Return of A Native
by Patricia Draznin

My husband and I had the unusual opportunity of house sitting for three weeks in New York City. I say unusual because some people would not consider this an opportunity—probably the same people who never get the urge for pizza delivery at midnight. The same people who don’t understand that rudeness is part of their restaurant server’s job description. The same people who don’t have the patience to unlock their apartment with eleven keys, when Fort Knox only has nine.

So why did I seize the chance? Because as a former New Yorker living in the Midwestern prairie, I am always eager to plug in to the Mother Ship. For three urban weeks I was like a kid in a candy store, a mouse in a Velveeta factory. Lindsay Lohan at Happy Hour. Our apartment was located in Manhattan’s extremely upper West Side—in Harlem, Baby, where the official language is Salsa. Where earplugs are standard issue for the all-night street parties and the weekend car-alarm game. Where the family in #3F runs a thriving distribution center for a tax-free Columbian import. Where the rest of the world is just a few subway stops away—if I change to the #3 express train and don’t forget to get off.

Three New York weeks have reminded me that what makes this city unlike the rural town where I live now—besides the scarcity of tractor supplies and Vend-o-Bait—is the efficient use of living space. Your typical Manhattan apartment offers a Murphy bathroom and an implied kitchen that nobody ever uses. Except for the oven, which serves as storage for pots and pans that nobody ever uses. The last time someone attempted to cook in a Manhattan kitchen (me), she had to use her left hand for the cutting board. On the practical side, New Yorkers have little temptation to accumulate excess possessions such as a bed, because why let all that perfectly good stove surface go to waste?

In the early 1600s, the Dutch sailed all the way from Europe to settle this small island that they mistakenly named New Amsterdam, which meant having to reprint all those little return address labels. To beef up the population from 270 people—half were Dutch, the rest were foreigners—a man named Peter Minuet lured new settlers with the promise of great prosperity (“Now remember to hold on to your real estate for the next 385 years”). And then he purchased the entire island from the Manhattan Indians for the equivalent of $24, which today would just about cover my midnight pizza delivery.

Now that I’m back in my peaceful little town where the land is green, our swimming hole beckons, and no tall pesky buildings hide our big open skies, I wonder what all the fuss was about. New York is just an overcrowded, overpriced city where the air is dense and the streets are noisy and—what? We’re invited to house sit again in September? You know, it’s just as I’ve always said, noise is part of life. You can find rude waiters anywhere. And what’s a few extra house keys?

Copyright 2007 Patricia Draznin


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