Sunday, November 20, 2005

A New York State of Mind

Last night was my good friend R's birthday dinner. I love R - we have been friends since we were small children and somehow have always managed to find common ground upon which to reunite. One thing though...I hate her friends. I have always hated her friends. It is astonishing to me how she can have such horrible taste in people and yet still like me. It almost makes me wonder if I might secretly suck. But I don't, so moving on, I asked my boyfriend if he would be so good as to join me at her birthday dinner. I have been dating him for quite awhile, and he and R barely know one another, and he'd never even met R's boyfriend. He was kind enough to join me and thus last night we set off.

Strike one: Hell's Kitchen. We had another party to go to last night which was Union Square...thus, Hell's Kitchen was completely out of the way. Not to mention that the subway can't be bothered to run predictably on weekends. But hey, it's her birthday so she is entitled to require that her friends come to her neighborhood, and she came to my birthday dinner in my neighborhood. So no big deal.

Strike two: Ethiopian food. If I lived in Ethopia, I'd starve too. Seriously, those people don't know what the hell to do with food so when they get it, they just throw it all together in a big mess, season it with spices that don't mix, and then eat it with their hands. More specifically, they eat it with a porous, disgusting "pancake" that more closely resembles a mix between styrofoam and moldy mushrooms. If this pancake didn't taste like total shit, the food might be slightly more palatable. But probably not.

And strike three: the company. Did I mention I hate her friends? Of course, we showed up late at dinner and so the only seats left at the table were on the opposite end from the birthday girl. We had to spend two and a half hours talking to her friend J. I've known J since high school, and I remembered him somewhat fondly. I remember his parents' stunning Park Avenue apartment and his cute, floppy hair. I remembered that out of the overprivileged liberals R went to school with, he was one of the least offensive. I remembered wrong.

One of J's bright ideas is to go to law school. Clearly, this is an unoriginal plan prompted by disillusionment with his current altruistic job that requires him to actually mix with the elements whose rights he supposedly wants to protect. Unaware of the Daddy's-money cushion protecting young J's descent into law school, my boyfriend counseled that law school tends to be expensive and upon graduation, the loan bills tend to be debilitating. "Yeeaaah..." said J, unable to formulate a better reply.

That out of the way, J, quickly running out of areas to discuss with me, decided to focus on the sole thing we have in common: having grown up in Manhattan. Apparently, the most evil creature known to J is the Nebraskan who moves to New York to take part in our cultural dominance. How dare they. How dare anyone not originally from Manhattan live in New York! Oh, except for immigrants from foreign lands, "because they are honest and work hard" (or perhaps because that would excuse his own entrance into New York via his grandparents).

"I don't know," I said. "In my profession, New York is a sucker's game. Either you work for some big firm that makes you carry one of those things" - gesturing to my boyfriend's Blackberry - "and makes you give up your life, or you make no money and work for some thankless government agency or small firm. I don't really feel compelled to stick around in this market for the rest of my life just to prove some point."

"When our parents decided to raise us here in the eighties, when it was dangerous, they knew what was important. They valued culture over safety and security and we paid the price for what we got. It's not fair that people move here for five years and then move back to the . . . the . . . suburbs," J sniffed contemptuously.

At this point, my poor sweet non-native New Yorker boyfriend finally permitted himself to open his mouth. "I don't know," he objected politely. "I've spoken to a lot of people who grew up in New York and they mostly just feel trapped. Maybe New Yorkers want to leave but can't. They are stuck because they're from here and can't just leave when the burdens outweigh the benefits. Maybe they just wish they could."

I smiled. This was his way of reminding J that the crime on Park Avenue in the eighties was probably no worse than it is now and calling him a pretentious homo without actually doing so. And you know what? I do feel a bit stuck. I grew up here. Great. So what? I can't find a job I like here because this market is saturated with too many damn lawyers. If I could leave and go somewhere more laid back, I think I would. I have nothing left to prove. And getting away from politically correct liberals from nice apartments with trust funds might be nice.

I hope J goes to law school. I hope he only gets into my law school. And I hope he grows to appreciate what he has been given and someday is willing to really share it.

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