Wednesday, March 15, 2006

MANHATTAN DIARY: Street scene #2

The shadow of the Empire State Building falls across
midtown Manhattan at 3:35 p.m. Wednesday


Michael Gillespie said...

So, Ron, do you think you'd want to live in NYC?

Ron Franscell said...

Michael: On one shoulder sits a little cowboy-angel, whispering that New York City ain't no place fer a Wyoming kid who loves the big sky and the idea of distant towns. On the other shoulder is a little devil who looks a lot like the Monopoly guy, forever running someplace in his top hat and tails, saying ... "You pussy!"

But, yeah, I'd like to live in New York City, briefly, to somehow feel the rhythm of its pulse, to try out the sound of "New York writer" after my name, to test myself against its steel ... and to get rid of just about everything I've accumulated in my life so I could live in a $2,200-a-month, 600-sq-foot, 12th floor apartment overlooking the roof of somebody else's building.

I'd certainly spend Sundays in Central Park; its sanctuary is palpable. I'd walk as often and as far as I could, although I'm an obsessive people-watcher and I suspect I'd quickly hit sensory overload. I'd have to force myself to occasionally cook at home, and I can do that here.

As a New Yorker, I'd be functional. I actually felt invigorated by the subway, which was (to me) a metaphor for the whole massive system of life there. It's a city where you needn't feel different because everybody is different. Nonetheless, I wouldn't truly be a New Yorker any more than Donald Trump could truly fit in Wyoming. I'd be a forever-outlander.

But the short answer is: Yeah, I'd like to live there.

In fact, it might be really cool to find a born-and-bred New Yorker with whom I could trade newspaper jobs for a year. He/she comes to Texas and I go to New York. We trade houses (but not house payments) ... sort of a foreign exchange program. Any takers?

Michael Gillespie said...

Sounds like you are about as impressed by New York as I was by Boston when I arrived there in the late spring of 1984. I'd left Texas for a job with Boston Shipyard Corporation expecting to work for three months and return to Beaumont for fall semester classes at Lamar. Between the time I walked off the Delta flight that landed at Logan Airport and the moment the company car deposited me at the front door of the BSC administration building about ten minutes later, it occurred to me that I didn't have the slightest desire to return to Beaumont, Texas in the forseeable future.

Six years in Boston and Cambridge substantially enlarged the distinctly provincial world view that had been my lot in life up to that point. For about a year and a half after we left Cambridge for Eruope in early 1990, I was sure that I'd never again be comfortable anywhere but in a city that afforded me ready access to cultural delights such as those I'd come to enjoy so much in the Boston area. Actually, I would have much preferred to remain in Europe, where I lived just long enough and traveled widely enough to get a pretty good idea of what life would be like in Bonn, Bremerhaven, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Amsterdam, The Hague, Geneva, Basel, Bern, and Zurich. Ah, Geneva, Bern, Berlin, Amsterdam!

Back then, I'd never have guessed or believed that I would come to find unexpected joy and contentment in the Midwest, in rural Iowa of all places.

I think I understand your desire to spend a year testing yourself against the challenges of NYC and enjoying the life of one of the world great cities. I hope you get the opportunity to do that; I'm sure it would be an enriching experience in many ways. But somehow I suspect that for a writer of your caliber from a big- sky-wide-open-spaces background, big city life would eventually come to be, well, limiting. There is something that is very attractive and reassuring about life on a more human scale, especially after a year or three or six or ten in a great metropolis. And that's why you're likely to find someone who is willing to take you up on that "foreign exchange" offer, if you work at it.

But if I were you, I'd first see that small village that you mentioned, the one in the Italian-Swiss Alps, if you haven't already done so. In fact, I'd see as much as I could of Switzerland. Once you do that, well, your identity is likely to undergo a subtle change or two that nothing on this side of the Atlantic can facilitate. (And if and when you decide to make that trip, let me give you the name of a journalist I know who worked for many years for Swiss Radio International.)