Monday, February 26, 2007

I'll Take Manhattan

I live in New York City.
More specifically, I live on the Upper East Side of New York City.
To be precise, I live on East 88th street, right in the middle of the block that spans from Third to Second Avenues, sandwiched between the working class, mostly Irish and German neighborhood of Yorkville to the east, and the notoriously priveleged district known as Carnegie Hill to the west. On our block we hear more birds chirping, even in Winter, than we hear on the grounds of our Catskills country home, surrounded by acres of woods in the Mid-Hudson Valley.
On the west uptown corner of Third and 88th, there's a pizza parlor we used to order from often; they made the thinnest crust pizza for blocks around, and in New York, convenience causes the phrase "blocks around", to denote as relatively vast a region as "miles around" in almost any other city on Earth.
If you walk down our block from Third, towards Second Avenue, on the left side at the corner (the uptown west corner again) you'll see a pub we do our best to avoid on St. Patrick's day, as well as on Friday and Saturday nights, especially in the warmer months, when the "B & T" or Bridge and Tunnel crowd come into the city and make it impossible to park. On any given weekend eve, you'll see these 20 somethings, their untucked oxford cloth shirts, gelled spikey hair, "dirty" jeans and chunky square toed shoes, or halter tops, high heels and the ubiquitous clouds of cigarette smoke blithely clogging the sidewalk. Directly across 88th, on the Downtown west corner is a (relatively) new resturaunt with water pitchers I've often admired through the windows that the head chef on his cigarette break outside the kitchen door last summer told me were Le Creuset. It's called Café d'Alsace, and my girlfriend and I have yet to try it. (Unfortunately, they don't have too much for vegetarians on their menu.)
Back up "the hill" as my girlfriend and I call it, on the downtown west corner of Third and 88th, is a Deli that delivers with a ten-dollar minimum. Usually that requires little more than a carton of orange juice, a pint of half and half, and a 2-litre bottle of Diet Pepsi. Since we've discovered that they deliver, we've talked about ordering from them on at least 6 occasions where we're already too comfortable in our house clothes and just a little too installed on the couch to get up the energy to throw on a coat and walk up the hill, but have actually only ordered twice.
My girlfriend's mother lives a scant eight-block walk from us, on the corner of 80th and First, and her sister and niece live two blocks from there, on York, between 81st and 82nd. These are the boundries of our self imposed ghetto.
We denizens of New York, are more insular than we like to admit. Living on this tiny island that's become the corner where much of the world meets, has fostered a species as rare as any spawned in the Galapagos, that invariably sees the rest of the world as foreign and maybe a little bit deprived ("How could you possibly live anyplace where you can't get vegetarian Peking Duck delivered within 25 minutes at 10:30 on a Sunday night?"). It seems Saul Steinberg was dead on with his famous 1976 cartoon, "View of the World from Ninth Avenue", wherein New York is depicted as the center of the world, and New Jersey as a desert wasteland, bordered on it's west side by a lilliputian Pacific Ocean, with Canada to it's north, and Mexico, it's south. In fact, to many of us, going downtown to St. Marks for dinner, is akin to going out of town, and I won't even mention going to another borough. In my admittedly ridiculous mindset, Brooklyn often seems further away than Miami.
As provincial as all this sounds however, I must say it takes an immense amount of self-control on my part not to sound like an ambassador for the "I Love NY" lobby as I extoll my city's praises. There really aren't that many places you can walk a few blocks and be in a completely different cityscape, a shopper's dream peppered with purveyors of fashion frequented by the world's wealthy, a few more blocks and be in a park where it's easy to forget you're in a city at all, and a few more blocks and you're in the midst of Broadway's bustle, and all of this along one street.
No, for all New York's shortcomings, its overcrowded streets, potholes that could swallow a Mini Cooper, over-reaching real estate developers, high city taxes and ostensibly xenophobic citizenry, I wouldn't live anywhere else.