Friday, June 4, 2010

What was it Really Like to Grow Up in New York?


What was is like to grow up in New York?

I've been asked that question so many times that I know what to expect: a flood of memories, a brief pause while I mentally sort through decades of only-in-New-York experiences to decide which to share, and the realization that there's no way to communicate in a few words what my childhood was like in such an amazing city. So now I keep things simple and say, "It was really...something" when asked about my Manhattan childhood. The details - complex, bigger-than-life and at times hard to believe, I keep to myself.

The reality is that the New York of my childhood has been erased from the city's landscape. A new city has been super-imposed where I used to live. In many ways the refurbished, revamped, and renewed New York of today is better than the one it replaced but in a sense this new version seems crafted specifically to feed the imaginations of temporary visitors.

New York has been re-invented not only as a tourist destination but as a global icon, like the Eye of London or the Eiffel Tower. Not so much a place to live but a place to go, shop and have your picture taken.

Through constant media coverage New York has become everyone's imaginary hometown. In conversations with folks who have never been to New York I find that what I say about it holds little weight. Their notions about where I come from have already been shaped by movies, sit-coms, cable news programming, reality television, live-cam Times Square coverage and the fine print details found in countless "Win a Weekend Getaway to The Big Apple" sweepstakes.

A bit of an exaggeration but still a bit true.

So I've decided that maybe the next time someone asks me what it was like growing up in New York I should take a more media saturated approach and answer with familiar images like this:

"Growing up was like Seinfeld on A Dog Day Afternoon trying to decide what train to take, Pelham 1,2 or 3 then realizing he must have some sort of Death Wish or something. It was like Arthur putting on some sort of routine from The Out of Towners by approaching a Taxi Driver who looked like he'd come down with a touch of Saturday Night Fever. No, it was like Annie Hall waking up after a night of Sex in the City with the Pope of Greenwich Village then realizing she'd violated her own sense of Law & Order just for a shot at Fame. Actually, it was more like Shaft discussing When Harry Met Sally with Barney Miller over the sound of Bullets Over Broadway. It was kind of like that, you know what I mean?"

No, I suppose that wouldn't work very well. Instead I'll just write about the New York I once knew.

Usually my blog posts focus on writer's craft but I'm in the mood to reminisce. The blogs I've been reading lately at http://www.westsideindependent.com/ and http://www.myupperwest.com/ and lostnewyorkcity.blogspot.com have inspired me. They're written my New Yorkers like me who are in love with their city.

So check in on this blog site frequently this summer. I'll be sharing new impressions and old memories about the place I still call home.

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