Manhattan is a small island. It measures a mere 13 miles long and 2.3 miles wide at the very widest part. Yet when you live here it feels massive and fractured. This borough is easily divided with its own looks and feels to each area. I feel it isn’t a cohesive city at all but a collection of City-States.
Where one might feel totally comfortable on the Upper West Side, they might not feel comfortable at all in the West Village.
This often happens to me. Most of my life in this city has taken place below 23rd Street and above Canal Street. That’s just how it is. Most of the places I like to go and the activities I like to partake in as well as people I know (that live on the island) fall within these parameters.
When I venture out of them I feel less sure of myself and less like I fit in because they are not “my” parts of town.
Years and years ago I went to a birthday party for my friend Emily. It took place at a bar on the Upper East Side, an area I never go to that was and I believe still is very “Frat boy”. I arrived at the bar and as I handed my ID to the behemoth at the door he growled at me, “Tuck in that shirt.”
“Tuck in that shirt if you want to come in. No untucked shirts.”
I wondered why that could possibly be important when the bar was so crowded inside that you couldn’t seen below anyones belly-button height anyhow. Could it be so they could see if you had any weapons tucked into your waistband? I know gangsta rap is big with the frat boys, but that’s a little extreme to think of them whacking each other at an UES bar.
I grumpily complied because it was Emily’s birthday.
“Tuck in that wallet chain.”
“No wallets with chains on them here.”
“You are kidding me.”
“Take it off or don’t come in.”
I sighed and undid the chain from my belt and tucked the whole thing into my front pocket. With those 2 demands at the door to the bar for some reason I felt more fish out of water and unwelcome than at any other time in this city at that point.
After finally being allowed into the bar I gave Emily a hug and a “Happy Birthday” and told her that I kind of wanted to leave because I just knew I didn’t fit in. I didn’t at this bar. I had UES camouflage on (Banana Republic button down shirt) and though it was somewhat correct, I had the wrong pattern on. Every man in the bar had a plaid Banana shirt on. I wore a solid. I know it sounds petty but it is strange to look around and see everyone in the EXACT same clothes and yours are similar, but just enough that you still stand out and are visually dismissed.
I ended up staying and talking to Emily and one or 2 others I knew and watching a boxing match on the TVs at the bar.
I left that night with some sympathy though for the UES and UWS people who put on their “black” or “Downtown” outfit and hit the bars in my area. You can just feel that they aren’t from your area though they mostly look like they do.
Most people don’t end up straying from their “area” or only visit similar areas unless they need to work or shop, or visit someone there. You will find cross-over between Chelsea, LES, East Village, Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens, Greenpoint, and a few other Brooklynn nabes. Upper West Side and Upper East Side may visit each other as well as go down and spend time in TriBeCa and SoHo. In a city with such diversity you find most (myself included) stay to their own.
It’s a strange thing the NYC City-States.