11 July 2006

Lonely Town

I often have occasion to pace the streets of this town while running errands or killing time between work and evening engagements. Lately, as I've executed these aimless, self-made trails, I've wondered: is New York the best place in the world to be lonely, or the worst.

Favoring Gotham as a home base for the lonesome is the fact that you can be alone in the crowd—solitary but not isolated. This presents you with the (perhaps fictitious) possibility that you could engage the throng at any moment you choose. Another plus is that the city gives your ample license to be down; no one's going to upbraid you with asinine comments like "Turn that frown upsidedown!" or "Cheer up! It may never happen!" New York embraces unhappiness, understands it's part of the cycle of emotions.

The flip side of the above is the fact that if you choose to wallow in your loneliness, no one's going to try and snap you out of it. In a small town or smaller city, some friend or workmate might express concern. New York is pitiless. No one really cares how you feel, and the surest way to earn contempt is to complain, show weakness or—worse!—ask for help. (I've always said, the best way to get rid of somebody in NYC is to ask them for something.) So when you're alone in New York, you better like it that way to some extent, because you're REALLY alone, bub.

Another numbing consideration is the knowledge that if you cross city lines, no one will notice. When you're gone, you're gone. Your apartment's been rented. You job is filled. Your table reserved. The Deathless City moves on in an instant. Leave a village and at least someone will wonder, "What happened to him?" Here, if they think anything, it's "Poor bastard—couldn't hack it." I think this is one of the main reasons people remain in New York long after their love affair with the place has died—they'll be damned if they give any of their fellow New Yorkers the satisfaction of seeing them in retreat.

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