From the manipulative and misleading billboard advertisements, to the loud Italian shopkeepers yelling across the street, to the honking serenade of the taxi cabs echoing down the smoggy street, New York City has remained a unique, yet relatable home base that I have resided in for my short 14 year-old life. Truly one of a kind. I can still foggily recall my first memory of the city. My aunt had her cold fingers grasping the back of my neck, as we strolled out of Monticello's Bakery and Pastries, with bags of highly-caloric and greasy baked goods dangling from our hands. Gazing around with my little blue eyes, I was in a state of utter bewilderment. Confusion, if you will, which mainly circled around the frantic state everyone portrayed on their red faces.
Whatever these stressed out business men and women were desperately scurrying off to, it was probably not as important as they made it look. Then, scattered about the street, we came across a couple homeless folk. Now they-- they were in a state of peace. Unaffected by the enslaving messages that were spewed out by massive businesses, that included "BUY BUY BUY!!!" or my personal favorite, "HURRY, LIMITED TIME OFFER!!" I constantly wonder to this day what it is like to be sheltered from the ridiculousness that the New York City ultimatum had decided how they wanted to be represented and depicted. It almost seemed inhumane. Ninety-nine percent of all New Yorkians probably don't even realize the monstrosity they are supporting.
I would reason with my Sicilian aunt and uncle about these issues and describe the audacity these companies had to promote these ridiculous adverts and messages that stressed people out into believing that their problems would be solved by buying and racing around 24/7. Their being European immigrants, usually got them fired up and they would preach about how it was a blessing to be in this country and that I am "watching too much T.V. and hearing too much rubbish."
I was off from school on Thursday, thanks to Memorial Day. My aunt and uncle were having the usual 5:47 quarrel, so I needed some fresh, err, air. I needed some air. Shuffling down the sidewalk after rush hour was a weird feeling. An extreme deficit of people out and about made the usual hustling and bustling city feel deserted and unfamiliar. Having this much free-roaming time was fantastic, albeit rare. I was usually flooded, as most teens are, with countless hours of enrichment practice. Strolling down the gum-blanketed sidewalk, I usually slid my eyes across the faces of the glass buildings, to see the sun's rays jump across each office window. A sudden disruption of my strong gaze at the sky came from a gravelly voice down a thin alleyway.
"Hey, kid." The alleyway was filled to the brim with garbage, old napkins, and Starbucks cups that looked like they had been carelessly tossed from the stereotypical snooty New Yorker who was too lazy to go to the garbage can 10 feet away, instead. It took me a while to realize that underneath the largest pile of trash, there was an old, gray man with tattered clothing and dirty trash falling off his body as he sat up.
"Hey, uh, I actually have to be somewhere now, it is kinda urgent," I stuttered hesitantly.
Before I could stumble off, he mumbled, "Heh, just like all New Yorkers, right? Always have to be somewhere at any given time."
I turned around, looked at him, then looked down, laughed, and mumbled, "Heh, yeah."
An awkward silence allowed the background chorus of a plastic cookie box to scrape across the concrete and spread an unexpectedly chilling echo to bounce off the brick walls of the alleyway. We both looked down at it, expecting to see the invisible sound waves, I guess.
To break the unbearable silence, I stammered, "I know what you mean. I try to tell my aunt and uncle that, but, um, heh, they never listen."
The man seemed to reminisce for a moment, possibly about some old memory that I invoked upon him from my unusual insight. Continuing his soulful gaze at the puddle on the ground he began to speak again.
"Ya know, I grew up when this city was still in its early years of advertisements. People were in a much better mental state, persuaded to make decisions because they wanted to, not because they were commanded to.
"Kid," he turned his head slightly, making eye contact with me now. "This city was a good place. Is a good place. It is a land of opportunity and promise. I really wish you could have seen that time."
I now understood his reminiscent and forlorn facial expressions. For a moment, we both looked at the puddle and slightly nodded in approval.
"Good to know there is someone who understands me, for once," I said with a laugh.
He looked at me, then back to the puddle. At that moment, I walked off, not out of rudeness, just seemed like the right time to. For a while, as I walked down the remote sidewalk, I considered what the man had told me. I stared at the fine architecture, which was perfectly measured, every inch. When these buildings were built, these people had a precise and grand dream of their city, with no lack of creativity and stupid billboards telling them how to live their life. My sadness was temporarily halted, seeing a beautiful mural painted on an old, worn down brick apartment building, which depicted the building of the immense city.
Rushing past my aunt and uncle, I saw that they were still having a spat, and before they could see me, I closed my door behind me. I sank down against my door, in the darkness, the only source of light being the soft glow from far away office buildings and the occasional car sending it's bright beams up to knock on my window. For a long 5 minutes, I stared at the endless twilight city, my thoughts surrounding the city and what it would be like to grow up in the old mans' time. It did no good for my mood. I would just have to make the most of the time I had been placed in.
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Hi Philip, For someone who is 14 I think you already have quite a strong vocabulary - you must read quite a lot! I thought that your short story portrait of a young character feeling overwhelmed by consumer capitalism was very relevant. I would say that consumer capitalism, particularly in the USA, can feel quite imposing. I liked how the main character marvelled at the possibility of an older New York city in which there were simply less advertisements! In your next short story maybe you could think about trying to introduce some more...
Thank you so much! I do read a lot! I really appreciate the advice! I, too, agree that description can really help the reader. I will use your tip for the next essay!