There’s not a whole lot that can better describe my last year in New York City than the following particular 24-hour stretch.
On Sunday, October 9, 2016, I ended up at a private Alicia Keys concert in Times Square with a handful – a several thousand person handful – of my closest friends.
Every screen was lit up Alicia – she had bought out the entire place to film a concert special for BET, promoting her new album.
To close out her set – which had included Q-Tip, Questlove, John Mayer and Nas, among others – on comes Jay-Z and they, in Times Square, every screen lit up with them switching out with classic, black and white photos of the New York City skyline, performed Empire State of Mind.
Performing Empire State of Mind.
In Times Square.
You don’t get much more New York City than that moment.
As the concert ended the crowd that was closest to the stage started dispersing, making our way through the gates and the 30-foot high barriers that had blocked us from the rest of Times Square. People stretched back for blocks – thousands upon thousands of people had shown up just to get a glimpse of what was happening in our little private area.
Times Square on a normal day is unpleasantly crowded. Times Square on a day when tens of thousands of people had packed themselves into tiny spaces for several hours for a concert they couldn’t really see? Not a place you want to be.
Long story short, walking away from the crowd, everyone agitated, I got kicked in the back.
I had been crossing the street with those several thousand closest friends I mentioned when NYPD started closing in behind us, herding us with yellow DO-NOT-CROSS tape. Their attempts at clearing the streets were pushing hundreds of people onto a sidewalk that didn’t have the space to hold us; right in front of me happened to be the guy whose anxiety couldn’t handle it. He was tall and thin with his raised elbows – trying to push people off of him – right at my eye level.
In an attempt to not get elbowed in the face, I put my hand lightly on his shoulder – just a gentle reminder that there was a person behind him who didn’t feel like getting a black eye. He spun around and started screaming –
DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME. WHY THE FUCK IS EVERYONE FUCKING TOUCHING ME?!
Sorry, just trying to get by. We’re good. It’s cool. (trying to keep the coddling out of my voice but very much trying to keep the soothing – please don’t punch me – in.)
DON’T FUCKING TELL ME A GODDAMN THING. WE’RE COOL?! WE’RE FUCKING COOL? WE ARE NOT THE FUCK COOL.
At this point I’ve positioned myself safely out of punching range. I’m walking away, four or five feet from this new friend of mine, his actual friend trying to pull him down the sidewalk away from me as people cleared out of the space between us.
My friends and I were just about to clear the corner when I feel something slam into my lower left back. Bumped forward several feet, I regained my footing and turned around to see angry-dude’s friend with a completely surprised look on his face, realizing that by letting angry-dude go he had unleashed angry-dude on me.
His friend leapt out to grab him again as I – stunned – just kept walking, fuming, fists clenched and shaking. I realized that I had never been hit before. Somehow, over the course of my now-clearly passive life, I had always managed to avoid physical conflict.
My friends kept looking at me, unsure which way my reaction was going to go. I’m not big on crying. I don’t often lose my temper. But I had also just gotten kicked by a stranger, by a man, by someone significantly physically larger than I was, by someone who invaded my space without any kind of code, from behind. It was a cowardly move.
The next day – already planned for weeks – I met with my gay, Jewish shaman in Chelsea.
Because of course I did.
I had been having trouble with other people’s energy since I moved to the city. Every time I walked onto a crowded train I would get waves of other people’s emotions – anxiety, agitation, sometimes deep sadness. It was overwhelming and I couldn’t seem to barrier myself off from it, to the point that it had been making me sick.
So, leaning on my Native American roots to which I have no real tie other than knowing they exist, I decided to seek out a shaman. This was an energetic, spiritual thing and I wasn’t sure who else could help.
I worked with Jonathan for two and a half hours on a Monday afternoon, exploring energetic barriers and figuring out how to best set up some sort of wall between myself and my eight and a half million angst-ridden neighbors. It helped. It became the start of my being able to exist in New York City without self-destructing.
Today, I revel in my alone time more than I ever thought I would, but I also enjoy the company of others on a higher level.
This is the kind of city where you see so much of people – so much of their genuine selves because there isn’t space to hide – and when people aren’t thoroughly irritating you, you can look at them with compassion and remember we’re all trying to do this human thing the best we can.