Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Loneliness in NY: Washington Square Park + Subway stories

After work today, I hung out at Washington Square Park. I think it's my new favorite place. There's inspiring architecture (the 100-foot arch), water (the fountain in the middle, with murky water the 10-year-olds can't help but wade around in), a performance stage (today, it was an orchestra performing Mozart and Schubert), tall, shady trees (like Old Campus!), a deep, perfume-y lawn (perfect for picnics), flowers (yellow, red, orange, bordering the walkways -- it's a color riot), live music (from street bands and solo guitar players), and so, so many people. Old and young. Pretty dresses. Flip flops. Sunhats. It's like Boston Commons, except squeezed into two blocks.

I met a guitar player as I was waiting for a friend; turns out he worked as a street fundraiser too. We talked about finger picking and he tuned my guitar, free of charge. We're going to hang out and busk.

I remember one thing he said: "I have like one friend in the city."

It wasn't a statement meant to evoke sympathy. He was visiting from London for an month. Of course he didn't have any friends! Where would they be, to begin with, especially if you were a semi-introvert?

His statement reverberated in my sub-conscious. As much as I've been hanging out with people this last week, I guess I'm a bit lonely too, in that New York way. You know: after work, I grab the scheduled dinner with that friend in the city; we have a good time; I'm with them until 10 p.m. When I go back home, I talk to my roommate about his girl anxieties (and they are anxieties; everything is complicated) and Citibank.

But I guess what gets me is that time in transit. Between destinations, I'm by myself.

It's really not a big deal. It would be even less of a big deal if I hadn't spent last summer in Los Angeles, where, because of the lack of public transportation, I drove home after events lost in my own thoughts, while the radio played "Nothing on You." In LA, there are no opportunities to talk to people in transit.

Last summer, I also experienced the Ashigbi effect: a good friend I did the "in-between" activities with: working out, grabbing dinner, walking to Whole Foods, doing laundry, sitting in a room together on separate computers, the only noise me whining about how much my life was almost-but-not-quite-awesome. Having a dependable buddy is a warm feeling. In New York, I don't have that. When I bounce from location to location, I'm itinerant, and, on a basal level, alone.

After I left Washington Square Park, I walked into the subway. There was a line at the entrance. This has never happened before. So, using that as an excuse (and the Blackberry woman in front of me), I struck up a conversation with the Argentinian woman next to me. She was literally the most attractive woman I've had a conversation with. When we approached the gate, she swiped mistakenly and got locked out. (I attribute it to nerves from being around such an good-looking guy.) I helped swipe her in. Then she asked, "Are you going uptown?" I told her I was going downtown. She hesitated. Then -- and this part, don't ask -- I grabbed her hand and pulled her towards me (thinking back, I have so many questions about this move. Was she shaking my hand? Did I just grab it? How did I pull this off? It's all a blur.), told her she was cute, asked if I could get her number. She seemed delightfully taken aback from the entire exercise. She responded, "I don't even have a phone. I'm visiting friends here. I'm leaving in 2 days." I asked her a follow-up question. Then I pinched her lightly on the arm and said, "That's cool. It was a pleasure to meet you."

I wasn't that distraught. But she made me absent-minded enough to miss my stop and end up deep in Brooklyn. Fortunately, I was sitting next to this Asian-American man. My "opener" was, "Damn. I need to vent about what just happened." He was wary at first. I thought he didn't even speak English. But once we started going, I learned he works in tech, is 35 years old, and is unmarried. He's also never had a random conversation like the one we had.

I told him I saw so much potential for New York. There were so many people here, and yet, nobody talked to each other, because of the accretion of social stigma. Then I asked him what he was like when he was 22 years old. He responded with two points I'd like to share:

(1): "Those people who tell you life gets better when you get older? Bullshit. They say it to convince themselves."

(2): "New York is not a melting pot. It's a bunch of metal pieces thrown together."

Ok. Let's note that he had horrible posture, looked tired/depressed, and is 35 without a girlfriend. What he's saying, it makes sense. I replied,

"One conversation on the subway at a time, man. I know it's not California, but might as well have fun."

He gave me a little salute as I got off.

On the platform, I saw Becky from Yale. I pretended to play her a song when I walked up (had the guitar in tow). We talked about Phoebe and law schools. On my train back into Manhattan, I sat next to this Latina woman and her 7-year-old. The child was reading Wimpy Kid. I asked her about the book, and ended up getting her address so I could mail them the two books they didn't have in the series. They emailed me after receiving the book, and said, "Thank you so much,my daughter is enjoining [sic] the book."

Back in the dorm, I met Marion in the common room, and watched her work on a watercolor. I don't know, right now, I'm still feeling a bit out of sorts. But piece by piece, the humanity's coming back to New York.

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