I'm learning to be a New York City cop.
OK, I'm not really a cadet; I'm sort of auditing. The windows of the sixth-floor studio apartment I'm subletting look out onto the third-floor roof of the city's police academy. Rain or shine, those cadets are on the roof proving that they can shout "Yes, sir" in unison and count to 10 in very loud voices. I might as well be learning to be a cop, because there's no way I'm sleeping through it.
After spending decades in Southern California, I am fulfilling a dream and living in Manhattan, with a teaching gig to protect me from accusations of utter self- indulgence. I'm here for work, even though my husband and dog and gourmet cookware are still in L.A. I'm trying it on for size.
As such, I've become a lightning rod for the eternal argument about which is the better city. People push me for a commitment; Angelenos consider me a traitor, and Manhattanites, an acolyte. Every time it rains in Los Angeles or snows in New York, someone weighs in with "See? See?," followed by the conclusion that I am either insane to consider heading back to L.A. or insane to consider making the East my home.
What's this obsession with being the best? Every place has its advantages and disadvantages. Rats are on my short list of Big Apple negatives. I stay away from 13th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues after dark because I've heard about a rat warren, and I don't want to find out for myself whether it's fact or urban myth. But getting down any street at all is a challenge in Los Angeles, if we're going to be fair about this, because rush hour has become a dawn-to-dusk phenomenon.
Rodents or gridlock? A pointless debate. In the interest of get-along, I decided to look instead for common bonds. Here's what I found, in only four months:
Plastic surgery. A smug East Coast reporter recently characterized Los Angeles as a city where anyone can have a new nose. Has she strolled Manhattan's Upper East Side lately? Structural realignment is hardly geo-specific. I say it's only moments before the people who pepper L.A. with Lap-Band billboards discover the LED possibilities of Times Square.
Blonds. Clairol's 1960s ad campaign, "Is it true blonds have more fun?," implied that being a genetic minority made life more worth living. But now a highlight and lowlight epidemic on both coasts has turned the stubborn brunet into the outlier. Is it true blonds have more fun? Hard to tell; there are too few non-blonds left for a viable comparison.
Culture cutbacks. New York may have L.A. beat on this one, between the shards of publishing, the wobbly prices at recent art auctions and the ghost-town mentality of commercial real estate. But, hey, according to one recent analysis, the economy has pretty much killed off the serious film, the one Hollywood product that enabled Angelenos not to hate themselves as they got rich wearing flip-flops in January.
Imbeciles in traffic. L.A. has lawless varmints who drive 40 in the fast lane because they're talking on their cellphones or texting. New York has pedestrians who weave slowly down the sidewalk or hesitate in the middle of an intersection for the same reason. Different mode of transportation; same mortal-danger impact.
Food bloggers. Why would I take advice about where and what to eat from people I've never met; people who seem to alternate between posting in their jammies and going out to eat? Whichever coast they're on, all I really want to know is: How are they paying for all that food?
Gunk. Brown air, black ice; particulates thick enough to puree; snow the color of a Brooks Brothers suit. We are our exhaust fumes.
Readers in, say, the plains states are petting their cows and chuckling at those of us who pay vastly inflated real estate prices, even at recession levels, for the privilege of exposing ourselves to such madness. (As though it isn't a matter of time before a text-messaging rancher flips his ATV over a steer he failed to notice.)
What if we join forces in the face of such skepticism; what if we think of ourselves as two outposts of the Big Fruit, rather than as an apple and an orange? United we stand, divided we backbite. I have no interest in a definitive preference: I suggest instead that we stand up for all the crowded, vibrant, wacko excess that makes life worth living in either city.
If you have any residual doubt, consider the mariachis, not just on Olvera Street or in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles but on a West Side uptown subway in Manhattan. On the right afternoon, passengers get to hear a three-man norteno band -- second cousin to the mariachis -- playing one-stop performances before they hustle to the next car up. Who can resist a guy who schleps a stand-up bass all afternoon to make a buck and bring commuters a little musical joy? Nobody, not even an Angeleno caught up in the middle of the longest-running reality competition around.
Karen Stabiner's comic novel, "Getting In," will be published in March.