How to Be a New Yorker

Terribly useful rules for life

That day in the cab, in a silly sort of way, I learned that I had resources to rely on when the usual methods failed me and that a New Yorker doesn't give up, even if he or she is more than a bit mortified. Just as there's always someone smarter, richer, better-looking, or more successful in this town, there's also someone who has done something far more embarrassing. There's a certain comfort in that.

Have a purpose. I didn't come to New York to be a writer, though, happily, that happened. I came to New York to come to New York, and, in the long run, I came to stay. You, too, came here for a reason, whether the move to the city was initiated by you, your parents, a spouse or friend, or maybe a person you were dating and broke up with upon arrival, replacing that lost love with affection for your new town. Maybe ancestors you never knew immigrated here, leading eventually to you. Why are you here? In the words of Milton Glaser, 82-year New York resident and the creator of the "I Love New York" logo: "This is the place it happens. For the last 100 years, maybe more, it has been the place of greatest opportunity for those who want something deeply in their lives."

If you don't have a reason to stay in New York, you'd be well-advised to decamp for less challenging shores and leave your apartment to someone who really needs it. But for those who remain: On the terrible days that will happen, and to a greater degree than anywhere else—who hasn't been pooped on by a pigeon while late to a meeting, and then spilled piping-hot coffee on her new white shirt to boot?—it's helpful to remember that the New York City currently making a mockery of you will, perhaps as soon as 15 minutes from now, give in generous and unexpected quantities, especially when you know what you're asking for. Also, dry cleaners are plentiful.

‘The young and talented team’: The Riches’ book flap photo.
Ross Photos/Doubleday, Courtesy Steve Rich
‘The young and talented team’: The Riches’ book flap photo.
Ward Sutton

Be who you are. This is the place where the kooks and misfits we've been planning to grow up and become since we were youngsters can finally come to fruition. So wear a Russian ushanka in all seasons, dye your hair green, adopt a pet goat, and walk it down Broadway while reading aloud from John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government. Or be a banker with a secret, scintillating sex life. Conquer the world you've decided to live in head-on, because you can.

Whatever your odd penchant, it does not mean you will be alone. "You will find companions, and you will have the possibility for finding an audience here that you couldn't find elsewhere," Glaser says. "Where you'd be just an eccentric in another town, here, you're one of millions. However peculiar you are, you're still normal by New York standards."

Note: Halloween, New Year's Eve, and Marathon Sunday are the bizarro-world holidays of New York City, when that which is appealingly unusual becomes completely and totally average, and you should really just hide out in your apartment, wear footie pajamas, and shout "Boo!" at the pizza delivery guy when he arrives with your pie.

Have the city's back. You love New York, but it drives you crazy, and you wish it would hush up sometimes and leave you in peace. You have a conflicted relationship with New York: it never telling you that you were pretty, or smart, or that you could accomplish anything you set your mind to. New York spanked you when you were little. You think New York might have something to do with your issues with men. Honestly, all New York thinks about is itself! Speaking of families, the city is one of your own. Which means you can complain about it all you want, and frequently do, but if someone else starts talking shit about it, you'll defend it with every resource in your arsenal. And when you go away, you'll miss it like there's a hole in your blackened, sooty, calloused old heart.

In "My Home Town," an essay published in McCall's Magazine in January 1928, Dorothy Parker writes: "It occurs to me that there are other towns. It occurs to me so violently that I say, at intervals, 'Very well, if New York is going to be like this, I'm going to live somewhere else.' And I do — that's the funny part of it. But then one day there comes to me the sharp picture of New York at its best, on a shiny blue-and-white Autumn day with its buildings cut diagonally in halves of light and shadow, with its straight neat avenues colored with quick throngs, like confetti in a breeze. . . . So I go back. And it is always better than I thought it would be . . ."

It is certain that at some, or many, times in your life here, someone who is not part of the family will helpfully point out: "It's so dirty! It's so hectic! Everything is so expensive!" and look at you wide-eyed and innocent and not a little bit self-righteous and query, "How can you live there?"

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