28 Days Later

People are really angry in New York. A woman curses out the wifi at Starbucks, accusing it of blocking her from accessing Gmail (it’s not). She complains to the employee, and then leaves in a huff. A man curses out the cashier at a Mexican place, claiming a false charge on the receipt (there’s none). He loudly mentions he put two dollars in the tip jar earlier, an aside but not really – and then leaves, in a huff, before he hears the offer to return the money. People in general are loud, abrasive, aggressive, angry. They show attitude, talk on the subway, strut without giving an inch. Welcome to New York.

The last time I returned to the United States, it was easy. That’s because I went home, to Los Angeles. Yes, as I chronicled, I began feeling like I was interrupting lives in progress, a burden even among my closest friends and family. Still, the process of it went smoothly, naturally. Not so much this time. Maybe it was because I had spent six more months in Japan since, felt even more settled than I had previous. Because this was essentially a work trip. Because this was for a full month, and to New York to boot. Whatever the reason, this visit was different, and it became immediately obvious.

“Why are the cars going in the wrong direction?”

This is my first thought getting off the train in Manhattan. I can barely make sense of it all. I keep looking at my watch when the trains run late, which is often. I hesitate at intersections – it takes days before I start jaywalking like everyone else. I stand in awe as I glance down supermarket aisles, searching futilely for a size of canned tomatoes not meant for a family of four. I find a lot of things abhorrent – the uncleanliness of the Starbucks, the Bolt Bus seatmate who stretches his legs about 70% into my space, the polarization of rich and poor (…not necessarily in order of importance).

America is awesome, of course. I eat at the halal cart. I eat hot dogs from a street stand. I eat Doritos and Tex-Mex and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and dim sum and banh mi. I enjoy other things besides food too. I walk around gentrified Brooklyn, bike through Manhattan from about 40th on, and not worry about throwing out trash or whether I have enough cash or if I’ll be able to communicate or anything . And the diversity. God that’s the best. Ton of attractive women too. Still though, things don’t come as easily as they did in Los Angeles. It hits me after about 10 days: I want to go home.

It’s everything, I think. People rushing by like they’re fucking bigshots or something. People having loud conversations – some crude – in public spaces, with no sense of irony or self-awareness. People homeless everywhere, and it sucks in every conceivable way: that people don’t or can’t do anything, that I can’t do anything but feel sorry and grossed out and guilty and ashamed. People honking every second at every turn. New York is amazing. But it’s overwhelming. And it’s not enjoyable when I’m crashing on a floor of an apartment that isn’t mine in a sleeping bag. When I’m not invested.

In Los Angeles, people are chill, relaxed. I’m where I grew up. I’m in a car driving, enjoying my space, spending time with friends and family. And I’m as comfortable as I could possibly be, for a short visit. In Tokyo, people are kind, respectful, orderly. Even if it’s a complete facade, it’s a pretty fucking good one. Besides, I can’t pick up stray conversations, don’t understand any of the surrounding hubbub: it’s a natural filtering mechanism. More than that, Tokyo is home. I’m in my bed, my apartment, my neighborhood, after all.

Six months ago, I visited Los Angeles, and slowly came to the recognition that I belonged in Tokyo, at least for the moment. I still don’t know how long that impulse is going to last. But visiting New York this time around: there was no doubt about it. Yes, I saw friends, family, and had a good time. But I was ready to leave long before the month was up.


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