Move to NYC
You move to NYC just as fast as you can because, well, of course you do. You’ve always taken the maddeningly dull quality of your nowhere-American upbringing as a personal insult. No, you told yourself during those darker moments in high school, this is a freak accident, a mistake, maybe even a punishment. Your small town was one that you were subjected to for far too long. You knew you had to move there, no matter what.
Growing up, it was clear that you were smart and creative. Only thing about that was nobody wanted to talk about the same things as you. You were, well, different. Sure, you tried your hardest to fit in. You flirted in class, made out at the dollar cinema, even hung out at Steak-N-Shake late into the night. You loved Mountain Dew, went to high school basketball games, and played in creeks in town. You got drunk on cheap beer in basements and at bonfires. Despite how hard you wanted to deny it, you were a perfectly typical American teen. Yet still, everywhere you went, you felt alone.
You had this lingering sense of feeling like an alien on a foreign planet. Maybe you dressed way more stylishly than everyone else, considering the love of Pac Sun and American Eagle of your peers, that wasn’t hard. Maybe you taught yourself Swahili for fun. Maybe you were gay. Maybe you read strange comics books on philosophy and new media art. I mean, “Who the hell actually reads this shit?” Asks everyone around you.
Except you can’t say that. You can’t read about existentialism or paint surrealist dreamscapes in your town. An unwritten code of conduct in your class simply will not allow it. Because in your town the jocks and thugs beat the hell out of kids who don’t squarely fit into a few stereotypes of accepted human beings:
Thug (the white ones were called something else I don’t care to write down)
“Which one are you?” It was a persistent question, grinding at your sense of self. I mean, you read Kurt Cobain’s biography right after reading Albert Camus’ The Plague. No, your town never had enough space for a person like you. A fact of life you find odd because that’s actually all your town does have: huge swaths of sad and unused space. You grew up playing in the abandoned factories of a blue-collar past long gone. Pointing this out doesn’t help your situation.
But that’s not true for NYC. You don’t have enough paper to properly describe every type of human that is allowed and celebrated inside those boroughs. You crave that feeling of belonging you’re sure only NYC can provide. To finally find like-minded folks who’d recognize and cherish your terminal uniqueness. To find someone who loves you. To make it there, for all those listless hours spent wandering Wal-Mart after 2 am, wishing for anything better.
You move to Bed Stuy. You land a job. You’re making it.
But after a year in The City you’ve begun to shoulder-check every lost tourist oblivious enough to stand in the middle of the sidewalk, taking photos of the architecture like it’s Jesus. Remember when you used to talk to strangers? Remember when you moved here not so long ago and every homeless man that said hello to you on the street had your naive self stopped-and-stuck interacting with a genuinely insane human that needs serious help, not your quarter?
Because you grew up with small-town hospitality, and now you miss all those little things you never knew you’d always loved. Your mom made fresh baked pies for new neighbors. You ran through sprinklers in your father’s perfect lawn with grass stuck to your ankles, you sipped ice-cold lemonade afterwards on your porch. You drove through cornfields singing along to the radio, playing all the top hits. NYC, the noise is killing you. You grew up with crickets singing in the summer nights, bullfrogs croaking at dusk, and birds chirping at dawn. There aren’t enough children laughing in Brooklyn’s open fire hydrants to drown out the constant horns and sirens. NYC, you don’t even know the melodies of cicadas.
You moved here and were indignant at how much it costs for such bad service. But now, when you visit home, the requisite five-minute chitchat before ordering a cup of coffee has become unbearable. Not to mention the bagels, NYC you’ve ruined every bagel anywhere else.
Who the hell do you think you are now? You’re suddenly a kale expert when a year ago you’d get down on some bagel bites. Now you wonder if you’d notice a dead man sitting next to you on the train.
You’ve changed. Making it in NYC you find, is a weird thing. After working dead-end and high-stress part-time jobs, you finally land a gig doing something you actually love; it’s a miracle. Of course, you also have to take another part-time job to support yourself — to pay for those three-dollar cups of coffee you’re suddenly drinking everyday. Your mom sends you $50 to, “do something fun,” and you buy yourself bulk rice and beans. You’re working 60 hours a week, living in rough Bed Stuy off the Ghost train, and you suddenly know what gunshots sound like. It’s exciting, but it’s not what you thought it’d be.
NYC, you pay your best and brightest to walk the dogs of the rich. NYC, you charge more for a bedroom than most of the country does for a home. NYC, you’re getting more money art handling than your hometown friend makes managing Applebee’s, except he owns a house with a big yard and a dog, and he is happy, happy, happy. NYC, what happened to the American dream? Where are your bootstraps? NYC, this place is nothing like the advertisements.
Worse yet, your friends back home haven’t even heard of that amazingly cool and artistic project you’ve started working with. This gig has become your one and only comfort during those dire moments late at night wondering whether you were in fact destined to move here. NYC, you ask, why is everyone you love here so desperate?
I mean it’s a really awesome company you’ve started working for. Following their work back home you had the distinct impression that they were all famous. “Their site gets over a million unique visitors every month,” you tell your old pals on the phone. “Jerry Saltz retweeted me.” Now you’ve found out everyone working there are all broke part-time art handlers, just like you.
“Jerry who?” Your friends back home ask.
“I’ve never used Twitter…” They add.
The tallest building in your hometown is a parking garage. It’s five stories tall. You used to drive to the top just to sit and cherish the view; you could see for miles in every direction. It was actually like, a destination.
That parking garage could fit under the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO. That parking garage is shorter than most apartment buildings in NYC. You’ve gone to rooftop VIP parties in Midtown that are unimaginably taller than that parking garage; glamorous parties with famous artists doing drugs and a renowned curator at the Met is chatting to you. Fuck that parking garage.
Only thing is, your old friends have never been to the Met, and have little desire to do so. They wonder instead, “Why do you live in a tiny windowless room that heats up to 120 degrees in the summer and leaks? If you’re at all of these cool parties with famous people, when will you start, you know, making a living? Why have you become so accustomed to the smell of piss and the site of vomit?”
That while you’re walking a dog on the Upper West Side for an absolute tyrant of a millionaire — a dog that costs more than your first car and is presently pissing on your shoes — it suddenly hits you that your friends are actually quite content back home. That despite their meaningless jobs which nobody in the world could manage to find interesting, they are feeling just fine with their nice new and practical Ford Focus, two-story house with painted trim, and a happy marriage. None of this sounds interesting to you of course, except for their feeling of contentedness you’ve sought for so long.
And just when you feel like throwing in the towel and it all seems like you’ve been proven wrong; that those 21 years of desperate faith in a better place were only a misplaced desire to belong, NYC welcomes you all over again, and you’re reminded of just how beautiful mega-city humanity can be. It happens on one of those quintessential NYC nights. You go out dancing, and you meet a group of people who are exactly like you. They too follow the project you’re so proud of, they too work three part-time jobs, and they too spend too much on museums and underground shows. You end up heading out with them to one of those secret parties in Bushwick, through a broken fence and hidden behind an old factory, with 400 beautiful people in the basement dancing ecstatically.
You meet someone who is interested in having you work on an even bigger and better project, one you thought unattainable even in your boldest dreams. You run into an artist who recognizes and thanks you for the review you published about them months ago; they actually read it. And by the end of the night you’re on one of Brooklyn’s infamous rooftops, making out with an unbelievably perfect human being. Manhattan is on fire with beauty, and those unimaginably tall buildings don’t feel quite so overwhelming now.
In the end, maybe you were destined for NYC, maybe you weren’t. It’s the greatest city in the world, but you now know what your hometown really means to you, and just how much you were shaped by it. There are thousands of beautiful and wonderful people — not that dissimilar to you — coming into NYC everyday. And now you’re dating that person from the rooftop, and that person is perfect, and from a town just like yours. And you now know that you are not alone, that you really never were. NYC, you weren’t the solution we sought, but you’ll do just fine for now.