Oddly enough, this year Tax Day reminded me of what I love most about New York City.
I always do my taxes at the last minute, partly because I need deadline pressure to get anything done. So on the afternoon of April 15th, I was getting ready to e-file my return. (New York State now mandates that anyone using computer software to prepare their tax returns must file them electronically, which I had never done before).
Even though everything had been double-checked, I sat for over an hour in front of my laptop, stalling, unable to make myself push the "e-file" button. I knew this method was easier, cheaper, and quicker than snail-mail, yet I felt a strong urge to do it the old-fashioned way. I thought to myself: Why am I resisting this so much? Am I really that much of a Luddite?
I found myself picturing the scene I had been a part of for so many years: walking to the post office at 4:45 on Tax Day with that particular feeling of jangled nerves and accomplishment, noticing out of the corners of my eyes my fellow New Yorkers -- their own bulky envelopes in hand -- all eagerly headed in the same direction.
That's when it hit me: What was bothering me was that I was going to miss the camaraderie, the excitement of walking up to the post office, communing with other last-minute filers, smiling with them, exchanging jokes about just making the deadline.
I admit this sounds like a relatively insignificant thing, a piece of social minutia. Many of you may be thinking: Jeez, she gets excited about going to the post office? But I swear am not totally people starved or anything. It's just that to me -- a person who always loves talking to strangers, anytime, anywhere -- New York City is basically one big cocktail party. Not only that, it's a cocktail party with interesting, emotionally available people.
At the risk of seeming New York-centric, I believe people here tend to be more culturally-diverse and more engaged in what goes on around them than people in most other places, so our conversations tend to be more interesting -- and often more unguarded.
Maybe it's because we all have a "we're in this mess together" feeling or it's because we are in a hurry, but New Yorkers have a way of cutting through the polite nothings. We tend to start talking as if we are already in the middle of a conversation with a friend. We will dispense with the usual pleasantries and go right to the heart of things.
Without any preamble, without any "hello, how are you?" we will just start speaking, as if we already know the person next to us: "God, I wish the train would come, I've got someone waiting at the theater for me, and if I keep him waiting one more time, I swear he's going to break up with me." Revealing personal details of our lives comes naturally in the Big Apple.
Once when I was in the park with a friend, we came across someone whose parrot had escaped and taken refuge high up in an elm tree. Soon a small crowd gathered, and we were all chatting to one another about pets -- about losing them, finding them, and loving them. The man next to me said, "I always wanted a mynah bird when I was little but my father told me, 'Bad enough you learned to talk.'"
New York life is filled with opportunities for intimate five-minute conversations. I've had passing exchanges with strangers 10 years ago I still remember to this day. We are often accused of being rude, and that may sometimes be true, but we are, for the most part, very open and willing to connect with each other.
In the end, of course, I e-filed. But later when I went to the drugstore, don't think that I did not engage the stranger standing in front of me in line. I heard her talking on the phone about Schedule C (it sounded as though she was talking to her spouse).
"So do you file your taxes electronically?" I asked her after she hung up. "This was my first year doing it."
She smiled, slightly sheepish. "No, we are mailing ours. I kind of love the tactile feeling of it, and the comfort of seeing other people there who are as late as I am getting it done."
"I know exactly what you mean," I replied, laughing. And in my imagination, we clinked glasses, as a waiter passed by with a plate of hors d'oeuvres.