As my days left in the big city dwindle away (holla), my ultimate goal of becoming a Human of New York poster child is quickly becoming a dream unfulfilled. This means one of two things– I completely failed at blending in as a Human of New York and instead must accept my fate as a lowly Human of California, or that I seriously blew it by not covering myself in pigeons somewhere in Central Park to draw the likes of the imperceptible HONY photographer from whatever shady corners of NY he hides in.
Truth be told, my story for this guy…or unicorn…or Wookiee…or whatever form he really assumes, would probably look something like this, and would be the most hated of all the HONY posts in all of the interwebs. Ready?
“Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there I’ll tell you how I became the fashion bitch of a borough called Manhattan–”
…At which point in time, the photographer would slyly pull a ghost and scurry back off into the darkness, and no one would take a minute, no one would sit right there, and I would look like a supreme ass. So all bitterness aside, I suppose I understand why I have been pegged as an undeserving West Coast simpleton rather than a righteous, narrative-laden New Yorker.
Instead, I should really seek out a career as the equally inconspicuous sidekick to Mr. HONY photog, as I’ve scouted out some incredibly inspiring humans myself. A few weeks ago I was sent on an errand to the East Side that involved a lot of stanky leather and a sassy Polish woman named Jutta who aggressively suggested that I change my name (oh ya, JUTTA?). On my ego-scorned ride back to my workplace, I struck up a conversation with my cab driver. This is generally a big no no, however after sharing big lolz over some thug at a stoplight next to us bumping jams from his street-skimming Chevy, I felt compelled to make BFFs with the frail, elderly man towing me back to work during the height of Friday traffic. He inquired my about my job, chastising the illegal nature of internships, reminiscing on the times of his day when interns were at least compensated and treated like humans (…of New York, naturally) rather than livestock. I asked the thickly-accented man where he grew up, and he explained that he lived and studied in the Philippines but relocated to New York years after earning his degree as a Chemical Engineer. He promised his wife that bigger opportunities and a better life awaited them in New York. Unable to find work after several years, he assumed the role as a cab driver to make ends meet and to support his two ambitious daughters, both of whom earned scholarships to attend Ivy League medical schools. I was completely heartbroken to hear about this educated man’s dream come to naught, yet inspired by his familial love, a trait very reminiscent of my own father, and his humility to do anything possible to support the dreams of his family.
HONY’s have a very crafty way of creeping up on you when you least expect it, somewhat like the spontaneous materialization of Reese’s Oreos in the aisles of Target on a given Sunday afternoon. I suppose this is premium news for the elusive HONY photographer, as he will never go out of the job as long as the humans of New York City keep on keeping on.
I discovered my next HONY only a week after my encounter with the engineer turned taxi driver. Although I never actually learned how to pronounce her name, for all purposes of this blog, we will refer to her as “Lucy” after her freckle-faced doppelgänger, Lucy Liu. Lucy’s meticulous manicures brought me back to the salon in Brooklyn Heights several times, all during which we mutually managed to dodge uncomfortable salon conversation. Lengthy deep-tissue hand massages and intimate oily leg rub downs became a mastered game of concurrently inspecting the tacky plastic chandeliers that hung from the ceiling, and dust-coated plastic flowers that sat in mildewy vases. However at some point during my last visit, eye contact was unsuccessfully yet inevitably initiated, and I found myself feeling obligated to strike up some kind of chat with Lucy as she kneaded the shit out of every muscle in my lotion-slathered hand. I asked Lucy about her hours at the salon, naturally the opening line of any quality conversation. Surprisingly we had more in common than I had assumed, being two over-worked, under-paid betches. This is where our similarities conclude, as Lucy is from Nepal, and moved to New York by herself to earn money to support her parents, husband, and two young children, all of whom inhabit a crowded, single-family dwelling back in her homeland. When I asked when she would be reunited with her family, she told me she didn’t know and would work as long as necessary to send back enough money for her family to live comfortably, but that she misses them all very much. She scrolled through her iPhone between coats of polish, proudly showing me photos of her tiny tots in their school uniforms, playing with the friends of her children. By the end of my manicure, we were both left crying while my left hand sat frying in the shellac manicure Easy Bake Oven. Thankfully, my Freddy Kreuger hand went unnoticed until after I left her tip.
There are many things I won’t mind leaving behind in New York. I can’t say that I’ll fondly reminisce on the vom-encrusted streets of Midtown or watching blood stains being doused with Coca Cola to speedily eradicate a crime scene, the nauseating scent of greasy fried chicken overpowering the early morning air during my commute to work, the creepy insane asylum costumed as a dorm that I currently call home, or my torturously (and literally) illegally long hours at work. I will miss, however, the daily opportunity to meet and be inspired by strangers. I used to be mortified by my parents, who are both equally guilty of striking up conversation with strangers at the drop of a hat. I never understood why anyone would want to engage someone they didn’t know and would likely never see again. However after being completely independent in an unfamiliar city, I have somehow inherited the roles of my social butterfly parents and in exchange, I’ve been fortunate enough to be inspired by the true Humans of New York.
PS. The photographer of Humans of New York isn’t actually Darth Vader or some fictitious war lord, but has a real name, Brandon Stanton, and a face that looks like this: