1. It is deafening. There's a John Cheever story whose protagonist, a 1950s New Yorker, is startled by the sound of a bus outside his window. Cheever plops down a line that might be the most resonant thing I've read since moving to NYC (despite the fact that I don't like Cheever that much): "It seemed to him that the penetrating noise of the city had a mortal effect on the precious lives on the city's inhabitants and that it should be muffled."
I have worn earplugs every day since May 2007. At first I only wore them in bed, to hide explosive bus brakes outside my bedroom window and the sounds of people shouting to each other, which, even if jocular or celebratory, always sound to my WASP ears like fighting. I quickly graduated to wearing them on the subway. An express train barreling through a station, squealing brakes, intercom announcements = repetitive aural rape.
It's not just my sensitivity, which is admittedly high*:
2. It smells like piss. The streets, the subway stations, even the subway cars. I've always been aware of what piss smells like (I have, in fact, been pissing all my life), but since moving here I have learned to identify all piss varieties, on a spectrum that includes alcoholic, dehydrated, and kidney-failure pathologies. On the Times Square platform where I change lines every morning, there is a reflective, congealed film underfoot. By smell, you know a train is on its way even before hearing it because the train pushes out
3. It's fucking expensive. This one's obvious, but I'll never get used to it. I'll be brief: The other day I was staring in the window of a store selling interesting items, and I saw this:
These knick-knacks (specifically, the owl, the squirrel, and the polar bear platter) filled me with a kind of hysterical longing I didn't understand. And then I did understand: I hadn't bought a single knick-knack since moving here two years ago. I have almost no disposable income because I spend nearly half of my net income on rent.
* I don't normally relate to this kind of self-diagnosis--in fact, I hate what it implies about me--but when I took this quiz I literally selected all of the check boxes.
** Not to imply that there isn't an overabundance of R.F.A.s here.