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Living in NYC

Stories for Friends. Advice for Strangers.

Monthly Archives: October 2010

New York has ridiculous nightlife. I’m sure you can imagine it, even if you have never been here, because you see it in movies and on TV. Most of it is true – although I have decided that the drug-infused parties of the seventies and eighties no longer exist. There are still drugs, but the people on them are either stoners (who aren’t exactly in short supply down south, either), or random people wandering around looking for parties like that, only to realize they are alone, on self-imbibed GHB, and have lost 12 hours of their lives to undisclosed sections of Queens. (The last sentence is based on true events, of which I had no part).

What’s here for the rest of us is actually pretty cool. You can break it down into pretty basic categories. One is food, and that is certainly a recreational activity for me. Another is music. Anyone who knows me will tell you that music is the most important art form in my life. In this city, you can breathe it if you want to. I won’t waist your time with venues and random band names. Last week, CMJ (a New York music and film festival that garners international attention every year) dominated my industry. Cornerstone helped out with a couple of pretty cool events, and I got to see some extremely cool people doing things with instruments that I will never understand. But with my mom in town, we ended up hearing a different kind of music, and it wasn’t on the lower east side.

Three broadway shows in one weekend might seem like a lot, but mom and Amber pulled it off. I joined them for two, Million Dollar Quartet and Mama Mia. We went to MDQ immediately after one of the events for CMJ, so it was a stark contrast. After emerging from the show in the Nederlander Theater, I couldn’t help but feel like the production on broadway was cooler than any show at CMJ. I’m probably not supposed to say that, and maybe it’s not even true, but I definitely felt it.

There is something about the productions on broadway that make them remarkable. So much time, effort and talent from countless people go in to making those shows run smoothly day after day. In the case of Mama Mia, they have been doing it for years. I was excited to see that the actors in MDQ performed everything themselves, without the help of hidden musicians. They were fantastic.

So if you’re here visiting, or even if you move here for the music industry like I did, give both scenes a try. Let me know how it goes!

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What do you need in a friend? If you’ve never answered that question before, I encourage you to think about it. Not in some misplaced egocentric way – like the world should pander to your unique and specific interests – more along the lines of expectations. Finding friends is really hard to do, and if you expect to foster lasting friendships, it is going to take extraordinary effort. Thinking about your expectations in a friendship is a good place to start.

Maybe you want someone that reminds you of your close college friends. Or, maybe you just need a few people to hang out with from time to time to limit the number of nights you sit at home alone. There’s no science to this, but some of you have asked about finding quality social interactions in a new place. In one as big as New York City, there is great danger in isolation.

First, my story. When I moved here I had a few friends – all people I knew from college in Florida. I lived with a couple of them for a while and ended up spending a lot of time in our apartment (it was cold!). But as work crept in to everyone’s life and started to take over, divergent schedules translated into gradual distance. That distance, over time, can lead to isolation. Even though I had these wonderful people around, the lack of people to spend time with then presented itself a concern. Since I just had a few months to tread water before my wedding, I didn’t really sweat it. Instead, I focused a lot of my time internally, reading more and spending time alone listening to music. In its season, it was wonderful. As a lifestyle, it would have been poisonous.

Today, I am married and living relatively far away from those friends. My wife and I spend time trying to make new friends, both together and separately, but it is extremely difficult. The question of where to look is of tremendous importance, and I want to discuss that in some detail. The original question one reader asked about finding “third places” is brilliant, because it boils the issue of friendship down to very basic principles. I have avoided giving my answer until now because, well, it’s hard.

If you expect to make friends in a place like New York, you have to identify places where the people you want to be with spend their time. This could be online – plenty of people meet their spouse online, so I am not going to question a friendship with digital roots.

If you long for something physical (as I do), start by finding people with common interests. It may sound lame, but it’s the way I have made my closest friends out of high school. Find something you are passionate about and get involved. When you share a common interest with someone and you participate in activities based around that interest together, a lot of the awkwardness associated with meeting someone goes away naturally. Say you are serving food at a homeless shelter in Manhattan. The people working there with you and the people being served are all gathered for a specific purpose. Now you have a warrant to speak with them. It won’t be awkward, it isn’t forced, and you may find that you have more things in common than compassion.

Some of the ways I share my time with people include music (both playing and listening), and church. Church is by far the most effective way for me to meet people I want to spend time with. It’s not just because we all believe in the same God, although that underlying principle influences everything that we do. It is by removing the normal barriers to community that I begin to see people for who they are, and that I begin to be seen.

For all its strengths, the social web is something to hide behind. You can be anything you want online. The community I find at church allows me to be my full self – my baggage, my sin, fears of rejection – I can bring all of it with me and be accepted despite them. If you’ve been burned by church before, try again. They’re not all like that. When you get to be who you are, you may find yourself in a group of friends pursuing who they want to become together. And that’s a really cool thing.

I know I’ve been long winded, but making friends is a skill worth improving. It is work. It takes effort, and it requires someone to become vulnerable. Once you meet someone, ask them to hang out with you. Identify places based around common interests (try meetup.com if you’re stuck), find a church and start showing people who you really are. Since you are extraordinary, someone will appreciate that in you and meet you half way. And don’t forget, we’re all lonely. So in that sense, you’re never alone.

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There are a couple of trends I’m noticing that make me think about things that are more important than me. Thinking about the bullying problem making headlines and dealing with the following pet peeves remind me that I, along with everyone that I see, am human. That means I am imperfect and incapable of having pure motives. I want what I want when I want it. Don’t you? Well, these things are reminding me more and more of a systemic problem in my own life that I fear has infected this entire city, and probably the rest of the world.

Strollers.

I don’t need to quote the MTA guidelines telling you to pack up your stroller and hold your kid. I also shouldn’t have to apologize when you run me over with your double-wide stroller filled with children who are clearly old enough to walk on their own. From the sidewalks to subway cars, parents seem to think that having a child is license to be a complete jerk. God didn’t give you those kids to use their accessories as weapons. I like to break rules just as much as the next guy – but these are our lives.

Umbrellas.

It rains up here. And when it does, people don’t want to get wet. It’s fair – their clothes are expensive, their hair is expensive, their makeup is expensive – people don’t want to like a joke when they get wherever they’re going. I get it. But your umbrella is not a weapon, nor are the other people on the sidewalk, stairways and stoops your enemies. We want to be dry, too. If you’re one of the umbrella wielding predators I’m talking about, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. So next time it rains, put on a hooded jacket and try walking without one.

Purses.

I have no idea what you are carrying in that purse, and I don’t even want to imagine the back problems you’ll have later as a result of lugging it around the city. Admittedly jealous of the goodies that must be inside those gigantic bags, I also have to confess that I loathe them. The problem isn’t the purse – it’s the mentality of people who swing them around like they don’t take up space. It’s practically a suit case. When you get on the train, the bag doesn’t disappear. It’s still there, and it’s overtaking space that people need to stand in. Another apology I shouldn’t have to make is interrupting your game of Sudoku when you knock me over with it. To get practical, try swinging it around and carrying it like you would a baby.

This is a call for the humanity of New York City to start thinking of other people as individuals rather than objects. A human being is not an obstacle to surmount or an inferior object to dominate. People do not stand in the way of your agenda, they are our partners in it. I don’t doubt that everyone has something important to do, and I am equally guilty of this mentality. Every time you interact with someone, even if it is a strung out homeless person sleeping on your stoop, fighting the tendency to resent the person for getting in your way is more important than you think. They say that the bullying ends in school. We’re bullies for life if we don’t try to change.