My wife is a Long Island local but moved away fifteen years ago. She breathes Long Island, eats Long Island, and even fights like Long Island. She wears Long Island like a thick coat and our daughters—half Long Island(ian)—need to understand who made their jackets.
This past summer, like many summers, we drove the girls four hours and change—$50 in tolls—to eat as much cheesecake, watch as much television, and stay up as late as their grandparents believe was necessary to extinguish any parenting done by my wife and I. But I’m not complaining. I find “the best” bagel on my plate every morning—paper for easy cleaning—and “the best” pizza pie every night. It’s hard to fight injustice when the other side slides dessert under your nose.
Long Island is nice—a local adjective—but the city is regal. The forty-five minute ride on the Long Island Railway drags blue-collar America out on the stage and parades it around like a five cent gimmick at the fair. You pass shops, then houses, then houses, then shops. The towns wave hello. They see people come and go all the time. But the city demands your attention. He’s sitting at Penn Station, just short of making a scene, waiting for you to show up. A big hug, kisses, and handshakes later, and New York runs down the latest headlines: Brooklyn this, Yankees that. Nothing and everything has changed since our last visit.
New York walked us down 8th Ave, my wife and I, hands clasped tight, watched his arms tell a story. It was the usual bells and whistles. Even in chaos, New York is predictable. We took a left on West 35th. I gripped my wife’s hand and whispered.
“Look, look, look.”
A taxi had dropped off a right-hook swinging fiend bent on beating the driver to a pulp. They shouted at one another unintelligible barbs and the driver, for his own protection, rolled up his window cursing all the way. A mutual separation, both parties tried to get the last word: left hook, right hook, uppercut, miss. Fed up, the driver smashed the gas and hit a red light. He was stuck. The passenger pounced, threw a few good punches at the window and ran off. Like a ghost, New York put his arm around me.
“That ain’t half the story,” he said.
I first met New York in 2003. A scrawny, mop-headed boy with glasses, my father introduced us to show me the world beyond our rolling hills of Pennsylvania. We saw Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the NBA store. The last one a requested stop. The city’s endurance, nooks, and action engaged me. A story hid in every corner. I vowed to come back and married the first New York girl I found.
Trudging through the streets at night, beneath the singing billboards, I wonder if I should move closer to New York. The lights and the pageantry tempt me to join the greatest force on Earth. But where would I do my laundry?
“We can make it work,” New York says. “We’ve got life here. Food. Everything that happens is happening here.”
I stop him with a wave of my hand. “Hey man, look, I love you like a brother, I do. But it’s too much. Listen, I’ll be back in a few months. We’ll see a Knicks game, okay?”
He slaps my hand. “Sounds good, I’m gonna hold you to it alright?” He ropes my wife into a big hug.
We ride the train back to Long Island: a neat mesh of peace and chaos. “The best” pizza pie waits on the table for dinner. My wife had called ahead. It’s kisses all around.
“How was your day, Alex, good?” my mother-in-law asks.
“It was great. Like seeing an old friend.”
“That’s great dear. Hey, do you think you could take a look at my iPad? It’s doing something weird. When I open Solitaire, it wants me to enter my password. I don’t know. You know I’m no good with these things.”
“Sure, I’d love to.”
“And I put the crib out on the front porch. Thought you guys might want to take it back with you.”
“I drive a hatchback.”
“Well, we’ll see if we can fit it in. It breaks down.”
Good night New York, sweet dreams.