As originally published on MYSA.
Growing up in suburban Connecticut, nature constantly embraced me, whether that be with beautifully landscaped neighborhood lawns, winding trails to meander in my town’s park, or a microadventure getaway up North with my family. Now as a young professional, I find myself confined to cityscapes. Without surrounding natural beauty, I have to find a new way to define “beauty.” For a city, this is often by its character, or more specifically its characters.
When you’re new to a city everything feels fresh and exciting. Every corner brings something new – a woman in a sleek black trench and big sunglasses, a poodle in a particularly sassy sweater, or both. Gradually, as you become used to your neighborhood, these little quirks create the foundation of the feeling of being “home”.
Dog-sitting for my friend in Stuyvesant, New York, I walked out on a cold fall day, my exhalation white hot in the brisk autumn air. Leaves concealed beautifully manicured lawns beneath and squirrels busied themselves burying nuts for winter ahead. Butters, my friend’s petite beagle-dalmation mix, trotted along in his red booties and plaid coat, assuming a tense hunting pose each time he spotted a squirrel. We had a meeting at Thompson park with my friend, Townsend*, who I hadn’t seen in months – a catch-up long overdue.
Entering the park, Butters hesitated, stalling as I bent down to undo his leash. Looking at the Irish wolfhound and back at me, he gave me a “Is that really a dog?” look. In my hometown, the majority of dogs are labradors. New Yorkers seem to select a wide array of breeds, seeing their canine companion as an extension of their personality. It’s fun to play “match the dog with its owner,” guessing who might own the American bull dog versus the miniature greyhound.
“Go on,” I said, but he had no choice as the other dogs were already rushing to greet him.
Townsend arrived shortly after in a fawn green jacket with large brass snaps and sheepskin-lined gloves. “Long time no see,” he said, handing me a cup of coffee from Everyman Espresso. Settling in perched atop a park bench, we watched the dogs playing. Butters played with three blonde retrievers. The tall girls towered over him; he stared up, mesmerized.
“So how’s work?” I asked. He worked as a recruiter for one of the largest internet companies.
“Eh,” he said, looking away for a moment, “I’ve been living in New York for a few years now, and I don’t have the same feeling for it anymore. Maybe it’s time for me to find a new city.”
“We enter different phases, we look for different things,” I agreed, sipping on my coffee to stay warm.
“There’s just the smells, the pushing on the subway. People can be cold,” he lamented, a long trail of icy sigh following his statement.
“That’s true, but you do have the subway performers doing crazy poll dancing moves at Bedford Ave,” I added, trying to cheer him up.
“But you also get the beggars who fake a limp,” he said.
We chatted for an hour or so, letting Butters make friends. A large male husky had replaced the golden retrievers, jumping at Butters with a loud, aggressive bark. Butters circled over to me sheepishly.
“You ready, bud?” I asked. He tilted his head before hanging it, looking back at the husky. “Let’s go,” I said, hopping off the bench.
Walking Townsend back to the L Train, we continued our conversation, “Maybe you’re looking for something a little more low-key,” I offered. “New York can be very in-your-face, which is fun sometimes, overwhelming at others.”
Butters hung back on his leash. Glancing back, I noticed an embarrassed look on his face as he dragged his butt along the pavement.
“He’s got a dingleberry,” Townsend pointed and laughed.
“Oh no,” I said, grabbing for a plastic bag from my pocket. “What do I do?!”
As I fumbled with the plastic bag and Butters’ unfortunate little butt, I noticed the nasty smell of someone in serious need of a shower. Looking up, a man walking by flashed me a wide, mostly toothless grin.
“You know what they say,” he belted, pointing to the dingleberry. “Those things are good luck!” Without a break in his stride, the stranger continued on his way.
I tightened my lips, holding in a burst of laughter until he was out of earshot, cleaning up poor Butters. Townsend’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “Only in New York would a stranger say a dingleberry is good luck!”
“I mean, really!” Townsend shoved his hands in his pockets. Keeping my lips clamped, I pulled on Butters’ leash as he excitedly sniffed the pungent place by which the man had passed.
“Don’t smell that,” Townsend shooed Butters. Butters moved on, tail wagging, having found a cigarette butt on which to chew. I patted his rump. “There, there,” I smiled.
Who knows who really benefitted from the lucky dingleberry, but the following week, Townsend quit his job. He was unsure where he was going but he knew it was time. With Butters’ owner returning, I explained what fun Butters and I had and that he had a new girlfriend at the dog park. Taking the time twice a day for outings with Butters through the city had solidified my love for New York.
You can’t always identify or articulate what makes a place home, but you know it in your bones when it is and when it isn’t. In the end, whether it’s natural beauty, urban quirks, your favorite coffee shop, or a homeless man who dispenses good fortune, your experience of a place has to feel like home. Otherwise it’s time to keep searching.
*Names have been changed.
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