November 20, 2008

The New Yorker

I travel a lot, so I get to experience all kinds of folks. And sometimes in my job, I end up on the phone with parents from around the country, and I'm astounded and terrified by them.

But thank God I get to experience something outside of my relatively tiny, homogeneous New York circle.

But come on, this is New York, the promised land for people all over the world. Most of us, however, don't encounter much ethnic diversity at all unless we go to Harlem to be hip and celebrate Obama's election, or we take a cab with a driver from Haiti or something.

My New York crew is comprised mostly of non-New Yorkers, graduates from Colgate who I've known since I was a teenager and who come from all over the States. The rest of them are pretty much across the board white, accentless, and either Jewish or Christian or, most commonly, at least agnostic or atheist.

So who is the New Yorker? If you watch Top Chef like I did last night, you think that New Yorkers are poorly dressed, inarticulate, bitter, bitter people with a bad attitude and a thirst for criticism. If you watch most Hollywood films and TV productions like the yet-to-be-aired Showtime series that was being filmed at Baruch College in my neighborhood the other night, you think that New York cabbies are crabby old white men who smell of cigars and pizza sauce.

How can the stereotype of the New Yorker not have changed since the seventies, an era of television which largely informed my knowledge of the city through sitcoms like The Odd Couple? How is it possible that Hollywood is still perpetuating that appalling iconography?

Sure, some of those guys do exist, the Queens College graduates who pronounce "toilet" like "terlet" and the girls in Bensonhurst who don't move out of their parents' house until they absolutely have to, and often they're extremely charming (or is it just me?). But New York has become such a hodgepodge of cultures and accents and beliefs, it's hard to characterize who exactly a "New Yorker" is anymore.

Am I a New Yorker?

After 11 years of living here, I'm realizing more and more that I'm not. I don't want the stress anymore. I don't want a Valentine's Day full of couples, a New Year's that costs me $150 without even a single kiss, and a Thanksgiving with absolutely no one to hang out with. I don't want to be identified with a city that steals your wallet, punches you on the subway, calls you a dog and barks at you, and threatens to stalk you. Worse yet, a city that promises to call and never does. And takes all your love and money and never gives anything back.

The city is changing - it's a lot safer than it was in 1997 when I first moved here - but I'm not sure I can wait for it to change enough until it's the right fit for me. And the more people keep perpetuating the stereotype of this city being filled with people behaving badly, the more people will think it's a license to behave badly.

Sometimes I just want to put myself on a little higher ground.

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