How uniting in mutual annoyance made me feel like a true New Yorker.
By Rachel James (Treasurer/Writer)
The Harlem Shake. Sweet baby Jesus in heaven, will this meme just go away?
When I first saw these videos, I was confused. Wasn't the Harlem Shake popular back in 2000? And none of these people are actually doing the dance. They're just flailing about like a pack of muppets.
I was feeling alone in my frustrations, when I finally saw some friends on Facebook and Twitter reminiscing about growing up in New York at the turn of the century. And they were just as confused as me. What is this and why is this happening?
And then I saw this video:
And I remembered... oh yeah, I’m a New Yorker.
I was born in Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side. I was then brought home to my parents’ one bedroom apartment on West 55th Street in Hell’s Kitchen. I slept in a crib underneath their loft bed until I was old enough for a bed of my own. My father and uncle built one for me in the living room and painted it to look like an MTA bus. My pre-school was called Polly Dodge. It was also on West 55th Street, and my parents found it in the Yellow Pages. I went to the local public school, P.S. 111, on West 52nd Street and 10th Avenue. I took dance class on Saturdays at Broadway Dance Center, then situated in a now demolished building on West 55th Street and Broadway. In second grade, my parents transferred me to The Cathedral School. Situated with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, it was “An independent school for children of all faiths”. With this change of schools came the move to the Upper West Side. A doormanned building on West 89th Street where I had my own bedroom for the very first time. At age eleven, we moved apartments again. This time, closer to Cathedral, on West 110th Street. I spent my formative years singing in the Cathedral Choir and playing basketball in the Crypt Gym (guess where it was located). For high school, I went to The Beacon School, an alternative public high school on the Upper West Side. Across the projects from LaGuardia (“The Fame School”), as I would tell people years later. With my graduation from high school and decision to attend Emerson College in Boston came my first foray off the island of Manhattan.
I list all of this solely to prove one statement: I am a New Yorker. I constantly find people amazed when I utter this statement. “Where’s your accent?” “I didn’t think anyone was from there.” “Wow... what was that like?”
“Where’s your accent?”
Um... this is it. This is how I speak. Maybe it’s because my parents’ didn’t grow up in New York. Maybe it’s because my theatrical training has beat it out of me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the cultural center of the world surrounded by numerous different accents and mine just came into its own. Sometimes I mix things up when I wait “on line” instead of “in line”. Or talk about my “aunt” (short “A”) instead of my “aunt” (long A). Either way, I occasionally feel this pressure to prove my New Yorker-ness through my speech. Which usually leads to some “caw-fee tawlk” after a couple of whiskies. Even though I never really spoke like that. And neither did most of the people I grew up with.
“I didn’t think anyone was from there.”
You ride the subway. There are children on there all the time. They are from New York. They are New Yorkers. They were me. Leave your musings of annoyance/bewilderment/disgust in the comments below.
“Wow... what was that like?”
What was it like to grow up where you grew up? I know growing up in suburbia wasn’t a John Hughes film and growing up in a rural environment wasn’t Footloose. I didn’t grow up in Gossip Girl. I didn’t grow up in Kids. The way I grew up is the way I grew up. I have nothing to compare it to because I don’t know any differently. There are obvious differences, like the whole lack of driving and the greater independence. Technically, I had all of New York City at my finger tips. But that didn’t mean I took the subway to new and foreign places anytime I could. When you got a car, did you drive it the furthest place you could before you ran our of gas? If you did, well done! But I bet you just drove it to your best friend’s house. Or to school. Or to whatever after school activity was most important to you at the time, whether it was drama club, or a team sport, or smoking in an empty parking lot.
I find I spend a lot of time proving my New Yorker credentials to people. Well... here they are. It's not about how long you've lived here or having a favorite pizza place or favorite bagel place. It’s not just about the experience, but having a collective memory and pride with my fellow New Yorkers.
And in case you were wondering, this is how you do the Harlem Shake.
is a native New Yorker and theatre baby. Her plays have been produced by The 52nd Street Project and Starfish Theatreworks. She currently makes a living as a Broadway treasurer.
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