Suddenly there’s a sense of—what the hell is that?—optimism in the air, along with the pollen of a million blooming plants and trees, people walking around in various stages of undress, their pasty legs and arms exposed to the sun and heat, churning up all the smells ever generated in a three-block radius, good and bad and impossibly disgusting, in one deep breath. Life! Upon leaving our respective workplaces, there are still hours of daylight in which to frolic, drink, and eat alfresco, take in outdoor concerts, and make use of our shorts and skirts and sandals, revealing our bare, weakened limbs to the world again. There’s sun to be sponged up by our winter-soft parts, sun to freckle our shoulders and noses and somehow make us inexplicably happy. (Or explicably so: We’ve been UV-deprived for months.) There are parks to sit in! Outdoor venues to explore! Frozen beverages to consume! Life! It’s a dip back into the delicious sauce, three months of recess for adults. And it’s only June.
Perhaps a month (two, if you’re from hardy stock) from now, you will pull your thinnest cotton dress or a sleeveless shirt and threadbare boxers from a pile of sweaty clothing lying in a corner of your room. You will—with the weary exhaustion of one who is just barely surviving via cold compresses applied to pressure points and a very large fan blowing at all times upon yourself—think of the last time you ate solid food, the only things remotely tempting to you in this particular heat wave being frozen margaritas and endless glasses of iced water. You will feel despair. Can you make it? Do you even want to? Why do we stay here, in this hotbox of humanity, this sweltering stew of fetid aromas and seeping garbage, flies clustered about just waiting for us to drop dead? Why can’t we just have central air, like normal people?
And yet, there are plenty of reasons why we love New York in the summer (see also: Stockholm syndrome). Here are 33 to remember when you hit rock-bottom, on a 100-degree-plus day in the middle of August when you’re stuck on an un-air-conditioned subway car with a guy who keeps making out with his pet rat. And the power goes out. (Pro tip: Have a flashlight handy.)
1. Air-conditioner-based relationships.
If you fail to procure an air conditioner before the first or second heat wave, rest assured that you have pretty much lost your chance to buy one for the rest of the summer. However, a wide variety of A.C.-based relationships and adventures will now open up to you. When night falls and you are forced from your mechanically cooled office or after-work drinks environment, you will, with unprecedented perseverance and clarity of vision, become radar-focused upon gaining entry into the homes of persons with powerful new air-conditioning units offering five-figure BTUs. Look forward to an array of new “friends with benefits.”
2. Summer Fridays.
These two words conjoin as eloquently as if they’ve been woven together by blind Tibetan monks with the thread of silkworm cocoons, or at least by your grandmother, who is exceedingly good at cross-stitch. Not everyone has Summer Fridays, and that, as with gold bullion or original Four Loko, is what makes them desirable, imbued with status and fragility and potential. New Yorkers who have them get to their weekend beach destinations early, avoiding transit woes and garnering the best sleeping accommodations or least raggedy pool towels. Should you be among the chosen, respect the gift you have been given. Nobody likes a braggart.
3. That whole melting pot thing.
New York is the most fondue-like of melting pots when it’s actually melting. This is because people are outside, fanning themselves on stoops, walking and shouting and singing, standing in beer lines at outdoor concerts, trying to fry eggs on pavement, and, above all, interacting thrillingly with strangers instead of hiding away in their box-like apartments. Like the questionably named Wicked Witch of the West, we do our best melting in public.
4. Summer flings.
We are a city of opportunists. And since there are more people consistently outside in the summer than during any other time of year (see above), and more people collected in New York City per square foot than in most other places in these United States, we have ever so many summer opportunities to say hello, or hey, or yoohoo, or “Is that your egg? Looks delicious!” to each other. Whatever the entry point, our most successful summer flings (all of our summer flings) have begun with actually meeting someone and exchanging words with them. That time is nigh.
5. Workaholics take a holiday.
In addition to those Summer Fridays, from Memorial Day to Labor Day there are no less than three gloriously long weekends, among them the Fourth of July, a hootin’, hollerin’, firework-shootin’ multi-day fest in honor of this here America. But even without the holidays, it’s a simple fact that in the summer months our nonstop workaholic citizenry works ever so slightly less than we do in the winter, when it’s dark at 4:30 and upon leaving the office you go home and warm some soup and eat it huddled for warmth beneath a Slanket. For the summer months, put the Slanket in storage and ditch work early for a change. Tell your boss we said so.
6. Screw your diet.
Without even trying, you will lose somewhere between zero and seven pounds this summer because you are constantly sweating and eating and drinking only the coldest of liquid-based consumables. Should you have the strength to take in solid food, you will still burn more calories than in cooler months with your daily schleps in the out-of-doors. Combine that with the slenderness-rendering fact that your clothing choices are so minimal as to be “not quite” nudist, and you can stash your diet books away, or use them to bolster your new window A.C., for the summer.
7. Summer wardrobes.
Shorts. Rompers. Tiny dresses. Flip-flops. Tank tops. Ponytails. Hats. Jorts. Cutting things off on the spur of the moment and wearing them just because you can. The fashion free-for-all of New York City is at its most vibrant in the summer months, when you can remain confident that whatever crazy color-blind minimalistic getup you pull over your summer self will attract the attention of virtually no one, because we are New Yorkers. Related: Toward the end of summer, your feet will finally become impervious to the tortures of seasonal shoe changes, which is good because you and your local Duane Reade will both be out of Band-Aids.
8. You own the city.
Even if you never leave town this summer, it will feel like you did, because all of the other people who clutter your local coffee shop or night spot or favorite restaurant or gym during the rest of the year will depart to alternate locales in the Hamptons or Nantucket or the Vineyard or Newport or the Jersey Shore. And you will be here, and the city with its suddenly oddly quiet streets and wide-open sidewalk spaces and restaurants and bars with novel room to move (“Party of two? Have a booth!”) will feel like your own in a way that winter, spring, or fall never allow.
9. You will do new things.
All of this ownership and lack of having to stand in line will entice you into the unknown, because everything is suddenly more accessible, and because—why not?—it’s summer. It’s about new things. This is your opportunity to break the chains that keep New Yorkers stressed and overachieving in our regular non-summer lives. Do something carefree. You have three months.
10. You also own the country.
Unless you are a terrible person, someone will probably invite you to a destination outside of the city for at least one weekend, and there will be a pool, or some body of water, and you will dive in and feel the cool water coursing over your skin, and you will believe you can do anything for as long as you are there—maybe even move out to the country permanently; that’s how incredible it is—until you drive back on Sunday night and are stuck on the Long Island Expressway for six hours.
11. You can rationalize anything.
It’s way too hot to cook! You can have any meal, whatever type of cuisine you like, delivered to your apartment within 30 minutes. It’s way too hot to walk! You can take an air-conditioned cab. It’s way too hot to do anything! So don’t . . . everything you need is already right here. Also, summer in New York is justification for all the cheap pedicures you ever wanted.
12. People-watching gets even better.
People outside will behave even more entertainingly crazy than usual. Hot weather seems to have this effect on people. Amusing summer sights may include people taking off all their clothes in the middle of the street, women and men hula-hooping in tandem, drunks falling off or onto things, Oompa-Loompa tans, men in Speedos, hipsters sweating profusely in skinny jeans, beards, and fedoras, and adults raging like children over the metaphorical demise of whatever proverbial ice cream cone they wanted but didn’t get. Also: summer makeouts!
13. Pray for a blackout.
Remember August 14, 2003, when the city suddenly came to a halt with no electricity, and we made our way home, slowly, carefully, lacking street lights or public transportation, and then went out adventuring with flashlights among crowds of people similarly displaced and disoriented by the major infrastructure failure? We gasped at seeing New York in unprecedented dark, we had our flashlight ownership challenged, and then we returned home and made boxed macaroni on our gas stove, took cold showers by candlelight, and drank all the booze we had remaining in the house. These are things we will tell the grandkids, should we ever have them.
14. There is pride in suffering.
You can’t deny a certain joy in suffering all together, at once. Take that moment your eyes meet those of a strange, handsome man on the subway as you simultaneously enter the train and feel the reviving blast of cold air upon your sun-crisped skin, and you sigh in joy and relief and know that he is doing and feeling the same, whoever he is. But then he gives you a weird look and he’s totally picking his nose, so you put your iPod on and vow to refrain from subway eye contact for the rest of the season.
15. Iced coffee is the new hot coffee.
And it’s everywhere, at any time—a cheap luxury on the way into work; an ever-ready quick-break opportunity; an afternoon pick-me-up; a nighttime dessert. In a pinch, it also functions as an effective cooling device against a hot forehead.
16. Once a year, we kind of have tans.
Inevitably, you will burn, so intense is the pallor achieved from your East Coast city winter. When you return to the office from a stint at the beach, people will say, “Wow, you got some color this weekend!” and you will say, “Really? Did I?” (even though you know you did) and compare your arm to theirs. After a few days, you will peel, and it will be equally gross and satisfying to lift the ravaged skin from your body in segmented pieces, and even though you’re in an office, in the middle of a city, you will feel surprisingly beachy and free as you toss your molted skin into the trash can.
17. This is the Summer of Sex.
(You heard it here!) In just one week in early June, we experienced Weinergate, a dominatrix dominating in McCarren Park, a bare-breasted female casually strolling the streets of Downtown Manhattan, and 100-degree heat that had us all aglow with steaminess and anticipation (if only for the air conditioner). We are not going to complain, because the Summer of Sex is way better than the Summer of Death. Or the Summer of Bedbugs. Own it.
18. Endless, endlessly diverting walks.
You can sustain an entire trip from the Financial District to Harlem by purchasing and eating popsicles from bodega to bodega. There are other walks, too. One summer, a friend and I walked from the East Village to Central Park with only $5, our MetroCards, and one tube of chapstick between us. We saw a man with a giant snake, at least five different street fairs, several burbling fountains, outdoor art, a handful of shirtless runners, a crazy lady screaming at no one, a goat wearing a diaper, and a Chock Full o’ Nuts. Remember this past winter, when you could barely get to your corner with all the snow and garbage and dog poop all over the sidewalk? Not a problem now, huh?
19. The best summer jams are right in front of you.
While your theme song for the rest of the year might be something along the lines of “O-o-h Child (Things Are Gonna Get Easier)” played directly into your own ears via your personal music device, your theme song for the summer is really whatever happens to be serenading you as you walk by. From June 18 through July 2, there will be 88 pianos on our city streets. And did we mention the outdoor concerts? From the Williamsburg Waterfront to Central Park, Bryant Park, South Street Seaport, Lincoln Center, Jones Beach, and the ubiquitous traveling ice cream man, there will be music all over the damn place.
20. Things that do not seem New York but are New York anyway in the summer.
The ice cream man and his joyful, terrifying song. Sprinklers, or the New York City cousin of sprinklers: spraying fire hydrants. Barbecues in your friends’ backyards. Giant bags of Lay’s Potato Chips eaten on fire escapes, washed down with a chilled bottle of whatever you prefer. Mosquitoes. Fireflies. Lying on your back in the grass in any New York City park, flip-flops to the side, watching kids play catch around you. The salty taste on your skin when you get home from a day spent outside. Fireworks, literal and metaphorical.
21. Things that are very much New York in the summer.
Secret open-air bars. Parties on rooftops. East Village gardens in full regalia. Riding your bike gleefully at full speed through summer streets that have been closed down for traffic, or are simply free of traffic because everyone has left town. The upstairs neighbors yelling down at you because your deck parties are too loud. You yelling down at the downstairs neighbors for their incessant outdoor frivolity. Love-hate relationships with anyone who has a pool. Watching outdoor movies surrounded by crowds in giant public spaces. Never-ending street fairs, for all of your tube-sock and fresh-lemonade needs.
22. Environmentalists be damned.
You will inevitably trudge down the street, sweat dripping from your face, hate in your heart, only to be cooled (emotionally and physically) by the frigid blast emerging from a series of storefronts with their doors wide open. You will think, This is really not very environmentally friendly—someone ought to do something about this. But it won’t be you. Walk on, brave soldier. Walk on.
23. Summer blockbusters.
There is nowhere better to see a movie set in New York City than in New York City itself, where the audience is always two steps ahead of the inside jokes. Plus, you know that thing when you go to a movie in the middle of the day, sit in the dark for a couple hours, and then leave, dazed by the sudden reminder that it’s actually still light outside? That, times 1,000.
24. Second chances.
(And not for just Coney Island, which survives for another season in the kitschy fabulousness we know and love.) Last summer and all the screwups you made, and people you screwed, and people who screwed you, seem like a lifetime ago. The statute of limitations has been reached, the wounds have finally healed, and it’s time to inflict some new ones. The air is imbued with possibility. Also, bad smells.
25. The wretched, singular scent of New York in summer.
Deny it all you want, but the foul odor that you’re kvetching about has a special place in our collective consciousness. Years from now, when you live somewhere else, that smell will waft past you randomly—pigeon poop plus rancid garbage plus something fishy, plus feet, plus exhaust, plus a zesty vinaigrette of the combined odor of 8 million humans, overlaid with a dash of sweet-‘n’-sour chicken and garlic escargot—and it will make your heart hurt with nostalgia.
26. You are surrounded by beaches.
Brighton Beach, Coney Island Beach, Jones Beach, Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Orchard Beach, Jacob Riis Park, Rockaway Beach, South Beach, and more, many of which you can get to via easy public transport for just a day—even a few hours, if you like. That’s not counting the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore, or Fire Island. So what are you complaining about?
27. In fact, we are on an island.
It may not always seem it, but water is everywhere around us. On a hot, windy day, you can sit on a dock without ever leaving the city and feel like you’re at the ocean’s edge, the briny scent of ocean rushing up at you, and for good measure, maybe a couple of dead fish floating below. Don’t put your feet in, but you can watch the sailboats pass by and hear seagulls overhead and feel gloriously coastal anyway. Or take a ferry from Manhattan to Red Hook, or even to Staten Island, the sun on your back, wind in your hair, a cold beer in your hand.
28. Outdoor living.
There are more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities across the five boroughs. You must experience the unique NYC joy of simmering in your own juices in the middle of the Great Lawn of Central Park—surrounded by people in various stages of undress, listening for the call of the surreptitious drinks guy who swings through at regular intervals, trying not to get hit by a Frisbee, and generally enjoying the sights, human, natural, and architectural—at least once in your New York City career.
29. New York City is for drinking.
And summer is its time to shine. It’s rosé season. Margarita season. Pink lemonade and vodka season. Bud Light–in-a-giant-styrofoam-container-that-you-can-sip-through-a-straw-in-your-local-park-and-not-attract-the-attention-of-the-cops season. While winter in the city is focused on conservation of heat and consumption of red wine, summer in the city is an outward explosion of inner warmth, the perfect time to drink on patios and at sidewalk cafés and watch people watch you back, sweatily, sexily, with beer goggles.
30. Thunderstorms in the city.
These are the absolute best thunderstorms, and the absolute best place to hide out in a summer thunderstorm is in your own apartment, or that of someone you love, under the sheets, the air conditioner turned up high enough to cool but not so high as to drown out the thunder and lightning outside.
31. You have more options than time.
Ever the reality of New York living, this becomes a special debacle in the months when it’s still light out when you leave the office and you’re faced with literally hundreds of options of what you could do. There are nearly 200 places to get ice cream in Manhattan alone! Not to mention museums, galleries, stores, restaurants, libraries, bars, movie theaters, theater-theaters, salons, spas, and lobster pounds. Of course, you knew that already. That’s why you live here.
32. Life becomes a vacation.
At some point in August, the breakneck pace of city existence will simply fade away, and we will briefly cease to be so New York. A wait in the snail’s-pace what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-people drugstore line, for instance, is a chance to simply be still and cool for a few extra minutes. Everyone who isn’t ensconced in country houses for the month will stop trying to do much of anything but exist in peace and dense, sweltering harmony together, and that will seem almost like a vacation, and not unlike a dream.
33. Fall will come soon enough.
In the meantime, make your New York summer whatever you want it to be, because you can. Six months from now, the grass will no longer be green.
Until then, the rules are suspended.