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So what is a newyorksubalien...

I’m a New York subalien. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly legal – it’s just my loving other half, official alien that he is, comes with a so-called “supermodel” visa that apparently denotes him as one possessing extraordinary abilities (falling asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down in front of the TV, remembering only 2 of the 3 items on a mental shopping list and not knowing where the dishwasher tablets live after 2 years in our apartment are just some of his many talents).

The same visa leaves me extraordinarily unable to possess that most American of entities - a “social” i.e. a Social Security Number. Calling it a “social” makes it sound like the password to some party-filled, fun-packed lifestyle. That’s not far wrong as without these all-important 9 numbers, you pretty much can’t have a lifestyle at all - no bank account, no credit card, not even a driver’s license.

So what does a subalien do? Well, like over sub life forms waiting for evolution to give them a leg up on the ladder of existence, I have plenty of time to observe and these, dear reader, are my observations…..

Friday, November 11, 2011

Finding your pigeon hole in the Big Apple city grid

East, west, up, down – nothing says more about you to the local aliens on this planet than the geographical position of your chosen nesting place on this wee island which is just short of 24 square miles.

This of course is not unusual for me coming from another wee island where everything – and everyone - is divided into North and South.  But here, as with everything else, there are more options, variations and differentiations.

The first big decision you have to make is whether you are an Uptown or a Downtown kind of girl. It is probably fair to say that announcing that you live Downtown gives you a hipper, trendier image - although if you are blessed with Nor'n Iron intonations, that hipper, trendier image vanishes immediately you utter something which ostensibly sounds like "Dine-Tine".

Uptown invariably suggests that you are upper-everything – unless, that is, you are upper Uptown as in Harlem.  Just to confuse new aliens even further, there is also Midtown. I’m still undecided about the implications of that one – or perhaps that it is exactly it. If you are a Midtowner, you’re undecided, you’re looking to keep all options open and have a foot in both demographic and geographic camps, so to speak.  Either that or you’re someone who loves having the taxi-blasting, siren-wailing soundtrack that is Big Apple on at full volume 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Once you’ve established your longitudinal preference, then it starts getting really interesting. Downtown, for example, specializes in hip, trendy (of course) acronyms. SoHo (not to be confused with its London counterpart Soho ) stands for South of Houston Street. Although here Houston is pronounced “How-ston” as opposed to “Hugh-ston” so if you’re really being pedantic, that little enclave of all that is cool should be pronounced “So-How”  (as in “So how pretentious can you get” maybe??)

There’s also NoHo – you got it, North of Houston, home apparently to some of the most desirable lofts in the city. So doubly appropriate as whoever lives there certainly has the “know how”.

Then there’s the well-known Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal Street) and the not so well-known Alphabet City. This is the clump of land that sticks out well east of First Avenue so instead of starting off a Negative First Avenue, Negative Second Avenue series, the city’s planners (rather sensibly I think) decided to go with Avenues A, B, C and D.

Now for the Uptowners – of which I am one, I hasten to admit. As I said before, we are deemed “upper” everything including uber-boring, uber-staid and guilty of upping our unit size to an average of 4 aliens as opposed to the trendy two-somes down below.

Here the division is simple – East or West with that great common denominator Central Park acting as the perfect no man’s land. Emotions run high as to which is better – when we were debating our allegiances, an Eastsider’s bewilderment that we would not immediately choose the side that had the best hospitals in the city only served to send me in the other direction – literally. In the end, for us, it came down to a gut decision – to me, Upper West Side feels more like the set from Friends, Upper East Side is more Gossip Girl.

After three years of living here, I've decided to give Uptown my own acronym – BOGOF (before you get offended, as in Buy One, Get One Free). This special deal would appear to have been running for quite some time for the many commercial establishments in the area. Because for all of the occasions one side lords it over the other about having X restaurant or Y shop,  if you look carefully enough, there’s undoubtedly a sister venture quietly doing business in enemy territory. Going from one side to the other feels like entering a parallel universe each time my taxi whizzes past yet another UWS favourite’s alter ego. Don’t tell anyone, but secretly I think UWS and UES are essentially the same place – which kind of confirms the Downtowner’s view of us as uber-boring, I suppose.

Crossing the divides can sometimes feel like interplanetary travel and it is not without reason that I carry my passport in my bag at all times. But all the nabe snobbery aside, one of the most endearing characteristics of our current planetary home is that even the most sub of subaliens, so long as they have parked their spaceship on the brightly-lit landing strip that is Manhattan, is entitled to call themselves a New Yorker - and how cool is that ! 
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