From “Minnesota Nice” by Cheryl Strayed
I saw a man get stabbed on a sunny afternoon in the West Village on my twenty-fourth birthday. He didn’t die. He didn’t even call out for help. He just cursed the man who’d attacked him in a language I could neither understand nor identify while clutching the place on his thigh where the knife had entered it, his palms smeared with blood. I was sitting alone at a little wooden table on the sidewalk across the street, drinking coffee and eating a slice of cake in the warm September sun.
“Someone just stabbed that man,” I said loudly to the waiter, who emerged from the café doors moments after the attack.
He turned to glance at him. The injured man remained in the spot where he’d been stabbed, across the narrow street from us on the edge of a small park I didn’t know the name of. He’d run there in the moments before the assault, attempting to shield himself with a metal bike rack. In a last-ditch effort he’d tried to lift the entire impossible apparatus, hoping to topple it onto his assailant. He’d hoisted it perhaps two feet before it crashed back onto the pavement with a frightful clatter. In the next instant the knife was in his leg. In spite of the assailant’s force, his delivery was almost delicate, the deed done in one elegant jab, as if he were popping a balloon. Then, without a sound, he ran, knife in hand.
That’s when the victim cried out in the language I didn’t understand and the waiter came outside.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said to me now, languidly refilling my coffee cup from the pot he carried.
“You wouldn’t?” I asked.
Of all the things to worry about, it seemed a man getting stabbed a dozen yards away would be the thing. And yet, how strange it was that it appeared I was the only one who was alarmed—there’d been other witnesses to the stabbing, the dozen or so people who’d been walking along the sidewalk when the clamor began. Some had paused to watch, others had crossed the street to avoid it, but they’d all continued on their way once it was over.
From “My City” by Dani Shapiro
Deep within my recesses there is a turntable, its needle skipping, skipping. My twenty-year-old self, straight from Jersey, watches me, hands on hips. How could you? she accuses me. When we’d come so far? I want to tell her that we were refugees, my husband, son, and I, fleeing north, heading away from a place and time that we hoped would recede, like the view from our rearview mirror, until it disappeared entirely, until it became nothing more than a memory. I want to tell her that my baby had been very sick. That my father was dead, my mother dying. That we watched as one plane, then another, crashed into the towers, debris swirling in the sky above us like a storm of blackened snow. That everything I thought I knew about living no longer applied. That the champagne and the men and the real estate and the book parties were like the fool’s gold that my now-teenage, healthy son unearths on his geology field trips. Look, I want to say. This life you think you want is a shiny apparition. Those restaurants and clubs, those bars bathed in a light pinker than sunset? Those cafes where photographers from magazines took your picture, and makeup artists dusted your pretty nose? They will be submerged, as in a shipwreck, the seas of time washing over them until something new has taken their place. The joint where you now drink those frozen margaritas will become an organic juice bar. The bistro with the best steak frites is now a T-Mobile store. The bookstore where you will eventually give your first reading sells boxes of hair dye and curling irons. It all changes—even institutions, even concrete towers, even, or perhaps most of all, our very selves— my foolish little sweetheart. That’s how I could leave. Trust me. You’ll thank me someday.
From “Someday, Some Morning, Sometime” by Emma Straub
This is the trait I have come to loathe in others, this rhapsodic reverence, though I’m much better at controlling myself than I used to be. When I came home from college in Ohio (because where else would I go but home), I was horrified to discover that my entire graduating class seemed to be following me back. Worse yet, they were excited about it! They all moved to Williamsburg and rented practice spaces for their bands. I would get email invitations to their shows, their house parties, and their art openings and feel sick to my stomach. It was like watching someone—an entire fleet of someones—fall in love simultaneously, all the goofy grins and public declarations of affection.
I don’t like to talk about this in public because I know it paints me in a very specific light—overly precious about my youth, selfish, spoiled. These things are all true. But still, even at thirty-two years old, I refuse to admit that I’m in the wrong. It might be uncharitable or close-minded, but there aren’t very many places in the country that people revere the way they do New York. I do have friends who grew up in Los Angeles who feel this way, and maybe this is the way everyone feels about their hometown. This is my place. I was here first. You don’t get to say what’s good or cool because it’s mine. But because my hometown is New York City, everyone else thinks it belongs to them, too.
Don’t get the wrong impression—I want everyone I know to love New York, just as I want everyone I know to love my parents, because they’re as much a part of me as my limbs. I want strangers to love New York, as long as they’re not walking slowly in front of me, their faces turned skyward in amazement. I love giving directions to tourists and scribbling down embarrassingly long lists of recommendations for recent transplants: Sahadi’s for hummus, labne, and dried fruit; BookCourt, Word, and Three Lives for books; Mary’s Fish Camp for lobster rolls; the Shake Shack for hamburgers; the Film Forum for both the movies and the popcorn. I cover the backs of envelopes with illegible penmanship, imploring the visitor to eat six meals a day, if they have to, to absorb as much as possible.
From “Manhattan, Always Out of Reach” by Ann Hood
My first apartment was at 228 Sullivan Street, in a former convent painted pink, its Caribbean exterior a sharp contrast to all the grimy black around it. The day I moved in, I boldly left my 300-square-foot studio and walked the maze of Greenwich Village. The guy from 47F was going to show up that night, so the entire day stretched out before me without obligation or purpose. I wandered into Three Lives Bookstore to browse, into Café Reggio for a cappuccino, into the Third Street Bazaar and the Grand Union and every tiny store that sold earrings or posters or fruit or magazines. At some point on that journey, it felt as if all my cells settled into place, as if my body had shifted, rearranged itself, and I became exactly who I was supposed to be.
I will never leave here, I thought that June afternoon. That thought repeated itself almost daily as my first summer moved along. It was a very hot summer, relentlessly so. I would go to the Grand Union supermarket on Bleecker Street and stand in the frozen food section to cool off. Or I would ride the Staten Island ferry for a nickel roundtrip and stand at the front each way to catch a breeze thick with East River stench. On the Fourth of July, I joined the throngs on the closed FDR Drive to watch fireworks. I will never leave here, I thought as the neon colors exploded over the river.
That fall, I left Sullivan Street for another sublet at 320 West 23rd Street. I got a cat I named Daphne, and as I sat on my futon writing stories in a notebook, she perched on the windowsill and watched the pigeons through the iron grate there. One day she jumped down and landed with an odd thud. As soon as I glanced up, I saw what I should have noticed sooner: Daphne was pregnant, had come to me already pregnant. Within a week, she gave birth to a litter of six kittens in my only closet. That same week I bought a co-op at 77 Bleecker Street, and as soon as I could move them I took a taxi there with a box of kittens, Daphne, and my trash bag of clothes. A U-Haul met us there, filled with my belongings from my former life.
I had only lived in New York City for a little over a year, but it felt like a lifetime already. When I opened the boxes I had carefully packed and labeled, what I found inside seemed to belong to a stranger. The blue-flowered couch I’d saved for years earlier looked out of place now; the brass bed with its red-and-blue sheets and matching comforter made me cringe. How could I have changed so much so quickly? My clothes, bought at a vintage store called Cheap Jack’s, hung only briefly beside the winter coat I’d worn in Boston and Polo sweaters I used to collect, before I packed up everything from my old life and put it all out on the sidewalk. That winter, I didn’t have a coat. Instead, I bought a black motorcycle jacket and a scarf from a street vendor. My uniform. Me.