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New York: I Love You, but…

Via Longform, I recently discovered this article, by Cord Jefferson, about living in and leaving New York.  It begins as a somewhat haughty journal of dreams about moving to our fair city, early career struggles and cliched complaints (rent! winter!), but evolves into a touching and lovely examination of place and identity.  Oo la laa! How apropos!  Yeah, I know, but humor me for a bit.  I liked this part:

Getting out of New York helped me rediscover the outside world, while living in LA has reminded me to ignore the world if you’re happy with where you are and what you’re doing.

It sounds trite, but the thesis of the article really hit home for me.  I’ll offer you my own haughty journal and cliched complaints in explanation.

In my youth, we often took family trips to New York.  Both my parents went to college here, so they knew their way around and I was toted around from subway to cab, restaurant to show, never knowing which way was up and constantly feeling lost. This is probably a very common childhood experience, but it didn’t jive with my adolescent neuroses/know-it-all nature.  I liked knowing where the hell I was, and how to get out of this concrete jungle in case of zombie apocalypse.  Plus I think I got dog poop in my Tevas once. Oh, hell no.  So New York intimidated me, and it was dirty, and I’d made up my mind – I didn’t like it.

Then, when I was wrapping up my last year at Syracuse (G’Orange!), all my friends decided that they were moving to New York.  By this point I was a bit more comfortable with myself and new places, so gave it a go.  My dad was living in a nice place in Bay Ridge, so I spent my first three months here slingin’ burgers and beer uptown and riding the R train into the wee hours of the morning back to Shore Road and a futon couch.  This was a fun way to spend a summer, but certainly didn’t feel like the glamor and glitz that I’d heard about.

Once Dad and I had worn each others’ nerves sufficiently I started looking for cheap places to live.  Ah, there’s nothing that will wake a starry-eyed young boy faster than dealing with NYC real estate brokers during the height of the rental bubble: 2007.  I don’t think I ever even saw a single apartment – they were either non-existant bait-and-switch attempts or were snatched before I even made it to the open houses. But as is often the case in life and real estate: its all about being lucky and knowing the right people.  A friend needed a roommate in her $3k/month Upper East Side shoebox.

“Welp,” I said, “I can’t afford that, but how about if I move in with Stina! We..uh..don’t take up much space!”

Luckily, said friend was kind enough to let that slide and we had our first real grown-up place.  Or at least, tiny room with dark living room and one-person kitchen.  But it was OURS, dammit.  I commuted every day to work on the packed 6 train, pleased with myself for rubbing elbows with the elites and not the slightest bit annoyed when one of them farted nearby.  “My air is your air, friend! We are all in this together.”  I had made it, or so I thought.

Of course, we grew tired with that tired of living flanked by fratty bars and lunching ladies, and soon the search was on again.  “The perfect place is out there.  I know it.”  We wanted a one-bedroom and the only things in our price range were in less desirable ‘hoods.  There were some nice blocks of central and western Harlem that attracted us, but we ultimately settled on another friend-of-a-friend’s place: a massive converted loft in the South Bronx.  Yes, SoBro (as realtors kept calling it) was a bit avant garde for two young white kids, but Christina taught nearby and I could commute the entire way to work on the 5 train (interminably, it seemed at times), so it made some sense.  Anyway, the apartment was awesome.  It was a warehouse that had been home to a variety of industries – we could pry discarded sewing needles from between the floorboards – but had been bought decades ago by an artist and occupied by a variety of her peers in some attempt to create a pocket of utopia amid the drugs and violence of “SoBro” in the eighties and nineties.  She’d since converted it to condos and was selling it off, floor by floor.  We lived on the fourth floor in a unit recently bought by a parent’s friend.  The rest of the building was occupied by some remaining artists, academics, and others with similar ideals.  At times it still felt a bit utopian.  At others, we felt trapped.

So, through another stroke of luck and timing, we ended up in what we once thought was the perfect apartment in the perfect neighborhood.  And it still may be.

New York has been my only adult “home.” I know I’ll miss it desperately, but I know there’s also a lot more out there to see. It’s hard to picture living anywhere else, but as soon as the time comes I’ll remember Jefferson’s words from above: “ignore the world if you’re happy with where you are and what you’re doing.”  The grass will always be greener somewhere else; find your spot and make it the greenest it can be.

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