New York is a city of overachievers.
Okay, maybe “overachievers” is perhaps too strong a word. Let me soften the blow a little bit by further explaining what I mean. I consider myself to be fairly Type-A. I’m driven. I set goals. And if there’s something I want, I’m going to make damn sure that I make it happen, one way or another. Of course, this is generally done in a quiet, friendly sort of a way – no ruthless, blood-red nails scratching away the competition in a shoulder pad-filled power suit for me. (I was raised right.) I moved. I made the job happen. And now I’m organizing my life again in a nice, offbeat manner.
However, then I came to New York and started meeting people. You listen to some of these wild and wonderful stories and wonder why it isn’t just enough anymore to live your life, pay your bills and be a decent human being. For instance, when you’ve met, read about or are looking to involve yourself more closely with a host of individuals who speak more than one language, run marathons and then volunteer at an old person’s home at the weekends – while holding down a full-time job and affording a non-bedbug-infested Williamsburg apartment – it makes you feel a tad inadequate and wonder what these people are running from.
Don’t get me wrong, I love interesting people. I’m hooked by a good story and fascinated by a wonderful background; mine is certainly unconventional. However, when does this laundry list of “interesting” qualities become not mere hobbies, but evidence that someone has something to prove?
Fortunately, I’m of the age where displaying my collection of experiences and achievements is no longer necessary. It’s not important to collect up “knowledge” and “wisdom” like a set of exotic pottery. Call it personal security, or just call me boring, but I know what I like doing, I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can and am happy that I don’t feel this desperate need to “belong” and learn Farsi, knitting and fostering small animals on top of being a prize-winning writer and holding down a demanding full-time job.
But the city’s a big place and people are competitive. After all, people live on this densely packed rock where, more often than not, one can go through an entire day without eye contact, a meaningful conversation, or even a simple pleasantry. We want to stand out. We want to feel noticed. We want to find a way to matter, even though not one of us is really all that “better” than the person sitting across the subway, joyfully singing to themselves while wearing oversized headphones.
Yet this sense of competition and fire translates itself to something that’s been on my cold-addled brain for the past week: Sriracha sauce.
Many people claim to be “obsessed” with this garlicky, spicy condiment. It’s everywhere; in bodegas, in Korean restaurants, in the fridge at work and – I’m fairly certain – you can probably receive a bottle to compliment any meal in the city. (Okay, maybe not Per Se, but you catch my drift.) I’ve been eating it like a fiend this week in the desperate hope it will clear out my nasal passages and add some flavor to the regular, now tasteless fare I’m eating. However, this city is more than a fan of sriracha sauce, which leads me to think that it’s more than a trend, it’s a connection to the larger sense of over-achievements, competition and general desire to be unique, eating something hot and uncomfortably spicy is another “look at me!” tactic; you prove you are therefore outstanding because you don’t eat something as limp as mashed potatoes, you cover them up with a ton of heat and, voila! You’re quirky. You can withstand intense spice. You are, therefore, a curious, worthy individual who likely also speaks five languages and toured the far-East factory in which this stuff is actually made because you’ve personally known the owner since you were five.
Despite the fact that everyone has a laundry list and that, on occasion, my achievements seem woefully inadequate, I’m quite content. I have a home, a job and friends. I find humor in the everyday, I’m healthy and have family that care about me. I observe and enjoy the bizarre and thoughtful and am fortunate enough to be mentally healthy and possess my sight. While this might not make me interesting at cocktail parties, I’m okay, and more than pleased to learn how everyone else is cramming too many things into an already packed life.