August is on its way down. I’ve been here almost 8 months. I’ve gotten a good job and given it up, I’ve explored the city and gone down every road that has caught my attention. I’ve seen shows and hung out with great folks. Yet I’m still not feeling it. I just don’t (yet?) see myself living here for more than a year. I haven’t warmed to New York the way I did to London. I was there for three months, the first few weeks of which were defined by an overriding desire to leave, while the remainder by abiding affection. Part of the reason I chose to try New York was its cultural resemblance to London. So far it hasn’t delivered.
I’m not saying I’m ready to bail, but I’m having a hard time right now envisioning a life here. Even if I found a really good job, I’m already getting tired of…the experience? Here is the short list of complaints:
- The summer heat. It’s not as bad as Arkansas, but you have to walk around in it. A lot. Plus stuffy hot subway platforms are like dirty, dirty saunas.
- Grocery shopping is an ordeal. Going to Target even more so.
- The food isn’t that great. This town loves its comfort food, so the only good stuff is the gourmet stuff, which is prohibitively expensive. Everything cheap is mostly crap. There isn’t a lot of middle ground. When I do find the best food (tastiness at a reasonable price), there is the problem of mileage. I have to cross Manhattan into Tribeca when I want some Vietnamese fried rice as good as Lily’s in LR. And Barbecue? Forget it, unless you want to go all the way up to Harlem to eat at Dinosaur. Which is still only just OK.
- The pizza comes in two styles: generic NY slice and authentic Italian. That’s a narrow spectrum for me, coming from Little Rock’s wide spectrum of Vino’s, Damgoode Pies, US Pizza, and Shotgun Dan’s. Don’t get me wrong; I’d eat at DiFara’s weekly if I could, but it’s way out in Midwood and takes an hour to prep.
- I don’t think I could ever play music here. Getting my amp to any gig without a vehicle is going to be either expensive or physically taxing. And even my favorite musicians, the guys who impress me most in the area, are disheartened by the impossibility of making a living as an original band in this town. Compound that with the fact that actually getting a gig here is made difficult enough by all the other people who came here to play music.
That last one reminds me. It seems like there are only 4 reasons to live in New York City:
- You’re very good at something and you want to do it here with all the other people who are good at something.
- You want to be famous for doing something you may or may not be good at.
- You want to be here to observe and/or interact with Groups 1 and 2.
- Your family is here.
At the end of the day, I think I’m really just a #3. Sure there are things I’m good at, but I don’t think I’m good enough at them to make it worth my while to stay here. Especially since I don’t know what my while is worth. Plus the volumes of #2’s seem to outweigh the population of #1’s by a factor of about 20.
And this is something I’ve been mulling over lately: The New York Celebrity-City Effect. New York City is, in itself, a celebrity. Coming here is like meeting someone famous, and I’d wager that a significant portion of those #2’s are here so that they can see themselves in their minds’ eyes as having New York for their own mental movie backdrop. A quick glance at the top movies of all time shows that New York outpaces Los Angeles as a film setting by almost 2 to 1. NYC is a character all its own, providing backdrops for films from such diverse sources as Woody Allen and Spider-Man. That’s the magic of it. But that magic seems to have less spark these days. The artistic community has been all but shoved out of Manhattan by exorbitant rents, with the exception of Harlem, but give it time. Ironically, the cleaning up of the crime here has made nearly every portion of Manhattan a haven almost exclusively for the splendidly wealthy. And Brooklyn is already well on its way down the same path.
It also seems like a lot of people (the #3’s perhaps) move here so that they can have the status of saying “I live in New York City,” to their friends back home, as though simply by relocating they’ve achieved something. Moving here isn’t any harder or easier than moving to Detroit or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Yet given the number of expatriate Arkansans here, I have to suspect that a lot of people move here for the sake of saying they’ve moved here. New York City is indeed a place of wonder, and I have to admit it does really feel like you’re advancing to a second or third act in your own personal screenplay, but a change of venue isn’t guaranteed to make your life any more or less interesting or fulfilling. At best you get to see more music and art, but when it comes to things that are really important – being creative, having friends and loved ones, enjoying life – these are things you can do anywhere.
So, I came here for the same reason mountain climbers do what they do: “because it’s there.” Now that I know what’s here…maybe I need more time to find the magic, but at this point I think I’ll most likely be back in Arkansas before the year is out. But who knows.
1.) A distance Elizabeth and I lovingly referred to as “Fayetteville” because that’s how long it takes to get there (or here from there) by train.
2.) Los Angeles is too decentralized and homogenous to have any real identity of its own to captivate an audience the way New York does.
3.) And let’s face it, Metropolis and Gotham City are essentially New York stunt doubles.