Back to the City, Mouse

Stela xhiku

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I landed in ’98 – landed in midtown by way of Jersey Transit, and I didn’t like it. It was the gray town I expected, screaming soot into my eyes, bending my neck, leaning me against a payphone as my dad scalped our tickets to Disney on ICE because the buses stopped running before intermission.

Some ten years later, I got into NYU and still couldn’t feel anything for the place. It was never me to be blah about something so big, but I was blah, and when my dad wagged the acceptance letter at me as I was making my bed, I told him to relax.

I watched 27 Dresses and googled through it: “Map of Manhattan”  “What is Greenwich village?” “Brooklyn”... Then, in the film’s last scene, the shit sister character reconciles with her ex-fiance and explains that she is broke, making necklaces, and living in Williamsburg. I was FLOORED. What is this bimbo doing in Colonial Williamsburg? What is her business there? She’s become a craftworker? An artisan? They’re not going to explain this? I kept googling.

I laid around the living room when my sister watched Gossip Girl. Hated that. Hated that world of interiors – characters going from dim backseats direct into lobbies with just an establishing shot to give me some air.

I watched Sybil which actually did get me feeling very excited for that Big Apple architecture, baby! A lot of walk-ups in that movie.

Then I watched the movie, a movie meant to be so glamorous, so aspirational and so personal (or so it seemed, for my idea was to study journalism): The Devil Wears Prada.

There’s never been a bigger comedown. It was hopeless. Is there any stirring, any movement in this shiny town that isn’t a dog eating another dog? Is there any story that doesn’t glorify pessimism? Even if the ending seems positive?

I’ve just rewatched it, and my 18-year-old reservations are even more shrill. This Andy Sachs, a fresh Northwestern graduate, has come to New York with a live-in boyfriend, two close friends, and a smile you want to wipe clean off when she says things like, “I need to get to Magnolia Bakery before it closes.”

She’s a girl scout, she’s the high school friend (my high school friend) who visits to complain about allll the walking. She needs teaching, needs to be Pygmalion-ed out of her previous life. It’s satisfying to see Anne Hathaway turn quick, learn some street smarts, lose some weight. But she shows us New York stage-side, waiting by the curtain with a wet wipe. Sure, this is because she has a shitty job, but Andy Sachs would never make the most of this place. She’s certainly not enjoying herself. Nor was she enjoying herself before her reinvention.

So she isn’t willing to sacrifice her morals for the superficial fashion industry, and finally remembers her roots, becoming a reporter for some New York daily. This is the resolution. This girl could not stomach her own success over a vile colleague’s and judged Miranda Priestly’s survivalist maneuvers to remain Editor-in-Chief – a choice to minimally screw over a loyal art director (who still had his job to keep), to provide for her twins as a single mom and to save face.

Rising to the occasion has never looked so much like a fall from grace. Her integrity's been sullied. The audience is meant to be sure of it. There’s no fraction of the multiverse where Andy is still here in the concrete jungle (something I imagine she says to her Boston neighbors, describing her stint in New York), writing and exploring. Why? Because she saw her growth as toxic and practicality as dishonest. She learns to prioritize herself; she finds something to admire in the strong Miranda Priestly, she nearly meets an important editor at the cost of missing her boyfriend’s birthday, but decides, in the end, to protect her innocence. More than innocent, she wants to be consistent.

She can’t stand when friends joke that she’s “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Hey Andy, if you want to drink the Kool-Aid, because you might like the Kool-Aid, and it’s fresher than the water you’ve got, then go on and drink the Kool-Aid! Never mind your college-era friends who reject the Kool-Aid.

Andy sips the Kool-Aid. She returns to the version of herself that her closest friends are most comfy with. She even resumes her college relationship. She reminds me of my first experience of New York City: the 1945 Tom & Jerry cartoon, Mouse in Manhattan. In it, Jerry puts on a boat hat and leaves Tom a note, “This country life is getting me down…”

He takes the train and is instantly astonished at the height of the place. But the lesson is instant, and it’s repeated: don’t you dare enjoy this.

Smiling at the Grand Central ceilings, Jerry gets his ass stuck in gum; riding a breezy bottle cap through street puddles, Jerry is eaten by a sewer; riding the train of lady’s gown, Jerry is dragged through grates. Then, figure skating with an attractive doll, Jerry gets lodged in a champagne bottle which pops him into the New York sky, due east where clotheslines flag over steel trash cans. Jerry parachutes in, using a wilted sock. He lands, he sneezes, he rouses the  yellow eyes of the alley – revealing a wiry, vicious cat.

Jerry starts running, he crashes into a jewelry display and is pursued by gunfire, he runs and he runs and he runs all the way back to Tom, rips the note and hangs a sign that says “Home Sweet Home” over his hole.

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