Quintessential Kenyon: Student Life, Uncut

I <3 NY

James Dennin
December 5, 2012

“Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east;

Others will see the islands large and small;

Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high;

A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,

Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood tide, the falling back to the sea of the ebb tide.”
(Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”)


            We’re tearing across I-80, the more direct but decidedly less scenic of two routes that unite New York City with the plains of Eastern Ohio.  On the first trip back home, we lost two hours succumbing to the enthusiastic offer of one of our favorite billboards, beseeching us to “Try the Sauce!” at a local Italian restaurant in Dubois, Pennsylvania.  Returning to Kenyon we’re all business, snacking on Thanksgiving leftovers and pushing 75 the whole way.  About halfway through the drive, as I’m lost in thought, Myriad Harbor comes on the car stereo.

            The New Pornographer’s “Myriad Harbor” is one of my favorite New York City songs.  Dan Bejar, the guy who sings it, has the great, raspy voice of a true barman; and the lyrics are at once sardonic and doting about city life.  I listen to it all the time, but I thought it would be a helpful launching point into discussing the single most common question I get from prospective students and their parents: “So you’re from New York, what made you want to go to school all the way out here?” 

            To give you some context I, like the singer of Myriad Harbor, am a thoroughly chauvinistic New Yorker.  It was a few months into my freshman year before I had trained myself to respond to queries about where I’m from with “New York,” instead of simply “The City,” as if you already knew. 

            As the song opens, the singer has just returned to New York, via plane and train, from somewhere abroad.  “Who cares?” his friends cut him off, “You always end up in the city….” Bejar retorts with inane questions and observations:  “do you think the girls here ever wonder how they got so pretty?  Well I do.”  At the core of the song is a simple idea that resonates very powerfully with me—perhaps the true lovers of New York know how to leave every once and a while.  Not to be unfaithful with some other metropolis—but just long enough so you remember to keep noticing the things you love about your hometown.  I’ll let you in on a secret, New York is great enough to never leave—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.  It’s that perspective which reveals your hometown’s beauty.  Not just the women, but also “the myriad harbor” or the “way the sun sets in the sky.”

            I think that these are the simple pleasures lost when too much blind faith is placed in wherever you live’s superiority.  Even Walt Whitman, arguably New York’s proudest chronicler, bounced around between New York, Long Island, D.C and New Orleans.  When I leave my hometown, even for a little while, the lights of the skyline, as well as their twinkled reflection in the Hudson shine a little brighter for me when I come back.  It’s an oversimplification to say I go to school outside of New York for the sake of leaving New York; but it’s one of the best gifts Kenyon’s given me.