Most of my life, I had this problem where I did not like New York City. What I can remember from visits as a kid is that it was 1. full of buildings that are tall enough to blot out the sun 2. usually raining and 3. very dangerous (even though I’d never personally felt threatened, I’d figured out that statistically, everyone in New York has to be victim to a crime in order to supply Law & Order with an adequate stream of plot lines). My experience was limited to the inside of Penn Station, Waldorf=Astoria*, and a single Broadway Show**.
The part that always bothered me was that there were zillions of neighborhoods and subway lines and literally everyone seemed to know which was which. Things like Upper West and Lower East side made geographical sense, if I thought about it, but then there were places like Hell’s Kitchen and SoHo and Greenwich Village*** that just had these connotations and everyone seemed to know them and love or hate them. I’d read enough Woody Allen and absorbed enough Sex and the City by miasma to know that this was not just a city, this was the city. It was supposed to be utopia for writers and neurotics, and yet, as an 11-year-old on track to become both, I declared myself too hopelessly unsophisticated for New York and resigned never to live there. To paraphrase Boromir, one did not simply move to New York City.
And then, last summer, I simply…moved to New York City. The exact reason lies somewhere between “to be with my boyfriend” and “to have an internship in publishing” but in point of fact I’m still not quite sure how I got there. My best friend had just spent six months there and survived, which planted the idea that hey, maybe you could just go there and live, like it’s any other city. And hadn’t I just confirmed in my brush with Paris that these mythical cities with streets of gold were actually just as strewn with trash as any other? I convinced myself that working at a literary agency would train me to be a better romance novelist, packed up a suitcase, and went.
I found a bedroom in a tiny, tiny walkup in the East Village. I slept on a bare mattress, wore wobbly heels down to the L every morning, and worked at a job where I was terrified of failing or spilling my water bottle on the conference table. I survived on hard-boiled farmers’ market eggs, microwave oatmeal, and mac and cheese. My boyfriend was very busy, and I didn’t know anyone else, and I was alone, a lot.
But I was determined, after my semi-failure in Paris, to make good use of my time in the city, to channel Fran Leibowitz more than Sylvia Plath. I went out every night, because you can do that in New York, to shows and bars and cafés and parks and movies and restaurants, taking myself on dates to eat vegan cupcakes or hear Ira Glass tell stories in Brooklyn or see some banjo music. Or else I’d go to free yoga classes, pick up some fruit-flavored beer, and sit on the roof of my building and watch the sun set behind the silhouette of the Chrysler Building. I realized why my uncle had once said that you can get the best or worst of anything, 24 hours a day, in New York, and it was great.
I figured out the neighborhoods, mostly, at least far enough to know which ones I liked. I explored. I did okay at my job. I never got mugged, though I did see an episode of SVU being filmed. And then I got it, just in time to leave, and just enough to make me want to go back.
*Yes, they use an equals sign instead of a hyphen. The extra line is for luxury.
**The Music Man. I still have the CD
***Pronounce the w. That’s what real New Yorkers do