What is the Best City? | Varyer
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What is the Best City?

The title is a question, and this column could be a mere one-word answer, but I respect you too much for that. For SEO and educational purposes, I will delay revealing the verdict, weaving a pageview-thirsty fairytale of suspense a la Scheherazade in 1,001 Arabian Nights.

To crown a best of anything, according to the ancient principle of yin and yang, means there is also a worst. Typically, I let that designation go unspoken, which I feel is a classy move. But sometimes the ranking process presents me with no choice, insistently steering me down a path of darkness in order to show all of us the light.

Five years ago, I made a mistake that so many others before me have made. Deluded, I moved to New York City.

An illustration of a billboard with two faces and the word "Injured?"

It seemed right. Even the way people referred to Manhattan as “the city” made it seem inevitable. Of course THE city was my path forward. I ignored the fact that previously, any such autoerotic New York centrism would have repulsed me—insert languorous jerk-off motion here—and I only felt wry pity for the bitter outsider I had been.

I was moving for a job at a magazine, which was another key aspect to the scam: I trusted magazines. Magazines had always known what I wanted before I did. From 1996–2001, I obediently bought whatever YM, Seventeen, and even Teen People (may God have mercy on us all) recommended. Now that I’m older, I realize that those magazines were largely written by thirty-year-olds for twelve-year-olds who wished they were eighteen. We may never have the forensic technology capable of untangling this collision of trend cohorts.

How did you all get into this cult 🔎 How did you all get into this cult 🔎

People often refer to New York in conjunction with ‘dreams.’ A place where they can come true, an inspiring Mecca for those bold enough to chase their fantasies and attempt to wrest them into reality. My actual, REM-stage dreams in New York weren’t so enchanting. I had nightmares of glowing screens, tormented even in my sleep by the agonizing weight of nugatory decisions—at the magazine where I worked, we once stayed at the office until 10:00 p.m. fretting over a single headline for the annual denim issue. ‘Jean Therapy.’ ‘Blue Crush.’ ‘Mad About Blue.’ People bickered for hours. We’d already done ‘Blue Jean Baby’ the previous year, apparently.

How did you all get into this cult, I’d wondered, although I was sitting at the same conference table they were. I tried to focus on how my coworkers were feminists, unafraid to speak up in meetings, and how we got to wear stylish overalls to the office. Everything that was happening was good, technically.

The line we decided on was ‘Denim Daze.’ As Dolly Parton once put it, it cost a lot of money to look this cheap.

An illustration of a newsstand.

Other things happened, outside the office.

On the crowded subway, I got a mouthful of someone’s too-long hair.

In a store, as I did some last-minute shopping, a woman asked me what day it was.

“The 24th! Christmas Eve!” I answered her, with some pep. I was looking forward to eating a pound of chocolate and spending all my gift cards online the next day, so I was in a friendly Santa’s Helper-type mood.

“No, bitch, what day? Wednesday?”

No, BITCH? Regrettably, in a state of shock, I replied—it was Tuesday—but I was furious, and will be for the rest of my life.

What else? I’ve seen about a dozen deviant sexual outbursts on sidewalks and subways. Lots of garbage and self-importance simmering in the oppressive summertime dew point. An aura of misery, probably drifting over from Rikers. Public despair, public urination, all flaking off the crusty scab of pretension that smothers this city.

Once a man tapped me on the shoulder and advised me that if I didn’t walk faster—I was arm-in-arm with an eighty-year-old blind lady at the time—he would “ruin my day.”

All of this happened to me in New York. It didn’t happen to me in any other city. So, unfortunately, using deductive reasoning, New York is disqualified from being ‘the best.’

An illustration of a subway sign that reads "NO EXIT."

I do still live here, for now.

The local culture is that of survivalist pride. Most people who live through awful events rightfully take satisfaction in the fact that they’ve overcome something significant. However, New Yorkers considering themselves ‘tough’ is like comparing an escape room participant to a refugee, if the escape room participant chose to stay in the room and elect Billy de Blasio.

Mysteriously, there are babies here. It’s stunning that anyone in New York looks around and thinks what this place needs is another person, but perhaps the superfluous procreation is in reaction to the specter of death. Roaches smashed flat on the sidewalks, sirens, the spiritual vacancy of the Astor Place K-Mart. It makes me consider my own death 😔, and then I feel protective of my hypothetically bereaved boyfriend. Overcome with emotion, I have generous thoughts: I hope he finds a new girlfriend who’s really sweet to him.

But wait—I hardly have a legacy of supreme kindness that needs to be carried on. I’m not that nice to him, and he seems fine. So it probably doesn’t matter what kind of girlfriend he ends up with; he doesn’t seem bothered one way or the other. Extrapolating further (sorry for all the math), it’s as if it doesn’t matter to him if I live or die, which is annoying. This is how I feel about New York, assaulted by its indifference.

An illustration of a MetroCard with a face.

Having recently gained a twinkle of self-awareness via a free trial of a therapy app, I know I may be coming off as pretty negative, and I acknowledge that an editorial slant might be apparent to the savvy reader. Certainly, I would not be chosen as an unbiased juror if New York were ever put on trial. (It should be, btw.)

Anyway! What is the best city?

In literary circles, ‘happy endings’ are not orgasmic treats that conclude a massage, but rather are trite plot devices that tie up every loose end with a positive outcome. It’s preferred, among the intelligentsia, for the reader to instead endure an ambiguous, usually melancholy conclusion. I know you can handle it, so I won’t tie this column up with a pretty bow. Working backward, using the principle of yin and yang invoked earlier, a close reader will be able to determine the best city.

Until next ti—

(What will my soon-to-be-iconic sign-off be? While the rest of this very, very good column simply flowed out of me, the question of the sign-off gave me pause, perhaps because I know there can never be a better one than ‘xoxo, Gossip Girl.’ I hope in time an appropriate farewell will naturally present itself. I appreciate your patience.)