Something about New York City crystallizes my thoughts. There’s something in the air besides the smell of pretzels and taxi exhaust: the sensation that has brought entrepreneurs, immigrants and thrill-seekers here in droves for centuries. Cole likened it to living on a frontier, but I see it more as the business end of a gigantic knife. New Yorkers see themselves as walking the edge; constantly in fear of falling off. I’ve always known I belonged here, even if my earlier fantasies had me living posh off the fruits of my talents, rather than scraping by on the dregs of a daily grind.
Before I came here, it sometimes felt like my entire life was one of those hilariously ineffective Bing commercials. You may know the ones, where somebody asks a seemingly simple question and gets a creepy robo-rant of related terms and concepts in reply. I’m mostly the person spouting random trivia: a jack of some trades and master of none. I envy those people who, from the moment they exited the womb, seem to have one or two goals in mind for their life. Pretty much any goal — from becoming an elementary school teacher to playing virtuosic harmonica to being a successful Manhattan chef — that somebody works single-mindedly at is praise worthy and most likely attainable. Some people are even masters of several skills, like a friend of mine who is a successful installation artist and cellist. His resume is enviably marketable.
Anybody looking at my resume can see I’ve never been able to dedicate my interest like that. In fact, I may be the only person I know that dropped out of school through pure indecision. In Boston I tried journalism, Chinese, international business, accounting, finance and anthropology majors; and spent over 80 grand before I realized that college may not be the right place for me. At one point I saw a burgeoning, profitable career in all these subjects, but something in me held back.
I blamed my lack of work ethic, my drinking, my then-girlfriend, my short attention span and even the people I hung out with — all valid excuses to some extent. None of those were enough to cause the ennui that fell into. I moved back to Maine, but quickly moved out of my parents’ house. Through a convoluted mess of roommate- and apartment-switching, I realized the biggest roadblock in my life was where I lived. I had spent most of my life in the Northeast, but I knew the West Coast was not the answer (and anything South of the Mason-Dixon was too damn hot). I was still afraid I couldn’t make it in New York. After all, if I couldn’t find a job in a small town, what chance did I have of competing in the giant pool of job-seekers here? As summer burned, I felt more and more cooped up in that small town. I got tired very quickly of selling shitty vitamins over the phone and drinking at the same shitty bar because there were no other options. The fact that my bedtime was well after everything shut down for the night didn’t help.
Little did I realize that with that pool of potential personnel I’d find a fairyland of job opportunities (comparatively speaking). Several times before a teacher or boss had suggested I go look for a job on Wall Street. On hearing that I’d asked myself: “What do I do? Just show up on the NYSE trading floor and ask the nearest broker for a job?” Now the advice seems as normal as any other recommendation. New York is filled with people who would just show up on Wall Street and ask around for a job. Even cooler is the fact that there are people who actually take them up on it.
I have no illusions that I could just waltz into any financial institution and get a cushy job, but if there were one place in the world I could, it’d be New York. I’ve arrived in a place where the myriad futures I had planned out for myself in school seem less… hypothetical. As every new arrival has learned, I know the streets here aren’t paved with gold — but in a world where getting somebody to pay you for your labor is becoming more and more difficult I have to stop myself from giggling at how many opportunities New Yorkers have. Raise a glass (or a paycheck) to the city that doesn’t have time to sleep because it’s working too hard. Join me on the knife’s edge and we may see each other: on the third shift, or in passing at your cubicle, or — just maybe — in a fancy restaurant atop a tall building.