East Versus West: Comfort, Social Class, & Central Park

Central Park… a sanctuary in which I am comfortable so long as I do not directly participate.

I entered on 72nd and Central Park West and to be honest, this whole part of town makes me a little uneasy. The elitism isn’t like on the Upper East Side, of course- I once likened the main difference between the areas as Money With Culture (West) and Money Without Culture (East). The attitudes towards people of a “different ilk” if you will make clear this distinction.

I apologize in advance for generalizing, but note that this is based on personal experience and not stereotypes. The ignorance of the Upper East Side allows for no tolerance of diversity. I don’t know how they’d respond to people of color, but with their response toward me I can only imagine.

I don’t even appear that much different than them, on the outside. I am white, I carry myself generally with the middle-class air that my mom was raised with, I have good hygiene and am usually well-dressed (though that’s a relative term). Basically, I think I blend into middle-class culture, in appearances.

But they must see in me that I am not One Of Them, somehow. Maybe they can tell that my clothes are second-hand (at best), and that their classy appearance is solely because of my keen natural fashion sense (read: sarcastic). Perhaps with my red hair they think I am Irish or worse, ethnically impure (the horrors!). And when I speak, they may catch the Rhode Island inflection that comes out occasionally, which to many outsiders sounds uneducated.

And maybe- god forbid- they see my single tattoo and single piercing, which, small and tasteful and coverable as they may be and as widely accepted by the “mainstream” people I know, must clearly signal my participation in the counterculture. (And most of them are probably unaware that today’s counterculture is bourgeois Gen-X’ers.)

Whatever it is they see, what they think is quite clear. Whether in how they scowl at me or those that have actually said something, the hostility is obvious. Oh sure, most of the time I am oblivious to other people in New York, but as soon as I catch it in one person, I am made immediately uncomfortable and find myself aware of everything, waiting for it to happen again. Am I trying to figure out what drives them to view me in this way, what about me specifically repulses them so much? Or am I trying to catch someone in the act in order to defend myself with a witty line?

The Upper West Side, however, is much more open to “my type” (whatever that is). The discomfort I feel here is based on my lifelong insecurity around people with money, as well as the idea that I will probably never be that financially stable (“Fine, rub it in”).

But I have never gotten berated from people up here. They either see me as One Of Them (a “Them” which seems to encompass a more diverse range of types) or they see me as an outsider, but are more accepting of that- of me just being as well as of me being in their part of town.

So, basically, if I had to choose between these two neighborhoods and only these two neighborhoods, I’d choose the Upper West Side in a heartbeat (or, perhaps, in the time it takes me to get a facial piercing and dye my hair blue, because I’m just so punk rock and all).

But I digress. Because of course the real choice would be neither. But if I can find my own spot, settle in, and just watch, this part of Central Park is quite nice. It’s Sheep Meadow, a 15-acre park with an amazing skyline. Most of the people around me have left, but I can still hear the rowdy yells of playing children a ways off. It is getting chillier, more cloudy, but that makes the people in their many-colored clothes that much more shiny.

I admire the view and the sounds whilst wondering if I could ever be comfortable in any social or cultural context. And I wonder if it is just because of my awkward hybrid socioeconomic class status.

But then I wonder: if I was comfortable, could I think and discover like I do? Wasn’t it Troy Chapman who said that comfort was nothing but a poor substitute for peace?

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