The young man was terrified. Standing on the streets of Times Square for the first time, he vividly recalled horror stories of metropolitan crime and violent death that all people brought up on the opposite coast are fed daily, just as Manhattanites are regaled by stories of floods, earthquakes and mudslides from the western shore.

He thought the people of this city must all be on the borderline, mentally. How else could so many survive in one place? Surely they were all tough and hard-hearted, and looking out for Number One. Look at how fast they walked, the way they ignored the many beggars, and bickered with one another over taxis. It was like a prison community; the tough survived and the weak knew better than to get in the way.

The man walked with trepidation, trying hard to look like everyone else. He couldn't relax. Certain places he knew were simply impossible to relax in, like Times Square, notorious for criminal goings-on, and Central Park, absolutely uninhabitable at any hour. Old headlines rolled in front of his mind's eye like papers speeding across a printing press; a stream of murders and barbarities.

But this turbulent city was his new home, sink or swim. He took a deep, cautious breath and continued on his way.

After a while, as she has to generations of visitors, New York showed her softer side. Friends were made, neighborhoods discovered, islands of calm in parks and coffeehouses and on treelined streets. He gradually saw that the frightening place he first saw was only a lurid mask underwhich lay a varied community of people who got along with one another in a unique way. He saw that he had been betrayed by all those newspaper reporters, and that those whom he had heard claim this was the greatest city in the world were not part of some huge public relations conspiracy, but were telling the truth.

Obviously New Yorkers loved other people. Why else would the deli-owner from Jerusalem give him free cups of coffee and chat with him? What else would have motivated the African American man in the 42nd Street subway who shouted to him that he had dropped his sheath of credit cards after buying tokens? And wasn't it obvious from even the most unusual incident of all?

One summer lunch hour on Fifth Avenue near 48th Street, the man had witnessed a miraculous event. While crossing the street among a crowd of people, a young Hispanic man in a basketball shirt careened out of a deli holding a vanilla milkshake in a large cup and walked briskly in front of our guy. He collided instantly with a white-haired man wearing a dark blue shirt, painting the front of it with the contents of the cup. For a millisecond, the universe froze. Then, as if in a dream, both men continued walking in opposite directions as if nothing whatsoever had occurred. One, soaked by an unexpected baptism of milkshake, the other minus his drink, yet neither one even paused to acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary had happened.

Our hero, The sole witness to this event, stopped in the crosswalk in disbelief. For a moment he doubted that he had seen it at all, since all physical evidence disappeared in a stream of human traffic. After much reflection he concluded that this too, was proof that New Yorkers, they that live, sleep and breathe all over one another all day long, must love people much more than in other places. For clearly, in this case neither pedestrian had wanted the other to feel that he was guilty of any offense, and had tacitly forgiven and forgotten the whole thing in a New York split-second.

Our man considered: what was a violent murder or two here or there, compared to millions of moments of unselfishness like this going on all day, every day, in every far-flung corner of the city that never sleeps? Not enough to get nervous about, certainly. He was home.


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