04 February 2014

Mrs. Parker's Town

It's inevitable when you live in New York that there will be days when it feels like the city has it out for you. When this happens you get angry, ask, "What did I ever do to you?" and start wondering if maybe you should be somewhere else. But then something, like taking a walk through Central Park, will remind you why you moved here in the first place. 

Dorothy Parker explained it best in a January, 1928 piece she wrote for McCall's called "My Home Town." Here are a few excerpts.

"It is sentimental or presumptuous or too, too whimsical, according to the way you look at it, but my feeling for New York is maternal. I know it is a bad, headstrong selfish brat, and will undoubtedly let me die in the poorhouse; I know its manners are, at best, but company ones, and its ways have been picked up from no companions of my choosing; I have for it all the futile exasperation of the clinging, jealous, bewildered mother. I know it's faults, backward and forward and all around. And nobody but me is going to say anything about them while I am in the room!"

"It occurs to me that there are other towns. It occurs to me so violently that I say, at intervals, 'Very well, if New York is going to be like this, I'm going to live somewhere else.' And I do—that's the funny part of it. But then one day there comes to me the sharp picture of New York at its best, on a shiny blue-and-white Autumn day with its buildings cut diagonally in halves of light and shadow, with its straight neat avenues colored with quick throngs, like confetti in a breeze. Someone, and I wish it had been I, has said that 'Autumn is the Springtime of big cities.' I see New York at holiday time, always in the late afternoon, under a Maxfield Parish sky, with the crowds even more quick and nervous but even more good-natured, the dark groups splashed with the white of Christmas packages, the lighted holly-strung shops urging them in to buy more and more. I see it on a Spring morning, with the clothes of the women as soft and as hopeful as the pretty new leaves on a few, brave trees. I see it at night, with the low skies red with the black-flung lights of Broadway, those lights of which Chesterton—or they told me it was Chesterton—said, "What a marvelous sight for those who cannot read!" I see it in the rain, I smell the enchanting odor of wet asphalt, with the empty streets black and shining as ripe olives. I see it—by this time, I become maudlin with nostalgia—even with its gray mounds of crusted snow, its little Appalachians of ice along the pavements. So I go back. And it is always better than I thought it would be."

"London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it. There is excitement ever running its streets. Each day, as you go out, you feel the little nervous quiver that is yours when you sit in the theater just before the curtain rises. Other places may give you a sweet and soothing sense of level; but in New York there is always the feeling of "Something's going to happen." It isn't peace. But, you know, you do get used to peace, and so quickly. And you never get used to New York."

To read the full piece, grab a copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker.

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