My Week In Manhattan

The following is a vignette ethnography series inspired by Annie Erneaux’s “Things Seen.” The observations were taken from the point of view of a 20 year old white cisgender female living in Manhattan.


1. 5:45 PM. I walk down the steps of the 8th street RW station. My ‘lighting for fashion photography’ class is in Times Square at 6:30 and I want to get a coffee first. A man and his young son kiss a mother goodbye above ground, and I try to sidestep them, but I can’t. They walk slowly, continuing their conversation with the woman as they descend the steps. She leans over the green railing of the subway entrance to continue speaking to them. As they move toward the machines to refill their card, a train arrives at the station. A woman in front of me at the turnstile doesn’t even have her metro card out. The doors of the W train close just as I swipe my card. The next one is in 5 minutes. Now, instead of being 20 minutes early, I’ll be 15 minutes early.


2. I board the downtown B train late at night on my way home from a class at the International Center of Photography. A couple is locked together at the mouth in the seat across from me. The train stops, and I am the only one in my car that gets off. A homeless man sleeps under a blanket on the subway platform, only his feet exposed. I walk up a flight of stairs, heading above-ground. A man leans against the wall, typing on his phone. He starts walking behind me as I walk by. I clutch my pepper spray in my pocket and speed up.


3. I walk with my roommate across Astor Place. A man, dressed in a black button down, black vest, with dress pants and shiny black shoes, waits on the opposite curb to cross. My roommate and I jaywalk between a break in the cars. The man stays on the curb and instead waits for the walk signal. As we pass by, I realize I am much shorter than him. I remember this because when he audibly farts, it is very close to my ears.


4. My friend from home is visiting for the weekend. He has never seen the New York Public Library. We both love literature, so we head to 42nd street, getting more giddy with each stop the subway makes along the way. We explore floor after floor and come across the 3rd-floor gallery, where a display of photographs from the Stonewall era lives. Aaron is gay, came out when we were in high school, and nothing like this public demonstration of LGBTQ history is ever displayed in our hometown. We are grinning from ear to ear, solemn at some portions, but overjoyed that the pride we feel is from the recognition of the public, to have this installed here. A man exits the bathroom on one end of the hallway and yells “God made Adam and Eve, remember that people!” over and over until he is out of earshot. Aaron and I ignore it, and so do the 30 some-odd people around us.


5. I am at work at the Hard Rock Cafe. “One, two, three, smile!” I tell the tourists, and the flash bursts from above. I greet the next party, and they give me a dirty look, as if I am lesser than them, as if I am doing something wrong, and they walk by to the hostess table. The next party is a couple, and they are ecstatic to take a picture with our guitar that doesn’t actually work. They are so happy to be here, in this restaurant, in this city. They want to take a picture with me, with the hostess, with their waiter. They want all the photographs they can capture. They buy two picture packages from me, and I remember them days later, their pure happiness just to be there, together.


6. I get on the 6 train and head downtown to walk a dog just south of Madison Square Park. The car I get into is only half full, so I get to sit down. A tall man grips the pole directly in front of me. He stares at the woman next to me, stares for a moment at me, and then stares at the woman next to me. He stares at every person in our vicinity, trying to make eye contact. He walks to the other side of the car and proclaims, “I was just trying to see how many of y’all have headphones in.” No one makes eye contact or indicates that they are listening whatsoever. He continues his soapbox speech with unintelligible language, ending by telling us about the gangs he’s been in and how we can all [explative] his [explative]. He gets off at the next stop and I continue listening to my music.


7. I head back on the loyal 6 train to go to the Met. Four stops away, we are being held at the station momentarily because someone uptown had a medical emergency. I take out my book and read, just as a woman who was previously eating chips on the seat across from me abruptly gets up and walks toward the open car doors. She pretends to trip and holds onto the pole, and for a second I think she’s going to sit on me, so I flinch. She pretends to regain her composure and heads to the convenience store placed in the subway station as if nothing happened. The doors close behind her and the car takes off, and I look around the train, trying to see if I was the only one who saw that.


8. I feel like so much of my life is spent on the 6 train. I swipe my card and push my hip against the jostling turnstile, turning left at the 68th street station to head downtown after a long day. A homeless woman who is usually sitting next to the downtown steps is sitting in a t-shirt (in 25-degree weather) crying at her normal spot. I feel in my pocket for the granola bar I put in there this morning. I am talking on the phone with my mother and wordlessly hand it to her as I walk by. She accepts it and I head downtown.


9. I sit in the library in my college. The windows beside me are drafty, the cold seeping in from outside, the wind pushing against the glass, demanding to be let in. A student walks by the wooden table I sit at; she reeks of cigarette smoke. Someone sleeps between the stacks next to my right. His alarm goes off with a blaring siren sound, jostling me from my thoughts.


While this list may be eclectic, it is a retelling of the bits and pieces that were significant parts of the day in my eyes. Living in New York City isn’t glamorous, and it isn’t scary. These are just pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of my day.