4 sides of Manhattan

By Bill Felber

We are approaching the conclusion of the fourth personality of Manhattan.

Most towns I know of have only one personality. For better or worse, New York City is always The Big Apple, Vegas is Glitter Gulch, Los Angeles is Tinsel Town and Nashville is Music City.

In the same vein, seeking multiple communal personalities in Clay Center, Wamego or Marysville would be a fool’s errand. Their personality is small-town Middle America, constantly so, and proud of it. More power to ‘em.

Manhattan is the exception. This city does not have one personality, but four. They are distinct, they ebb and flow in an orderly, predictable fashion, and each personality governs daily life at its own recognizable pace.

Manhattan’s first personality takes hold with the arrival of college students for the start of the spring semester in mid-January. It is a raucous, “I’m a college kid and I’m lettin’ it fly” kind of personality dominated by clubbing, rebelliousness, occasional forays into culture and hijinks. The major civic holiday marking this first personality is, obviously, Fake Patty’s Day in early March. That’s a day when we all go out into the street to find out what life would be like in an anarchical state ruled by kids. Aggieville is the traditional party shack, although in recent years we have displayed out diversity by celebrating in neighborhoods, backyards, and behind shrubbery.

Fake Patty’s Day is an interesting study, producing substantial vomit and urine, but it gradually recedes into a rite of passage known as graduation day when we townees kick the students out and reclaim control of our burgh. That’s when the city’s second personality seizes control, holding sway through mid-August. It is a Middle America, relaxed, small-town personality, essentially the opposite of the recently dispatched mood. In the Manhattan summer, you can actually find an Aggieville parking spot and you can drive city streets with only the usual fear of flying motorists one encounters in any city.

You can also get drunk, roll or camp in the mud and hear outlandish amounts of Country Music for three days, but you have to wander a mile or so out of town to accomplish that.

The major civic holiday of the city’s second personality is bifurcated, playing out over three weeks. The first portion is the Fourth of July, when we come together to literally blow up outlandish sums of money, both individually and communally. We do it for charity; that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

The second portion is the county fair, a four-day festival when we are allowed to consume fried sweets without threat of damage to our arteries, and when roustabouts with funny accents lull us into thinking that the basketball hoop we’re shooting at is actually round and level.

The city’s third personality is the most dominant. We call it football season. It is announced by the first K-State practice, and reigns fully through November. This is a crowded, up-tempo, national stage, weekend-oriented sort of personality replete with festivals —the pre-season pep rally downtown, Band Day, Homecoming—and Friday night drinking binges. We love football season because once a week every frustrated 40-something gets to don the colors, go to a tailgate and pretend he or she is back in school.

There are occasional interferences—class, work, Thanksgiving —but we manage them. The major civic holiday is “Senior Day,” the final home game of the season, when 50,000 people pay big money to salute 25 or 30 kids … and then watch them beat up Texas.

Our current personality, the fourth, fills the void between the first of December and mid-January. In that sense it is the most compact, and it is also the sleepiest. This is due in part to the temperature and in part to the lack of daylight. It’s what our second personality would be like if there were no heat.

In fact, this aspect of our personality is so colorless that many of us beat feet out of town—for a bowl game, when that is possible—making Manhattan in the winter an even sleepier town than it is in the summer.

But this fourth personality is not wholly somnolent, a fact illustrated by the major civic holiday. It is the New Year’s Eve ball drop, when several thousand of the home guard convene in the late night cold to mark the old year’s transition to the new.

As our fourth personality recedes and the first approaches, there’s only one appropriate thing to say: Happy New Year.

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