Frank O’Hara depicts New York City as a metropolis filled with good memories, while J.G. Ballard depicts an overcrowded dystopian city. Even though I agreed with aspects of both works, my New York City falls somewhere in between.
Like O’Hara, I enjoy the simple pleasures of New York City – the sunsets, the wide array of people going about their daily lives, the lights, etc. But the feelings of claustrophobia and overcrowding in Ballard’s story, resonated with me too, bringing back horrifying memories of pushing my way through Times Square through throngs of tourists who seemingly don’t understand that sidewalks are for walking.
I truly have a love-hate relationship with New York City.
On the one hand, I love the anonymity it provides. It lets me go wherever I want to do whatever I want with only a slim chance of running into somebody I know. While at home in Long Island, I would rather not go to the mall alone, so I don’t look like I have no friends. In NYC, I am comfortable enough to go the MoMa on my own when I have a craving for art, or wander around Chelsea and the Highline (which happens to be my favorite place in the city) without a specific purpose in mind. I could even walk around crying and nobody would think twice about me.
On the other hand, it is almost scary and isolating to be so unknown in the city. Nobody would think twice about me crying in the street! I understand how easy it is for Ward to just go with the flow of “a shuffling mob” but it is also frightening to be so surrounded by strangers just going along with their hustle and bustle. For all I know, as I sit and let the subway carry me from place to place, the person next to me is the perfect friend or partner for me, but I will never know because social propriety dictates that we should sit in silence instead. In “Personal Poem” O’Hara writes that “I wonder if one person out of 8,000,000 is thinking of me” then “and go back to work happy at the thought of possibly so” but as I read that line, I shudder, thinking about how the answer is more like “probably not”.
That probably makes me sound like a cynic, which I am not completely. I know their are both pros and cons to the anonymity of city life, just like there are pros and cons of small town life (aka being so known drives me crazy too). A song, “Union Square” by Chumped perfectly summarizes my mixed feelings toward New York City. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWOj1w353sg). The lead singer, Anika, sings “And the Subway smells like shit, but it’s lovely isn’t it, in the sense that it will take you anywhere”. She then describes the contradictory feelings of being with other people, but alone in New York City with “Yeah, we’re all in this together, but what does it all mean? Not a damn thing”. She then concludes “We are not alone, At least until our stop arrives.” Chumped encapsulates the jumbled feelings of being alone and part of the crowd of the city.