The title assumes that I have actually lived in New York City. But the reality is a lot darker than that. This is about the idea of being defined by New York City. I do not want to be a “New Yorker”. I am already an Ohioan, an Akronite, I am a lot of things. I do not want to be someone who drops names of cities, just to let you know, just in case you had any questions or concerns. I am not that type of individual at all.
But so many times those were the individuals that I met from New York City, that were in whichever God forsaken place I happened to be at the time. Is that really what it is about? As though I never met a New Yorker before, I have met entirely too many to keep track of. I was meeting New Yorkers when I was too young, ignorant and naive to even know what that meant. New York was always the place that I wanted to move to, because of the way that it was romanticized in the movies. It was the only city that ever existed.
There were others; Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Boston. But none of them had the energy of New York. Those other cities just had buildings; New York City had a soul. It had something that other cities could never have. But to exist in New York City suggested that you were transported, elevated, that you were witness to a transfiguration of your entire being and that you would never be the same again; if you could make it and survive on your own terms. Okay so the transfiguration thing is kind of blasphemous, but that is how people talk about the city. Worship at the altar of the tallest skyscrapers in America in Manhattan.
Wasn’t that the entire point of the way in which the fall of 2001 was irrevocably ruined for me. I had thought about seeing the city, and then this had to happen. There was fear and loathing. I kicked myself for not having seen the World Trade Center sooner. Even if it were rebuilt things would never be the same. Those buildings were a representation of the best and worst days the city ever went through. New Yorkers from the seventies with accents so thick you could mistake them for being from another country. That simply does not happen anymore.
So I finally set foot on the soil. It was one of the most anti-climactic events in my life. My wife was in heaven, and that brought a smile to my face because when you are from a small town of less than a thousand in one of the poorest states in the nation New York is a really big deal. Then something kicked in; my attitude changed and somewhere I decided that I do not want to be a “New Yorker”, I want to be New York. I would want to put my own stamp, my own personal brand something to tell you that Chris was here. I wouldn’t want mediocrity, and it felt that it was incredibly difficult to do that in the city.
I’m in the middle of Times Square and there are thousands of people here but it is nothing exciting, nothing revolutionary. I ask myself what did I want from New York, if anything. So I go back to Virginia and I pontificate and try to dissect what it all meant. I did not want to leave, but it is better to leave while you still have some money in your pocket and you can still breathe.
What is my problem? Is it my pride? Is it the idea of struggling off of 20,000 a year? Is it the idea of being even more of a nobody than I am where I am at? Am I getting older and have my priorities changed? I want the romance, the energy, and the vibrancy of the city. I do not want to get on 3 trains and arrive at work an hour later, I do not want to work two jobs, I do not want a studio apartment in a slum where I have to listen to people getting shot at every other hour.
But more than anything I realized that I wanted all of the positive attributes of the city and none of the negatives. Do not tell me that there are not any trains that run into that part of the city. Do not tell me that I cannot catch a cab because I am Black. I already figured that there will be fights, disputes, quarrels and malevolence on the train, because that happens in every city. I expect to get robbed at gunpoint at some point in my stay there, or to have my pockets picked. I would be a fool to be there without taking those things into consideration, but I want to bounce back as though none of those things ever happened.
My existence is waiting in traffic to arrive at a job just to drive back home with no one on the roads because of the time in the morning that it is. Sleeping whenever possible because my body never gets used to this. Walking around would be refreshing, crowded trains, not so much. So do I want to accept the good and the bad. Do I want to suffer. Or do I feel that I would be a masochist for doing so.
A lot of people that are middle class in New York move elsewhere just to be, middle class. Sometimes a bit lower on the rung than they were in New York. Do I want to be a hipster? Does it get old, does the novelty of thousands of buildings in a city wear off? Is it the buildings that make the place, or the people? At this point in the game, in my life, I am not going to get $70,000 a year. I will get exactly what I am making now, starting off at the bottom crawling my way up to the top skipping meals and eating cheap protein whenever I have some pennies in my pocket to do so. Ironically that is how I am living here.
The sun is the gift and the curse that brings people here. Warm weather, the beach, laid back, informal parties throughout the year, nothing huge, big, or lit up with bright signs like you find in New York but always something out of the way, discrete, that you have to take that chance on and get out of your car. Everything is small here, everything is just enough, nothing extra, nothing superfluous, just enough to do what needs to be done. Yet people call the area home.
I said I wanted the big city life but the big city comes with big problems. You can never have enough money. Your pockets are always empty. You have what you need, but never what you want. It is always out of reach. All of this and it upsets me to no avail. Virginia was supposed to be easy, it was supposed to be cheap, it was supposed to be a cakewalk.
I guess I could move back to Ohio where everyone hates your guts and you are just a burden to people. If you do get a few dollars in your pocket everyone hates you secretly, but they smile in your face. You never really know where people “are at”. You never really know who your friends are. If you have it going on, you literally have to throw people out. If you don’t have it going on people disown you.
There are entirely too many haters to count. Yet I miss the dysfunction and social ills that came with the place. I miss the drug addicts and the prostitutes out in plain sight. I miss the shady “hole in the wall” establishments. I miss the relationships I had formed. I miss watching a car that was consumed in flames downtown. No one cared except for the fumes that were put out. You wanted to get close to it, but then again, if it were to actually blow up, you didn’t want to be around. I miss hearing about a heist at a department store. I miss my actual surprise to see a tank in the middle of the street, I never did find out what that was about.
Instead I get to hear about Black Bears coming out of the forest. People talking about expenditures and budget cuts or what the City wants to force upon them to pay for this time around, and why can’t developers pay for their own projects and this place will never be New York anyway. No it will never be New York. Gotham is 50 times the city this place is to an outsider, but insufferable to a New Yorker that wants to leave. Thus the love/hate relationship that would continue if I were to ever move to New York. Thus the reality of my existence, but not my purpose for living. Well I really sound like I am convinced of that now don’t I?