It just occurred to me that this month marks fifteen years since I moved to New York City.
No friends, no family, no job, no furniture…just three hockey bags stuffed with clothes and a key to a $500 room in a shared apartment across the river in Hoboken. It’s a good thing I did this at 22, because I can assure you I would never pull this shit at 37.
At 22, I wanted adventure. It felt like I was on a tourist visa and my time here would someday run out, so I treated the early years like one long vacation. I knew I’d eventually move away and I did. I made it a full two years before I came running back. But why on earth would I do that? This place is crazy!
I came back because without great fanfare or ceremony, New York very quietly became home. Over the years, I acquired a lot of friends, family, jobs and furniture (most of it crap from Ikea, but whatever). There is no longer a push to finish up all the fun I’m going to have before I settle somewhere reasonable. Fifteen years ago I stretched my limbs and ended up here. Now my roots are tucked firmly underground, buried beneath a mound of cold gray concrete, deep with cracks and littered with sun-dried chewing gum.
Like any long-term relationship, it hasn’t been all cakepops and roses, and for all her architectural glory, culinary splendor, retail majesty, and theatrical glitter, New York City also kicks its occupants right in the shins with a melange of discourteous odors, robust armies of mites and vermin, hideously scary ROUSes (rents of unusual size), and dangerous tidal waves of human currents. Walking through certain streets in New York City is like being swept into a violently rotating tornado, a delirious funnel spun out of smog and bus exhaust filled with tattered newspapers, expired metrocards, crushed coffee cups, cheap broken umbrellas and paper sacks filled with barely-burnt sugared cashews. There are areas in Manhattan that feel like they’ve been set on fire, where the constant flicker of light and color make your eyes tear and the clamor of honks and blares thump in your temples like a steel drum.
But then you turn a corner onto a narrow street paved with crumbling bricks and spot a community garden you’ve never noticed before. You look skyward and catch an utterly bizarre installation peeking behind the glass of a local artist’s window. The wheels of your car tip onto the Queensboro Bridge and the skyline unfolds like a subway map to welcome you into the mouth of a postcard. You feel the first chill of rain on your forehead and, like magic, a man appears with fifty umbrellas.
There is a reason New York City is photographed, filmed and rhapsodized to death. It can dropkick your spirit and swallow your soul, but if you have a high tolerance for frustration and confined spaces, you will be rewarded a multitude of inimitable quirks and charms found almost nowhere else. It can be daunting, and callous, and occasionally unkind, but one thing this city will never, ever be is boring.
In exchange for occasionally breaking your back and crushing your heart, as payback for pushing through biting winters and sticky summers, as pennance for small closets and very little kitchen space, you will be rewarded the guarantee to experience, witness, feel, taste, hear, smell or do something interesting every single day. Some days it’s spying a group of young shirtless men doing flips over groups of tourists in Washington Square Park or a man strolling casually around the East Village with an enormous yellow python draped across his shoulders.
Sometimes it’s walking outside and catching a movie crew filming on your stoop or watching a long-limbed model shift and contort herself for a team of photographers, right in the middle of a busy street. There are women here who push their dogs around in Maclaren baby strollers and men with buckets on their heads playing didgeridoos outside your subway station. It is a city shared by oddballs and outcasts, starving artists and superstars, executives and refugees, sometimes living only a block or a building away from someone living an entirely different kind of life.
You can go to the Bronx and ask an old Italian man to roll you a handmade cigar or a young shopgirl to pipe fresh mascarpone into a cannoli shell so crisp it immediately shatters under the weight of your teeth. You can head to Harlem and have your hair braided on the street for 25 dollars, or drive around parts of Williamsburg to witness dozens of Orthodox men in long black coats walk so slowly and calmly it’s like they’ve figured out the secret to life. You can take the 7 to Jackson Heights and have the most authentic dining experience outside of Pakistan, Colombia, or Bangladesh, or take a cab to midtown, Gramercy or Brooklyn and have the most memorable and extravagant dining experience of your natural born life.
You will hear every language. You will find a store for every need. You will smell a thousand different cuisines being cooked every day. You will never see, do, or experience everything New York has to offer because it is constantly, fearlessly, endlessly changing. If you live here, you’re never done. There’s always more.
You either love living in New York City or you begin to hate living in New York City. You either learn to accept its curtness, or you grow to resent it. People have strong opinions about this town. It’s not an easy place to live, but it’s also not an easy place to leave. There will never be a market for an “I feel ambivalent about NY” t-shirt.
This city is loud, grimy, ugly, beautiful, strange, sophisticated, sexy, exciting and just straight up weird. It’s a wonderful place, it really is. It is to me, anyway. At 37, I guess I still want some adventure. And so I stay.
Happy 15th anniversary to you and me, NYC. Loving you hasn’t always been easy, but it’s definitely been worth it. You’re my first, my last, my everything.
PS: You need a shower.
PPS: And where is that 2nd avenue train line you promised years ago?
PPPS: Enough with the parking tickets already. We get it.