Opinion | Columns

The real New York

Chapter One. He was too romantic about Manhattan, as he was about everything else. He thrived on the hustle-bustle of the crowds and the traffic. To him, New York meant beautiful women and street-smart guys who seemed to know all the angles. Ah, no. Corny, too corny for a man of my taste. Mmm, lemme, lemme try and make it more profound.

Chapter One. He adored New York City. To him, it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of individual integrity that caused so many people to take the easy way out was rapidly turning the town of his dreams into ... nah, it’s gonna be too preachy. I mean, let’s face it—I wanna sell some books here. 

Chapter One. Maybe Woody Allen was on to something with his stuttered introduction to “Manhattan.” How do you introduce New York? What could possibly precede New York? New York is the introduction, the context, and the chaos from which all order arises. It has a personality so big that it spills into three states and a transcontinental ego. New York, as a place and as a myth, is too much for anyone to digest in a single sitting or even in four years—and Columbia students, like everyone else, have to struggle with making some sense out of it. 

To accompany the unbounded wonder of living at the center of the universe, there is an endemic sense of guilt for not taking advantage of it. Every minute in a dorm room or a library is time that could have been spent trying to take in the seemingly endless variety that forms New York’s character. The eight Chinatowns, the farmers markets, the cronut. No matter how long I stay here, I will probably never be in with the Ethiopian community, hit every speakeasy, learn Korean, or set foot on Staten Island. These are all upsetting realizations. I don’t think the human mind is meant to observe so many things it will never get to know, and this is probably the source of the trademark city-wide neurosis.

I was once accused by a friend who lives at Bleecker and MacDougal of not living in the “real” New York. When I get on my bike, I can feel myself being pulled to the Village by a supernatural hipster force. Lower Manhattan is magnetic, I know. But the truth is that most peoples’ New York experience doesn’t involve French bulldogs, MePa, or NYU. The “real” New Yorker works a job just walking distance from his duplex in Queens and has never visited the Met. He speaks Gujarati and dabbles in English. New York is a conglomeration of bubbles like his: the Orthodox of Williamsburg, the blacks of central Harlem, the Dominicans of Washington Heights. The uptown college student is just another subset of the population, another demographic. We are not somehow removed observers peering into an essential, unconscious New York. While we have the self-awareness to realize our special circumstances, we’re not self-aware enough to realize how ordinary it is to have those special circumstances in a city filled with immigrants, diplomats, homeless people, businesspeople, starving artists, and star-crossed lovers. Leave it to Columbia students to think they are exceptions to the rule. New York has no essence other than its variety. Even the mayor is from Boston.

E.B. White conceived of three New Yorks. He wrote, “There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.” I have had the good fortune to be all three of those things: born in Queens, raised in Westchester, and returned to Manhattan for college. As much nostalgia as I have for the quintessential New Yorker—maybe for a Brooklyn hot-dog vendor who can’t pronounce his “r’s”—the real New York isn’t any one thing. We have four years, and hopefully more, to make a narrative that is somehow representative of the effect New York has on its children, as an experience rather than as a place.

Jake Goldwasser is a Columbia College senior majoring in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. Thinking Twice usually runs alternate Thursdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Anonymous posted on

Damn good stuff. It's rare to see a column about New York moreso than Columbia. I like it.

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CC'14 posted on

Quite the manifesto. Wish I had read this as a freshman.

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Sitting in my dorm room AND studying posted on

1) To accompany the unbounded wonder of living at the center of the universe, there is an endemic sense of guilt for not taking advantage of it... I don’t think the human mind is meant to observe so many things it will never get to know, and this is probably the source of the trademark city-wide neurosis.

2) Leave it to Columbia students to think they are exceptions to the rule. New York has no essence other than its variety.

Yes. Thank you. You nailed it with quite the eloquent hammer. & Somehow being reminded that I'm not special makes it feel like everything is going to be alright.

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Sitting in my dorm room AND studying posted on

1) To accompany the unbounded wonder of living at the center of the universe, there is an endemic sense of guilt for not taking advantage of it... I don’t think the human mind is meant to observe so many things it will never get to know, and this is probably the source of the trademark city-wide neurosis.

2) Leave it to Columbia students to think they are exceptions to the rule. New York has no essence other than its variety.

Yes. Thank you. You nailed it with quite the eloquent hammer. & Somehow being reminded that I'm not special makes it feel like everything is going to be alright.

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Howard Sachs/Washington DC posted on

Oct 16 2013

Letter to Daily Spectator

From: Howard Sachs MD/Washington DC

Your fine writer Jake Goldwasser was very brave. In life its fairly easy to be kind. Bravery is much more difficult and rare. Jake opined on how conservatives are generally ridiculed at Columbia. Its difficult to say such truth in the American university setting when most professors and students are from the Left. But Jake is correct. He points out a tragedy in play at Columbia and most of our Universities. They have essentially snowed parents and students with marketing and propaganda that spending $200,000 is money well spent to give young people a broad and liberal education. In essence, almost every penny of it , outside the natural science curriculum, is money and time wasted. Our Universities are essentially Leftist indoctrination centers.

What made this country and its people great, namely traditional conservative American values are not discussed, presented and engaged at Columbia or Harvard or Yale; they are ridiculed and mocked and disparaged. Why engage a conservative when he is a bad person; when he is racist, intolerant, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and bigoted. It's standard fare from the mouths of professors, many who have never left the childlike world of school from kindergarten to their professorships. It's easy for these Professor to bully the naive 18 year old with their Leftist ideology Jake. It's standard fare from our colleges to the Bible of Leftism the New York Times Editorial page.

Yes, you might see here and there a course with Edmund Burke on the reading list, but lets be intellectually honest, our universities are diverse in melanin pigment in skin, what kind of sex people like to have, and whether or not there is 1/33 native American blood running in peoples' veins.

True diversity of thought and values is now void on our campuses. It's an anathema. How many of students and professors at Columbia have ever engaged respectfully and deeply the values of a Morman? a proud TeaParty conservative like myself ? an evangelical Christian? a member of the Republican Jewish coalition? Christians United for Israel? How many speakers on campus or professors or students hold strong traditional conservative American values and views? Your administrators tout this percent of melanin pigment on campus and that percent of young men who like to have sex with other men and the fact that this percent had ancestors that once lived on the African continent. What have we come to?

Almost everyone on campus knows the radical Leftist and narrow minded writer Cornell West but has never heard of one of America's greatest thinkers and writers Professor Tom Sowell. Tom is a black conservative so he is banned from the "diversity" of Columbia even though, ironically, his melanin content is quite high. Dennis Prager whose national radio show Jake was on this week is also one of America's greatest thinkers, writers and speakers but will never be seen or heard on the self described "open tolerant, progressive and liberal" Columbia campus.

Save your money Jake if you can. Watch some of Prager's great and free 5 minute Prager University courses on the web. You'll learn something. It will help reduce the toxic Leftist notions you are awash in at college. It will remind you that this religion of Leftism has nothing to do with American values and what made us great. I say this not to be mean but to express the passion millions of us have about the degradation of our once great universities.

Howard Sachs MD

Washington DC

hsachs@starpower.net

3017752177

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Sarina posted on

I agree that Jake is a great writer with great opinions, but I think you misinterpreted a few key things about his last article. As a reminder, this is how it began: "I am not conservative by any stretch of the imagination. Every fall break I have gone to campaign for liberal causes, and as an underclassman I was on the board of the Columbia University Democrats."

Juuust wanted to keep things in perspective.

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Anonymous posted on

Thank Sarena: I understood Jake was on the Left. Most young people and professors are. Im not trying to be mean. They have a naive childlike view of the world. Leftism with its utopian visions is very alluring to that mindset. Unfortunately, some adults never abandon this ideology- never learn the wisdom of mature American values. Adult Leftist leaders then use their Leftism in policy. Everything it touches from economics to government to social issues to art is degraded or destroyed. I think Jake as a young Leftist was brave to understand the university is basically a childlike world where adults are not welcome. Many of your professors are bullies. They know the young 18 year old who wants to understand traditional American values will generally not stand up to his mockery and denigration of them. Conservative adults like me would not be the least afraid to combat their silly destructive ideology. Thats why you never get the children of the New York Times oped page or people like the Leftist Paul Krugman to debate on talk radio. Thats why your childlike professors and administrators never invite the Dennis Pragers or Mark Levins or David Horowitz or Hugh Hewitt or Bill Bennett's onto your campuses. Check out Prager University on the web. Their 5 minute courses for free are much more worthy to your life than the $200,000 Leftist indoctrination you get at Columbia. I may be wrong, but I doubt it. I used to be a Leftist. Ive lived and experienced a lot. take care: Good luck to you. Im sorry your parents are spending so much on Columbia...Howard Sachs MD Washington DC

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