Reflections of a Modern Teenager Leacher (sic: Romantic)
It's funny, because you're starting to taste filter and you can't tell whether the vapors spiraling from your mouth are smoke or turgid air, and the sky is pushing the gray that Atlas can't hold up into the buildings and into people's faces, and this is usually where you start to feel bad for yourself, but you don't hurt like you usually do. You're contributing, you like to think.
People throw around "gentrified" and "boring" like playing cards in their games of self-congratulating misanthropy, but you know that the city is reinvented or remade, it's recycled, it's a veritable samsara of dreams and hopes and loss and disillusionment and all those other keywords in Great Gatsby study guides. (Also, didn't that book take place mostly in Long Island? Why does everyone associate it with New York? You're okay with it, but honestly, they go to Manhattan like once.) You know better than empty vessels wrapped in flannels and mountain man beards and passionless romance, you know better than coked up pinstriped maharajahs downtown clinging to the Eighties and penthouses and promises of jerking off their shareholders (also empty vessels-- two kinds of people united spiritually in their grand apathy, but don't tell them that), and you especially know better that the starry eyed morons holding up sidewalk traffic in pursuit of bad faith memories in Times Square (not even cool anymore, stripped of its pornographic flagrante and switchblade bravos decades ago, back when subways were winding silver worms of hieroglyphics and everything above 59th wasn't named Koch). You know better. You look at the smog above you and you know that it's been there for decades, like a benevolent shag carpet in the sky that's getting frayed and ugly but persists, that you willingly let grow tumors of hope and promise in your brain (and maybe real tumors too, this city's going green but not that green). You look up in the sky and see history. Your smoke is up there, mingling with the smoke of the apple orchard owners in the Bronx centuries ago and Duke's post piano orgasm seething from up in Harlem and Teddy and FDR's domineering exhaust and the frustrated exhales of the literary warriors from the Jazz Age to the beatniks and Audrey's classy puffs and the killer mists of the crack lords and tragic love signs of the dead gay angels from '77 onward. It's the culmination of hundreds of years of frustration and oppression broken by staccato explosions of rage and culture and expression and music of string and car horn and gunshot variety and screaming "WE ARE HERE" and now a little bit of you is up there too. You have the scars on your lungs to prove it.
Or you might just be another semi-romantic douchebag who's imposing this on a gray sky in December.
But maybe a little part of you knows better than this city, this pulsing halcyon hell where you learned how to talk and how to not be embarrassed that you were smarter than a lot of your childhood friends and how to call a cab without shitting yourself from fear and how not to fall in love and how to smoke and how to drink and how to act like you didn't smoke or drink around blue suited sentinels who don't enjoy Superbad references and how to get lost in Central Park and how to re-emerge later feeling like you solved all theological disparities by accident. And maybe where you learned how to actually fall in love.
Because yeah, you watched Woody Allen movies and fell in the love with an idea and saw that idea systematically crushed by wailing homeless men and sobbing ditched lovers alone on a subway platform and cops waiting around a corner with a bomb squad armed to the teeth ready to break up a candlelit vigil for a murdered teenager on the other end of the east coast. And yeah, you've been hurt and burned and Gatsbyed into submission-- at least for a while. But you don't let it beat you, because you love this city too much. You know what it is.
It's throwing empty forties and watching them explode against trees because your best friend is about to break up with his girlfriend. It's watching a pretty girl laugh at your dumb jokes sitting in front the Temple of Dendur. It's wandering around near the East River and really trying to think of a reason not to jump in. It's laughing in Fry's Place with the guys you great up with while you quietly know in your head that Grand Central is pumping out train home after train home and you're on none of them and you don't care. It's punching walls and burning circular self-hatred into your palms and screaming while others look on in amused concern (and doing the same exact thing three years later without expecting to). It's walking barefoot from Washington Square to the Brooklyn Bridge and watching the sun come up and feeling the boards smart against your soul and your soles (ha) and knowing you're not a kid anymore. It's her whispering in your ear "You're not a real person" while the sickly orange lights uptown peek in and you think This is happy and listening to your other best friend freestyle rap about literally nothing and feeling cool for once and thinking This is happy and bedding down for the night at the end of the island on a bench because you've never felt more alone and that green torch-wielding bitch's flame is Morse coding you awake when all you want to do is sleep forever and thinking Where is the happy and holding her for deal life in Brooklyn to stop her from hurtling off into the stratosphere and wierdly thinking This is happy and sitting in a dingy apartment downtown while you get drunk for the first time and all your friends get drunk and you think Is this what happy is and then you write something really good for the first time and people get it and you run outside of school and strut across 85th and thin Is this what happy is and looking up at the light stretching off over Roosevelt Island to the end of the world at one in the morning with her and she's happy and you say "I'm happy" and you don't have to think at all for once, it's real. It's just real.
So you light up another one, and you make your own "I can feel the cancer growing" jokes, but you don't, you're not in the mood, you're not cynical or jaded or any of the other things this city is supposed to turn you into, you are here and you are real. And you're not alone, you know. Because, for once, you have you.