A Toothless Gypsy Screaming in a Hot Tin Box : My First Year in New York


What did the gnarled face spewing saliva and guttural terror-sounds mean to me? What was the first thought that went through my head as this gray-haired gypsy woman convulsed and screamed in my general direction?

“Oh, it’s Thursday, isn’t it”.

I thought that because I now live in New York City, and in New York City, sights like this are the norm.

The sights that I see aren’t always this terrible. It’s not a city filled exclusively with bums shitting in stairways and old men wearing space helmets while licking their sooty shoes. There just happen to be a lot of these, and I’m alright with it. Of course I’m alright with it. Today marks my first year anniversary with this city, and I wouldn’t have stayed if I felt otherwise.

I run into a lot of cynics who continue to preach to me that the “ooh-ahh” factor fades away quickly. I’ve been told that eventually I’ll come to my senses and realize that paying so much for basic living isn’t worth it. That you can have a better life someplace else on a much, much, much much much smaller budget.

This is true. You can have a good life on a tiny budget. I know this because before I lived here, I lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, where you can live a fabulous life and barely have a job. People are available to hang out almost 24/7 and there are impromptu parades almost every month, if not every week, if not every day.

New Orleans is magic. It isn’t real. It’s an ancient land where men still don elaborate feather indian suits and dance to to tribal drums and nobody bats an eyelash. If Blackbeard’s pirate crew ever got their hands on a time machine and ended up in the french quarter, nobody would ever know. They would just be the “other” drunk men stinking and wearing scarves.

New Orleans has a much deeper nook in my heart than even the town I call my “hometown”, but I had to go. It was time to move on. All of the clocks in New Orleans are made of molasses, and I needed to speed things up.

Flash forward to now.

Life is in constant fast-motion. Every day I commute from Astoria, Queens to Lower Manhattan. Everyday I join the ritual. Everyday I’m one of millions in a hot tin box. There are old orthodox Jews and Puerto Rican mothers and Jamaican nurses all side by side by side. There are business men and college students and young working professionals all going about their day.

I often think about a quote from the Charlie Kaufman film “Synecdoche, New York”. When referring to the vast amount of people in this world, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character says that “none of those people are an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories”. Every morning when I’m staring at my fellow New Yorkers for 45 minutes, I dissect them and think of this. Where is she going? What is his job? Why is he frowning? Why are they smiling? It’s these people that make this city electric. They are the reason you get that job offer. They know the guy who knows the guy who knows the guy. They are the ones who know the fastest route. They are the reason you fall in love.

They are also the ones with no teeth, growling at you on a train.

The reason I wasn’t phased by this dementia-ridden gypsy woman is because here, you never know what is going to happen next. New York is constantly pulsing with everything new. New opportunities, new friends, new restaurants, and yes, new horrors. Every time you take a step outside, it’s like you are choosing the mystery box on a game show. It could be a new car, OR it could be a homeless man eating your neighbor’s dog. That’s the gamble you take living here, and it’s a gamble I’m glad I took.

I am lucky in that I work very close to Greenwich Village. Often times I find myself ending my work day by walking across the Village as the sun begins to set and New York’s workers all begin their journey home. At this point in my day, I’m usually pretty exhausted, as are most of the people I see out on the street. You could probably fit all of our wardrobes into the massive bags under our eyes.

Then, something changes.

As I walk toward the subway, I look down the street to see the Empire State Building looming above us. It’s 30 blocks away and it still stands out as this glimmering behemoth dwarfing us all. When I stare at it, I’m overcome with this feeling of immense awe and wonder. New Yorkers built that. New Yorkers WORK in that. Millions of hard working, exhausted New Yorkers probably look at that building every night before they go home and think about how special a place it is that they live in.

And then a hobo probably pukes on their shoes.

It is Thursday, after all.


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