WEEKEND EDITION

I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York

| July 11, 2011 6:00 AM
Authors: Avery Monsen & Jory John
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: June 2011

It’s summertime in New York City. The days are longer. The nights are wilder. The backs are sweatier. We’re living the dream here, as long as your definition of “the dream” includes a sweaty, disgusting back.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, though. There are a few things you should know.

First, I’m the co-author of a recently published book called “I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York.”

Second, since some people take the word “neutral” to mean “negative,” you should know that right now, I  live in Queens. Also, I moved here after writing that book. 

(Where, exactly, in Queens I’d prefer not to say, because I’m afraid people there may be angry with me for making fun of it in an internationally distributed paperback. I’ve never been in a fistfight before, but I can only assume it would end with me, huddled in the fetal position, softly weeping. And no one wants to see that. Especially not me. Especially not later, on Facebook, in photos taken by an angry Queens-based mob.)

Click on a photo below to see excerpts from “I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York.”

Our “I Feel Relatively Neutral About New Yorkbook started out in 2006 as a t-shirt with a simple parody of Milton Glaser’s famous 1977 logo that my writing partner, Jory John, created for our website, bigstonehead.net.  Chronicle Books saw the shirt and asked us if we could turn it into a book about why, exactly, New York is so great, except for all the times when it’s really more of a complete hassle. We jumped straight onto a plane from SFO to JFK and then jumped into a taxi where the cabby told us to stop jumping so much. His taxi had a strict no-jumping policy, apparently, which we adhered to as best we could.

The sixteenth tallest free-standing structure in the world. That's pretty tall! Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books.

In an exhausting marathon of tourism and bickering, we visited all of New York’s shining jewels, from the Empire State Building (pretty tall!) to the Statue of Liberty (pretty green!), taking notes on the pluses and minuses of each (neither tall enough nor green enough.) We visited Katz’s Delicatessen, which we decided was a perfect place to eat, as long as your only desire for a restaurant is that it was once featured in a Rob Reiner movie. We visited Times Square, which was (spoiler alert!) big and crowded and overwhelming. Yes, we did it all.

Interestingly, I left our fact-finding mission feeling pretty positive about New York, while Jory felt worse about it, overall. I liked it so much, I decided to move here. Jory disliked it so much, he decided to never speak to me again. (Just kidding. (Sort of.)) But do the math! One impressed co-author plus one disappointed co-author averages out to two relatively neutral co-authors!

Please be careful, Construction Workers Eating Lunch on Beams of Skyscrapers With No Harnesses or Anything. Think of your children. Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books.

The question I’ve been asked over and over since moving here is: Do I stand by the book’s sentiment as an official resident of New York City? Do I still feel relatively neutral? Or will there be a forthcoming sequel called, “Just Kidding. I Take It All Back. Will You Ever Forgive Me, NY?”

My answer: Yes and no. It’s a huge, beautiful, messy city that can swallow you whole, for better or worse. Anything you could ever dream of is currently happening here, and it’s probably only a subway stop away. There is a certain magic to the city, no doubt about it, especially when David Copperfield’s in town and ESPECIALLY when he’s making Lady Liberty disappear.

And although I’m ashamed to admit it, that Jay Z/Alicia Keys song about New York really gets me going. At the same time, lighten up, New York! There are other totally lovely places all over the world. Other cities make delicious pizza and bagels. Other cities have thriving arts scenes. And if you can’t take a joke about your city, then it’s not worth a damn. Sorry for the language. I just get worked up over this.

Now I’m sort of in the mood for a fistfight. You hear me, Queens?!

Avery Monsen is a writer, artist and actor in Queens, N.Y. He’s the co-author of Pirate’s Log: A Handbook for Aspiring Swashbucklers, All My Friends Are Dead and, most recently, I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York. Follow him on Twitter at @averymonsen.

  • Ben

    Dude, you’re hysterical. And totally right.
    Although I will say this: While NY may not have many things that are totally unique about it, no place else in the world has as much of everything that NY has. No place else in the world has everything that NY has. It is the amount of diversity – cultural, ethnic, artistic, business, economic, gastronomic, natural, etc – that can not be matched by any other city. You say it very well when you say “Anything you could ever dream of is currently happening here, and it’s probably only a subway stop away.”
    And you’re so right when you say that people should be able to take a joke or even criticism about our city. Let it go. With all of this bounty, why be mad?

  • Cas

    Avery, I have lived here all my life. I have loved and hated every year-long minute of that existence, which now finds me collecting mail, dust, and peapod.com shopping bags in my residence just steps off Times Square after a life lived relatively dust-free in Queens (we can spar about our outerborough towns at a later date). And I couldn’t agree more with your humorous insights than I can with your dead-on assertion of the twitterpation to which no New Yorker will admit on hearing that Mr. Copperfield will be playing the Theater at Madison Square Garden. I am now devoted to you, your work here and elsewhere, and love you like a fat kid loves cake. Preferably cheese, and preferably from Junior’s.

  • Lori

    Just to satisfy my curiosity, where else can you find delicious bagels? I travel a lot and haven’t found any bagel that compares to NY’s.

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