Saanya Ali

It takes leaving New York to come to terms with how wholeheartedly you believe that anyone who doesn’t live in New York is in some way kidding. 


Going as far as booking any flight out of Laguardia or JFK or even Newark (if you’ve got six hours to spare), to register the fact that costumes of unfurrowed brows and content smiles, are more than part of some well-rehearsed performance art piece, and that people can be genuinely happy without recommending the drug, diet, or shrink that caused it. 


But they don’t get it. 


We like our grumpy. 


We sprinkle sardonic, and cynical, and sarcastic in our burnt backwash bodega coffee every morning, and order our Resting Bitch Faces™ on Amazon Prime with next day delivery. 


Because we can.


We can eat pizza at 4am and not care about the calories because they don’t count if you don’t count ‘em. 

We can point to our fire escapes and diners and ex-best friend’s therapists offices in the background of every sit-com, rom com, and nighttime news broadcast because we’re just that important.

We can curse out slow walkers because we know there are no roses to stop and smell here. 

And we can bump into every person we forgot we went to high school with, during intern season, and stand taller because every bouncer knows us by name and now we have the upper hand despite being called Frizzy for the better part of four years. 


No, anyone who doesn’t live in New York doesn’t understand what it’s like to consider human sacrifice for a washer/dryer in unit and to think carefully about offering up one’s first born for a security deposit. Like being a fat child or bullied as a prepubescent, these are the things that build character, and we don’t take anyone without character here. You can just check your bags at the tunnel and settle in Jersey if you’re the type to hesitate when crossing the street because some public art piece flashes an orange hand symbolically. 


If you make it here, you learn certain things. 


You know that your whole day is blessed if you get to the station right when the J arrives because

another just isn't coming.

You know that you never want to see the ball drop on New Years because it’s painfully under-


You know that you've got superpowers (or a really short skirt) if you can get a cab in midtown in

the rain.

You know that every July you’ll have your Pantene commercial moment at least twice a day

when the train enters the station and the recycled burp of air that follows it dries the sweat from

your hair.

And you know that you will forever feel like you’re in a fairytale if you’re wearing shoes that

click against the marble in the main hall of the Public Library at Bryant Park. 


It just doesn’t make sense how anyone can live anywhere without a steady supply of deli bagels

to get through the day? 


Take any given Saturday—

You’re sitting at a bar, making small talk with Brad, the quarterback brunette, trying to be a comedian, who tore his ACL, hiking the Appalachians with his dad and dog, both named Mark, just sipping your drink, when he mentions something about being from Dallas, or Chicago, or San Diego, or this quaint little town off then coast of irrelevant. He’s kinda cute, but Brad is no bridge and tunnel commuter that qualifies as close enough if it’s late enough and you’re lonely enough. 


You’ve just got to stare into those farmer boy blue eyes and convince yourself that Brad’s just really bad at comic delivery, and Mark and Marsha were right when they said he should’ve become an accountant like his brother, and wait for the punchline. But after the most painful kidney stone of silence passes, he smiles, and you're sure it’s because the memory of your overpriced salad has taken residence between your teeth, but it’s not. 


He was serious. 


The grin that continues to be slathered across his Wonder Bread face isn’t mocking but…genuine? And you’re just a heartless asshole rudely staring at a stranger in a bar. Because when you leave New York, it’s impolite to stare or to point. To barrel directly into unassuming strangers or to decidedly look through a person with a clipboard on the street.


No. There’s no getting out of this one. 


Instead, you have to transfigure your grimace into a smile (the way one might for a child delivering an impassioned monologue about Santa Clause) then say something like,

“Oh yes, I hear the rhubarb jam in North I Couldn’t Care Less is lovely this time of year,”

in order to gracefully extract yourself from his delusions, and pray that he comes to his senses eventually. 


But honestly, New York doesn’t have space for Brad, or anyone like him who doesn’t acknowledge that the rats on the L platform and the bodega cats on 6th are our shared custody pets or who knows when a rhubarb’s blooming season is (unless they’re the Sous Chef at Per Se). 


When you live anywhere else, how do you decide which friends you want to stay in touch with if you can’t rule out the outer burrow boys who don't live on your line or the Thursday night friends who live in a six floor walk up?


How do you reason that the only friends that you need to get Christmas presents for are the ones that will remember you did in August when they’re the only ones with a working AC?


What do you do in the shower if not think about witty comebacks to the cat-callers on Stanton that you’ve come to expect and worry about when missing?


What do you get the homeless man on Broadway if you don’t know his exact coffee specifications?


Who would you have a stimulating book club with if not the eighty year old men who never left The Village?


I just don't get it.


So next time you want to pick free french fries off my plate at Veselka (because family doesn't pay), just know that this is the only city that makes any sense. Now hush, while I complain about climbing my seven story walk up with five Whole Foods bags but continue to pay two hundred dollars a month for an Equinox membership.

Saanya Ali is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker. Born in Switzerland, to South Asian parents, growing up in the United States, and traveling to over 50 countries in her first 22 years, she grew up watching the world through airplane windows. Years later, living in New York, she continues to watch the world, now through a different lens. Her cross cultural background and unbridled curiosity continues to inform all that she does and creates. Her fascination with people, places, and travel as well as her desire to tell stories has magnified ten-fold. She loves to take pictures of people in their element, seeking to capture images that reflect the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the subject at the moment in time at which they cross paths. As a writer and a filmmaker, she hopes to develop these stories through various other mediums including poetry, prose, and both comedic and dramatic dialogue.


A graduate from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a concentration in Mixed Media Storytelling, Photography, and Film, she has worked on over a dozen short films and music videos, TV shows including NBC’s Blindspot, photographed events for Twitter and red carpets for SxSW, and worked on the social media team for Webby Award winning start up, Well&Good.