Broke in New York: If You Can Make It There…It’s an Art
“I want to wake up, in a city that never sleeps
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap”
John Kander, Fred Ebb, 1977
Being broke in New York means being rough, tough, and knowing how to pull the meanest train face, the most confident, “let me into the museum for two dollars” face, the kill’em with kindness face, the “get out my way, tourist” face, and of course—as Lady Gaga knows too well—New Yorkers pull the very best poker face. Being broke in the Mecca of capitalism means ridding the HRA and food bank lines, in all possible ways. Three days of free meals here, coat drives there…thrift shops, bodegas without veggies but lotto tickets galore. Surviving the city that doesn’t sleep is steep for those who are unimaginative and weak.
Now throw in to the mix the fact that this city is called The Melting Pot where many immigrants seek stability and a fair way of life. If surviving on your minimum wage, plus food stamps and a few music gigs on the weekends is hard, imagine surviving on half of that. New York City, in my eyes, is not really a melting pot but it’s layer over layer over layer of dreamers. It has the overlords, the underdogs, and then the under-under dogs, those that you sometimes see coming from under the train tunnels pushing a cart full of cans. New York is real, like any other city making its mark in the market; you have to gamble your luck, test your patience, gather your wit, ensemble your gig, and probably, also, light a candle.
The only way to survive this mighty concrete jungle is by counting jugglers, getting Jiggetts, break dancing, bike riding and jamming. At least those same layers upon layers of cultural richness provide so many options to digest the frantic lines, long commutes, traffic and bills. For me being broke in New York is both a blessing and a curse; making it here on a daily basis is an art. I feel that all poor New Yorkers are artists; artists inspired by the busyness of city buildings, the brilliant musicians playing in a Central Park covered in snow, the freshness of sporadic and free art shows, as well as the truly distinctive pride parades. The five boroughs of this city compose a magical enchantment of sporadic nourishment that serves as fuel to make it there—or anywhere—again, tomorrow.