A great poet once said that, “every day is like survival.” Having spent the last six years of my life living, working and doing my best to grow as an artist and human being in New York City, I can safely say that great poet was right. Like any other young person trying to make their way in this tough town, I’ve worked my fair share of jobs — good and bad — to make ends meet. I’ve worked Uptown, Downtown, in the East Side, West Side, Chelsea and Queens. The first six months of my tenure in New York had a distinct “job of the week” feel to them. For a young man attempting to get settled, it all felt very, well, unsettling. Despite the frantic nature of my early New York experience, there was always one place I kept coming back to. It’s a tiny island of greenery nestled between 40 and 42nd Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Midtown Manhattan — Bryant Park.
Even now, I can’t say what exactly drew me to Bryant Park. It may have been the opening scenes of Ghostbusters — a film I enjoyed greatly as a child and still do as an adult — with its opening scenes shot at the nearby New York Public Library. Or it may have simply been that the park itself is an anomaly. Situated almost exactly in the center of the city, it’s an outpost of nature existing within blocks of the tourist mecca known as Times Square, the Theatre District and the Fashion District. The Empire State Building and the Bank of America Tower, two of the city’s tallest buildings, border the park to the west and south like artificial mountains. At any given hour of the day there’s something to see or do, from an impromptu game of chess or backgammon to outdoor shopping at the holidays. The park has always been a personal oasis for me, a place that feels like a small step outside the city’s urban landscape. It’s a retreat that I’m always grateful to have during contemplative moments or times of change.
During my early days in the city, I used every excuse I could to visit Bryant Park. I toted my laptop along with me when the weather permitted and applied for jobs, taking full advantage of the park’s free wireless Internet. After a few weeks of juggling gigs at a variety of restaurants and temp agencies, I managed to land a full-time job at a start-up organization. Grateful to finally have something stable, I dug into it with the sort of enthusiasm any new, eager-to-please employee would have. Imagine my anguish, just six weeks later, upon being told that the company’s financial state wouldn’t allow me to stay on payroll after the end of that month. Facing unemployment once again in the big, scary city, I did what felt most natural to me: I took a long lunch in Bryant Park. Somehow, sitting in the shade of the London Plane trees and reading a book allowed me to put it all in perspective. I left that lunch with a newfound sense of resolve. I’d treat this lost job like a lost audition, dust myself off and try again.
One month later, I’d secured a temp-to-perm position at an ad agency and was finally in control of my finances again. Summer was winding down and I was eager to see what new challenges would come my way next. One Monday night, I decided to take a ride up to Bryant Park for an outdoor screening of Rocky, part of the free film series put on for adoring crowds of onlookers each summer. Seated comfortably among several thousand anonymous film-goers, I felt like part of a large extended family. New York can often be a jaded, merciless town, but with so many people laughing, sharing food and running along with Sylvester Stallone as he prepared to take on Apollo Creed, I felt like I was in the happiest place on Earth. Suddenly things seemed like they might just work out.
Imagine my dismay a few hours later when I returned home to discover that my apartment had been broken into and my laptop — with all my writings, pictures and work documents — had been stolen from my desk. Later that week, I lost my job due to a misunderstanding over an audition I’d asked to go on. As an added kick, my girlfriend at the time decided to end our relationship soon after. Discouraged, depressed and bordering on despondent, I strongly contemplated moving back to Pennsylvania. Instead, I read a book in the New York Public Library’s outdoor reading room, convincing myself that this was just the next chapter in my New York adventure.
Summer turned to fall and the leaves on the trees in Bryant Park were beginning to drop away. I’d stare off in the distance at the skeletal framework of a building under construction and wonder just how things would turn out. Would I celebrate my first holiday season in New York, or would I be watching the ball drop in Times Square on television like every year before? Before long, I was back on the job of the week circuit and learning to cope with the uncertainty of city living. I did my best to juggle as many auditions as I could along with searching out a more full-time position, always stopping to smell the flowers (or by now, the crisp winter air) in Bryant Park.
By the time the skating rink opened in late November, I’d lined up an interview for a promising position at a marketing company. Prior to my interview, I sat watching the skaters move in circles along to the strains of Liza Minnelli singing the title song from Cabaret over the sound system. “Life is a cabaret,” she intoned over and over. I couldn’t help myself from smiling in agreement. By the following week, I was starting my new job nearby which I would hold for the next four years.
Time has its way of putting things in perspective. Not only did I celebrate the holiday season of 2006 in New York, I’ve been here to celebrate every one since then. In all that time, Bryant Park has remained my favorite place to visit. Since starting a job last fall just one block over from it, I’ve made an effort to have lunch there at least once a week. Now, with my girlfriend of over a year working at another nearby office, it’s no longer a place I have to enjoy on my own. After all this, I’m still here and so is Bryant Park. I look forward to seeing what events in my life will bring me back there again soon.