TOUR Day 20 - New York and People Who Love Other People

In high school, I liked to take the MAX Train to the airport when I had an open afternoon. My favorite thing to do was to sit in the arrivals area, watching people see other people they haven’t seen in a very long time. I love watching people hug. Social norms are largely ignored in the airport arrivals section. People just make out with each other like they’re in an R-rated movie. I liked the awkwardness of that; I appreciated the inherent absurdity of all these strangers making out near other strangers making out. But I guess more than that I liked that people were willing to be affectionate in public. Let’s ignore that watching people make out for my own private enjoyment in a public airport is super-creepy. If I had been wearing a trench coat, I could have been logically arrested.

I briefly lived in New York, and it felt like the exact opposite of the airport arrivals area. People moved so fast that even eye contact was completely out-of-the-question; forget all-out public necking. Once I dropped a bunch of change on the stairs of the subway, and people literally stepped on my hands while I picked it up. I had become an unacceptable detour, and they were unwilling to navigate around me. At work (I worked at a magazine), I was struck by the egoism surrounding any and all conversations about work. Everything seemed to be about how to get higher-up. There was a lot of unnecessary bragging and in-their-place-putting. 

That was the version of New York I kept with me when I moved to New Orleans — where people move slowly and talk with strangers for hours on their porches. I still live in New Orleans almost a decade later; all that Southern charm and the hammered-in ideal of community really hooked me.

Driving into New York yesterday, I felt sick to my stomach. The skyscrapers are abrupt and demanding. There is suddenly stimulus beyond imagination. I pre-empted wanting to leave. 

But then we went to get food at a vegan diner called Champs, which featured a framed photograph of Bea Arthur on a brick wall, and exuberant heavy metal in the background. We shared the space with a really young couple, in the very early stages of being in love. They were sitting on one side of the booth, because they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. They were beautiful and filthy. He kept kissing her neck while she looked at the menu. I thought they were fascinating. Also, there was something so nice about watching people be in love.

So I decided I would watch New York through the lens of a person creeping around the arrivals section of the airport. 

We did a standup show at a weird hallway venue in Brooklyn called Pete’s Candy Shop. It wasn’t a candy shop; it was a bar. Chris and I went up between Myq Kaplin (whose hourlong special I’d watched admiringly on Netflix just a month ago) and Ben Kronberg, who was on “Last Comic Standing.” The room was tiny, and the audience was almost entirely other comedians, supplemented by my oldest friend (Joe Sackett), one of my classiest friends from high school (Ben Malbin), and their good friend Claire. It was crazy to me that such famous, talented comedians could do a free show to such a small room, but there are TONS of free shows in New York and TONS of famous comedians, and I guess this was just kind of par for the course.

Seeing Joe and Ben counted as arrivals-sectiony, though, because they are two of the most loving, sweet, greet-you-at-the-gates guys you’ve ever met. They smiled at me, pet my hair, held my hands, and laughed at my abortion jokes (yes, I do abortion jokes; yes, they’re political; no, that’s not for shock value; it’s because I think this is what comedy for). I felt great. New York was getting better.

Then we went to the venue. Forget high-adrenaline roller coasters; just have someone drive you around Manhattan in a giant van during rush hour. You’ll get the kick-in-the-heart you always dreamed of. Chris is very comfortable driving in the city, which is crazy, and I think says a lot about him. He is also very good at it. I think that ALSO says a lot about him.

At the venue, I walked to a busy corner and pretended to be invested in something else just over there. Then I sat and actively sought out people who clearly liked each other very much.

It wasn’t hard. There were a lot of mean people in the streets of New York, and a lot of fast-moving people, but also plenty of people on dates and people hanging with their best friends and people headed out of a well-earned drink after work. Two full-figured non-gender-specific people with neon-colored hair and neon-colored jumpsuits crouched on the ground outside the park giggling and stroking the insides of each others’ wrists.

When we left, I felt a lot of love for New York, which was a distinctly new emotion. It’s a great city, because you get it all. If you’re the kind of person who can't ignore the broken stuff, or the fowl stuff, or the holes in the wall, it can be kind of overwhelming. For some of us (and I default this way), all the ugliness can choke everything beautiful — which, it turns out, has been coexisting there the whole time. There are times when you need to see what’s wrong. And then there are times when you have to acknowledge what’s right, despite itself.