roof smells are memories. The planetarium isn’t that bad. The Temple of Dendur is still magic. Running through fountains will get you arrested. The cobblestones were always Belgian blocks. You told me it was time to go. We drive across the Brooklyn Bridge. We drive up the West Side Highway. We drive up the Saw Mill Parkway. We drive west on the Cross County Parkway. We drive west. We drive west. We drive west. Ailanthus trees push through the concrete, rock bricks loose from mortar, twist around fire escapes. We always take the stairs.
\\ July 2011 //
Julia R. Gordon is a writer with over ten years of experience in the non-profit sector as well as a background in government and political media, fundraising, and message development. Since 1998 she has worked as a writing consultant, providing one-on-one tutoring in writing skills, public speaking, and resume development as well as editing services for academic papers, research projects, and creative writing endeavors. She currently works at the University of Arizona and Raise the Bar LLC, and serves on the Board of Directors for Casa Libre en la Solana, a Tucson, AZ-based literary arts organization. She also writes for The Skein (www.theskeinblog.com), an online blog she created to explore politics, government, society, and interpersonal relationships through language and the written word. Julia was born and raised in downstate New York, and made her home in Brooklyn for a decade, prior to relocating to Tucson in 2009. During her time in New York she worked for such organizations as The Center for Literacy Enrichment at Pace University, Cornell University Medical College, the New York City District Council of Carpenters, Alliance for Quality Education and East River Media. During her career she has also held positions with several city- and statewide political and issue-based campaigns throughout the country. Julia is a graduate of Cornell University.
Ryan Adams’ album Gold, on which the song “New York, New York” appears, was released September 25 , 2001. The video for the song (below) was shot in the streets of New York four days before September 11, 2001.