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The big payback.

She was standing in front of me at the coffee shop. I fess to being agitated, anxious to get to where I needed to go. There she was, smiling and serene, breathing deep from the tins of herbal tea leaves. She was mocking me with her tranquility and flowing orange-and-red robe and shaved head.

What is there to be happy about? Had she tried finding a job lately? The country is still at war and will remain at war for a long time to come. More and more nations are banging down the door of the once-exclusive nuclear club, threatening to render my childhood fears of atomic warfare quaint in their two-tribes-go-to-war simplicity. And if you believe the scientists, we'll be converting fetal matter into foodstuff by 2012.

Tune up your fiddle.

But I'm not a doomsayer. Recreational cynic perhaps, pessimist no. I accept this world the way it is. As a high-alert stimulation junkie, I even love most of New York City in 2003. Between the terror warnings, pre-neo-Tokyo branding of all available public space, automatic rifles on subway platforms and Dark City geographic re-imaginings-I've got more passing through my brain in one hour than your average Buddhist gets in a year. It's the life I've chosen, and I'm proud to slog through with what amounts to a smile.

William Gibson speculated that the streets of Chiba City, Japan, would resemble a research experiment forever on fast-forward. The survivors are those who adapt rapidly and exploit their surroundings efficiently. Like the joke about two hikers who stumble upon a bear in the woods. Before turning tail, one stops to put on running shoes. The other notes that even with sneakers, he still can't outrun a bear. "I don't need to outrun the bear," the companion replies, "I just need to outrun you."

In New York City, where per-diem density of life is higher than anywhere else I've lived, careers and fads and relationships and fashions and heroes and goats are born, nurtured, exploited and euthanized on a quarterly basis. Blink, as they say, you'll miss something.

Which brings me to Best of Manhattan 2003, our catalog of the present and immediate past. Here you'll find the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the deserving and undeserving alternately celebrated and skewered. We don't claim comprehensiveness, just comprehension.

Newspapering is akin to shoveling coal in the bowels of a mighty warship. It's noble and impermanent, destined to end up scattered above the decks and in the ship's immediate wake. By offering this volume, we remark upon a certain period, more snapshot than time capsule. Would that we also become a small part of this period, that we both observe and contribute, we'll consider our shoveling done. At least for this week.

-Jeff Koyen

The following writers and artists contributed to this year's Best of Manhattan: Adrienne Ammerman, Fred Askew, Andrew Baker, Nick Bilton, Jennifer Blowdryer, CXB, Adam Bulger, Matt Callan, Max Capshaw, Chicklet, Tim Coleman, Katharine Crane, John Engstrom, Celia Farber, Dan Forbes, Tanja Geis, Gabriella Gershenson, Ron Grunberg, Adam Heimlich, Philip Henken, Laura Hibit, David Hirschman, Morgan Intrieri, Nina Ippolito, Andrei Kallaur and The 62, Mary Karam, Lisa Kearns, Jim Knipfel, Peter Kohman, Pasquale Leonardo, Lane Lipton, Scott Lizama, Don MacLeod, Mike Manville, Danielle Marin, Dan Martino, Greg Maxwell, Hubert McCabe, Bob McCollough, Judy McGuire, Jennifer Merin, Daniel Migdal, Kristopher Murry, Jennifer Needleman, Miriam Parker, Robert Pauliny, Kristina Ramos, William Repsher, Tanya Richardson, Bob Riedel, Jill Ruchala, Deborah Schneiderman, Allyson Schrager, Alex Schweitzer, Sarah Shanok, Spencer Sharp, Stephen Silver, Russ Smith, C.J. Sullivan, George Tabb, J.R. Taylor, Jay Thornton, Meeghan Truelove, Lucia Udvardyova, Spike Vrusho, Kate Walter, Andy Wang, Steve Weinstein, Jessica Willis, Ken Wohlrob, Alexander Zaitchik.

Special thanks to the research crew: Sophia Chang, Josephine Lee, Sara Lenore, Eileen Mignoni, Tanya Richardson, Tovah Shanok.

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