New York Is Yours for the Taking

Sloane Crosley in The New York Times:

Townies75 Dorothy Parker supposedly once described Los Angeles as “72 suburbs in search of a city” but New York has the exact opposite problem; it’s a solid city that would prefer to slice itself apart as thinly as possible. Think of Russ & Daughters’ lox. Thinner. We love our delusion of quaintness so much that we are disproportionately validated by what passes as the bare minimum of civility anywhere else — a dropped glove adamantly returned to its owner, a “you’ll get us next time” gratis coffee from our neighborhood haunt, a local bartender or dry cleaner who learns our name. We brand these gestures as Very New York. The surest and quickest way to procure our small-town fix? A morally dependent interaction with a stranger. That is: I trust that no one will break into my home, no one breaks in and I am thusly delighted. I ask a stranger to mind my jacket in a café, the stranger makes a joke about fending off the waiter and we are both delighted.

The idea that we’re inhabitants of “Here, You Dropped This” Island somewhere in the “You Gave Me Two 20’s” Galaxy is an appealing one. More than appealing, it’s a kind of survival technique. It’s culturally ingrained in us to disprove the New York clichés of cruelty and rudeness. New Yorkers have a reputation for skin so thick it feels like rock so we adore anything that undermines this idea and confirms our secret view of ourselves as neighborly and congenial. It’s the social equivalent of owning a really docile Rottweiler. This trust-filled warmth also serves as a salve against urban haters. People who don’t develop an instant taste for New York? Well, clearly they’re just visiting the wrong parts. The problem now is that we’re confusing humanity with safety.

More here.