Cities That Are Not New York

Punk Rock, Cultural Tourism, and Finding You Everywhere

  1. In Richmond, I slipped around Cary Street, trying to match, living in the basement of Plan 9 Records like I belonged, pinching used record sleeves too tightly, fingers greased from Mary Angela’s pizza, scouring drawers of buttons in Bygones Vintage, clawing at the person I thought I could be, pretending, pretending, believing. I thought I saw you everywhere. You were the people I wanted to know. You were the people I wanted to be. You were the people whose stories I wanted to paste inside the walls of my body. Nothing can satisfactorily replicate that first glow of belonging: the brief, shining moment when we made eye contact on the street and you recognized me.
  2. In Indianapolis, I went to the Broad Ripple district. I found the vintage dress shops and the good coffee, just like Cary Street, the same gutter punks crouched on the curb smoking unfiltered cigarettes. I bought a coffee, sat across from you, asked for conversation. I wanted you to tell me a story I hadn’t heard before. I wanted you to help me feel like someone else.
  3. In London, you took me to Camden Town. The district used to be for free love, you said, but now it was all aging goths and tourists. I wondered if you viewed me as an aging goth. I ran my hands between the swaths of black lace, bondage straps, pinafore dresses with sweetly sloping hemlines, rubber collars, stripper heels. I felt like a tourist. I spent a lot of money.
  4. In Gainesville, I found a record store full of students and the humid punk scene Against Me! left behind, but I could only find you in the bellies of alligators.
  5. In Philadelphia, we made imagined eye contact through our sunglasses, two culture tourists on South Street. You had the uncomfortable look of an alien spy and that was how I knew you.
  6. In Phoenix, I couldn’t find you anywhere. Maybe you were sitting in a corner of Lux Coffee Bar, but it was too hot to talk.
  7. In Seattle, I saw you everywhere. You asked me for change outside Bartell’s. You complimented my dress/legs/ass outside Dick’s Drive-In. You handed me a flyer for a show I’d never go to in the alley outside El Corazon. That was the problem, though. I saw you everywhere, but you were always outside.
  8. When I went back to Richmond, Cary Street wasn’t how I remembered—was it better? Had I given the street permission to get better without me? Everybody knows that places don’t remain frozen in time, but the changes are nevertheless disarming. Over and over, people will say, “You can’t go home again.” Over and over, you will nod submissively and think, “Go fuck yourself.” Cary Street stands out clearly in my memory, more as an apparition than an urban retail strip: the sense that there was some scene all around me to which I belonged only peripherally. But if the cultural landscape I remember is no longer there, the question becomes, was it ever there? I mean, was I so fucked up with adolescent hormones and longing that I invented a place I thought I wanted?
  9. I’m still trying on new cities. There’s no finding whatever mythology is stuck in my memory, but I might find something new. City after city after city, I can find the places, I can find the people, but I can’t find the contact high of belonging. Someone tells me not to go to New York because it doesn’t belong to me. I don’t know how to explain that I stopped trying to belong anywhere after I left Cary Street. I don’t want to “make it,” I don’t want to belong, and I don’t need you to belong to me. I just want you to tell me a story I haven’t heard before. A place is just a story. Every city, every block, every curbside, I keep waiting for you to surprise me.

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