There’s that warm thickness that can only be felt in New York City in the early summer. It’s perceptible when the temperature hasn’t reached its peak, so the air still has the cold-weather hint of clarity that is completely obliterated by the middle of August. In its place, by then, is a hotter, heavier atmosphere stuffed full of the familiar smells of unclean human, roasting nuts, popcorn, rotting vegetables, cigarettes, perfume and something metallic and unidentifiable that only the subway system can emit. It’s gloriously vile and there’s nothing like it in the world.
But there are those few late June days where it is blanket-like and warm on the city streets, and the odors are not wholly obnoxious because they smell like home; you can feel it and sense it and it runs through your being as soon as you emerge from the mouth of Penn Station.
I moved away from the city three and a half years ago, and that smell and that sensation remain remarkably unchanged despite skyscrapers and prices going up and up. Much to my delight, the years and the greed and the capitalism and the cynicism have not changed the familiar: I almost forget to breathe in wonder as the city and its energy bathed me in its comforting feeling of acceptance, diversity and the possibility that fortune itself waits around the next corner, or there is perhaps heartbreak there instead, or the most curious store, person, expression you have remembered to never forget will tell you the most bizarre yet strikingly wonderful thing you’d never expect to hear. Time is truly non-linear in New York, and I can still effortlessly leap into its stream, not knowing what decade, day or clock-measured hour it is.
I was standing there, and then I was running up the streets, and then I was diving and ducking, serpentine, through the other people that don’t actually live in New York either, but I knew the city’s secrets because it used to be my home and it has a corner of my heart. And then I dropped my bags and continued to explore and smell the halal cards full of rich, spicy food, and more cigarettes and the rancid smell of many people’s leftover meals and uneaten vegetables, and it was all the same, but I was not, nor would I ever be again.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”