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There’s an odd fascination with squirrels here. A couple of some foreign origin points out the common rodents as if they’re some majestic creature. They stop and whip out their cameras, taking pictures from all angles and distances.
They probably have squirrels in their own country, but, ah, of course, these are New York Squirrels, running around on New York Grass, scampering up New York Trees, nibbling on New York Nuts. Everything here seems to take on an air of importance (not intentionally, at least not for the most part), simply for being in or belonging to New York.
Jared and I walk past some sort of body of water with an amphitheater in Central Park. I ask him what it is, and he, with his New York-native wisdom, tells me it’s some sort of lake (some proud passerby tells us it’s a turtle pond). I then ask Jared if he could see himself living anywhere else. He rattles off a few NBA cities — Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami — his voice empty of enthusiasm. “I could,” he says. “But I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
New York is not New York during the day. It’s any other cosmopolitan city. Look! A high-fashion clothing boutique! Over there! A new restaurant — no, excuse me, culinary experience. It’s still busy, the sidewalks still packed with every type of person from every corner of the country, but the city rumbles with anxious anticipation during daylight. The night reveals its true form, allows it its full power. For now, it must bide its time, camouflaged, albeit poorly.
I go for a run in Central Park. On my way to the park, I notice a part of 86th street is sectioned off. Camera crews carry equipment out of their vans, setting up lights and cables and other essential contraptions.
I’ve been told New Yorkers are immune to such trappings, that to act anything other than indifferent towards movie sets and stars is Just Not Done. Yet when I run up the sidewalk, I have to navigate my way around a crowd of onlookers craning their necks to glimpse whichever actor or actress is filming today.
I keep running, partially because I’m in running shorts and a t-shirt and it’s a little cold to just be standing around in said attire, but also because I don’t want to stand out. I’m perfectly comfortable blending in, just enough to where I don’t look to be a tourist. Stopping, even for a second, ruins my disguise.
I make it a point to run in a park of almost any city I visit. Parks are an oasis — a serene, mental escape from the city just beyond its borders. New cities, or cities long unvisited, tend to not make sense to me at first. Parks partially alleviate that confusion — they make sense.
Central Park does not make sense. Paths sprout in any which direction, gravel leading to dirt leading to asphalt leading to nowhere then somewhere then back to nowhere then an ice skating rink because why not and oh hey look it’s that fountain I ran by earlier no wait that’s a different fountain then back to gravel. The road that dissects the park is almost always visible, the city’s tangible reminder that it allows the park to exist.
I realize Central Park can’t be a mental escape because the only way to escape this city mentally is to do so physically. From the street vendors in the middle of the running paths to the skyscrapers surrounding the park, caging it in, there is always something to remind me that oh hey Tyshawn Taylor just ran past me I am in New York, and no matter how far, how long I run, how much I try to clear my head, the visible reality of the city guards against any possible escape.
A few hours later, we make our trek to Madison Square Garden. Jared and I meet up with a few other Knicks bloggers, all of whom bemoan the current state of the team. If misery loves company, it would fall head over heels for Knicks fans and drive them to the nearest instant wedding chapel.
We say our goodbyes and walk back to the Garden. Once inside, Jared gives me a brief tour. We say hello to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, then make our way up to the other media section to chat with perennial front-runner for nicest-guy-in-the-world Charlie Widdoes. Finally, after saying goodbye to Charlie, we find our seats.
There’s a rumble inside the arena, not produced through any mechanism of the crowd.
The beast is hungry. It wants your money, it wants your cheers. It craves your devotion. The beast packs every possible seat into its massive mouth. It builds a bridge just so it can fit more inside.
Do not think for a second the beast cares if you can see, if your team loses, if your front office is inept, if Ryan Anderson slips screen after screen after screen on his way to a 31-point decimation of your defense. These are of no consequence to the beast. Sorrow and joy mean little to the beast — your mere presence is what fills it, what states its hunger for just a while longer.
We take our seats, and I wait for the beast to release its obsession-inducing, mystifying pheromones upon me. It never comes. Don’t get me wrong, the Garden is certainly a spectacle, and ode to opulence and celebrity, but the on-court product isn’t any different. The game begins with a jump ball, just as it would in Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Boston, or wherever else. I expected…I don’t know, something. Magic, maybe; the grace and athleticism of the players augmented by the arena’s bright lights. Instead, it’s just another game. A good one, to be sure, but nothing approaching the realm of otherworldly.
Andrea Bargnani blocks Anthony Davis. In New York City, anything is possible.
Davis later fractures a bone in his hand, and doesn’t return. The full majesty of the unibrow remains unrevealed to me, for now.
There are three kids sitting in front of us, hollering, screaming and shouting throughout the game. They yell for obscure players like Josh Childress and for some reason refer to Raymond Felton as “Tito.” They act like…well, like kids. Jared and I are both incredibly annoyed, but I’m also a little envious. It’s been quite some time since I’ve been that carefree. Mental maturity came quickly to me — early, even. Many facets of teenagerdom were lost on me.
Enjoy it, I want to tell them.
They probably wouldn’t listen. I never did.
The game ebbs and flows. It stays close for a while, neither team able to separate from the opponent. The Knicks finally seem to hit their stride in the fourth, after three straight three pointers gives them a six point lead. Tim Hardaway, Jr. hits the last of these threes, and when he does, Jared assaults me, shouting TIMMAAAAAYY at me. I know he doesn’t like Hardaway, he knows I know, yet in this instance, the fan gives the analyst reprieve and allows him to enjoy something good.
“Rooting for this team is exhausting,” Jared says.
The good does not last, as the Knicks lose, incapable of defending Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans.
We leave the arena. Jared needs a drink, if not several. His anger, depression and frustration are palpable; a physical tension surrounding him and repelling others as we walk. There’s nothing I can say to make him feel better because, how in the world do you make someone feel better about this? If Jared, Robert Silverman, Netw3rk, Jim Cavan, Galea, and the host of other Knicks bloggers have taught me anything about being a Knicks fan in this day and age, it’s that hope is in short supply, because there’s yet to be a reason for having it. It’s hard to tell what’s worse with this team: their present, or their future. The solution to many of the problems are readily apparent, but those solutions would require patience, and the beast cannot stomach patience.
I still haven’t discovered why or how people fall in love with the city. Then again, maybe that’s precisely it. Finding implies the end of a journey, a quest completed, and in a city like New York City — unending, unstopping, ever-changing — finality is foreign. So maybe it’s not what someone finds that either draws them here either repeatedly or permanently, but rather the search itself becomes so consuming that being anywhere else other than New York impedes it.
Maybe that’s why I’ve never felt drawn to the city — I’ve never come here in search of anything, save for this abstract ideal.
“What are you looking for?” Jared asks as I stop a few feet behind him, my head turning every which way.
“I’m not looking for anything,” I say.