There is a saying in Spanish that goes “pueblo chico, infierno grande” which means that a small town is a big inferno because it’s without privacy. You would never have to worry about such a thing in New York City. Eight million people, and you have the intimacy of your bedroom. Your lover could break up with you in the middle of Broadway and 42nd, and nobody would stop to eavesdrop. A gunman could shoplift a supermarket, and everyone would still be thinking about themselves.
A friend told me once that in New York nobody cares about you. You’re just a stranger among millions of strangers. A passerby with a nice coat maybe. At the next stop, the bus will pick up a new stranger with a nicer coat. Dating is the same. People go through lovers like shuffling cards. One minute you have their attention, the next you’re done. When you only have two minutes to hook them in, how can you win?
“You’re riding high in April, shot down in May…”
Small towners get their egos crushed quickly here. Life speeds by so the people hurry. Keeping up that pace makes everyone replaceable. There isn’t enough time to gift someone, we’re all sticking our hands in to steal time for ourselves. That’s what makes dating like a sushi conveyor belt so appealing. It’s quick and practical, so if this one has too much crab, you swipe and grab the next one. Welcome to New York. Nobody has time to care.
In New York, you get off at Penn Station singing I’ve Got the World on a String and by Bushwick you realize why Frank wrote That’s Life.
“You shouldn’t bother with tears here”, my bodega guy told me. “You need to be strong. And if you think that’s the worst New York can do, you have winter to look forward to.” In the spring, it’s easy to be single, you stroll down the sidewalk loosened, light. In the winter the clothes are tight, you walk constricted, pulling in your organs, you squint your eyes and grimace against the howling of the wind, you walk pushing forward like a shield in battle. And if you’ve no one to come home to to hang up the pounds of coats and slaps from the weather, it’s just extra quiet, and there’s no relief.
So far, it doesn’t seem promising to fall in love. Everyone has illusions of moving to L.A. and they might leave. When they move back they won’t call.
Of all the things that might seem pertinent comparisons, the subway is the closest model to a New Yorker. It’s practical, works around the clock, and moves on after every stop. So you move on, and on, and on… ad infinitum. You’ll break up with everyone. But you’ll never break up with New York. You’ll always be reminded why it’s worth the fight.