Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why I’m Glad I Didn’t Quit New York At Age 24

On a Saturday night a few weeks ago, I found myself in a karaoke bar at 3:45 a.m., participating in a raucous group rendition of Creed’s “Higher.” Not my choice of song, but when you’re with your cousin from out-of-town, his friend, and a bunch of random foreigners you met that evening in another bar nearby, you can’t be picky. You want to show them a good time. After all, taking country-folk on a bar crawl to your favorite non-douche-y dives and showing them the time of their lives is part of the joy of living here. “We don’t have a place like this in Charlotte,” my cousin yells in-between songs, and Amen to that. When I was in Charlotte to interview a story subject, the hotel concierge recommended visiting the finest restaurant in town: the Capital Grille. My take, since about age 18, has been, "Why would I want to make it anywhere else when I can make it here?"

An insipid, shallow article on New York Magazine’s “The Cut” blog, “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York At Age 24”, chronicles Ann Friedman’s miserable experience in the city that never sleeps. “I spent the worst year of my life in New York,” Ann writes. The worst. What was the city’s crime against, poor, innocent Ann? “Right after college graduation, I moved from Missouri to join my college boyfriend, who had landed my dream job. I ended up here not because I had something to prove, but because I couldn’t think of where else to go. No job, dreamy or otherwise.”

Hold up. Ann moved to one of the most expensive places to live on Earth… with no job? And she did this solely to join her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, who she clearly secretly despised (“my dream job”)? At least tell me she gave living here a chance.

Nope. “When I decamped for the West Coast fifteen months later, I didn’t feel failure or regret but relief. For me, New York is that guy I went out with only briefly and then successfully transitioned into friendship. We were always meant to be platonic.” Is she talking about the college boyfriend? Or the city? Because if she’s talking about the city, I’ve got news. The city is not a lover. You can try and jam a fire hydrant up your hoo-hah, but if you’re looking for romantic intimacy, you may want to try a human being, instead of anthropomorphicizing an entire city.

Now, maybe I’m biased, because I’ve spent the last 13 years of my life here. I came here first for college—not a college boyfriend—at age 18. My first experience in the city was waiting on the sidewalk on Washington Square West for a big plastic cart so I could move my things into the Hayden dormitory at NYU, and seeing a man just leave his dog’s shit on the sidewalk without picking it up. He caught me staring and said, “Welcome to New York.” While I later learned that was not representative of most New York City dog owners, it’s always stuck with me that on an island with 8 million other people, chances are you’ll meet a new character every day. Sometimes it’s a homeless guy who tells jokes for a slice of pizza. Sometimes it’s a guy who walks around town with a real, live cat on his head. Sometimes it’s a man in the park, covered head to toe by pigeons. You just don’t get this in Missouri. More meth-heads there, I’ll grant you.

It’s always struck me as hilarious that people who claim to despise the city want the world to know how much they hate it, so they write things for New York Magazine. To use Ann’s analogy, It’s sort of like stalking the prom king and then tucking little angry notes into his locker. Everyone can see right through it. It’s not that you hate him, it’s that you want him to ditch the prom queen and take your teenage dirtbag self to the prom instead. Ann Friedman writes, “New York is increasingly a city for people who are already on top, not for those looking to establish themselves.” From a financial standpoint, I can see her point. Even after 13 years, my savings account resembles that of a teenager working minimum wage at Burger King. But I vomited a little in my mouth when I read her description of the ultraviolent Chicago (safer than 8% of the cities in the U.S.!): “the friendly guy who doesn’t know how hot he really is.” What does that even mean? Or when she called the spider’s web of roadways and prostitutes that is Los Angeles—“the surprisingly intelligent, sexy stoner.” That’s actually Boulder, Colorado, not Los Angeles, Ann.

“Part of that infatuation is a willingness to consider New York from a cinematic distance, overlooking the city’s many irritants except insofar as they add grit and drama to your story,” Ann writes. California, Ann’s current state of bliss, is apparently, all “sunshine and avocados.” Clearly, us vampiric New Yorkers have never seen the sun, and avocados remain a mysterious green thing we recognize only from Trader Joe’s pre packaged guacamole. She cites, “a not-insignificant number of the vehement New York lovers I know — especially the young twentysomethings — are actually pretty unhappy day to day,” before retreating to her high school analogy about the prom king again. Her comprehensive study of New Yorkers aside, I’ve often wondered how happy anyone can be without 24-hour access to food, entertainment and excitement. There’s a reason people who move to the ‘burbs instantly pop out kids. There’s simply nothing else to do.

“The entire media industry” is located here because this is where the action is. This is where you’ll always know what’s going on. The things people re-post on Facebook and Twitter about… New Yorkers witness these things and learn about these things on our morning commute. “Your early twenties are going to suck,” Ann writes, and that’s awful, awful to tell people of that age, because it’s not true. It’s the time in your life where you find out who you really are. My twenties most certainly did not suck… but maybe that’s because I didn’t “[break] up with a college boyfriend and a mindless entry-level job.” Instead, I worked hard to climb up from my entry level position, spent my weekends and summer nights taking advantage of what the city had to offer me. Whenever I leave the city for a weekend, I’m surprised at how slow life seems. Sometimes it’s a nice break, but I’d die of boredom if I had to live there. How is a 20-something supposed to meet anyone? Where do you take your dates to, Chili’s? When I visit my friends in Jersey, and it’s not summer, we go bowling. Fun and all, but when the alley closes at 11 there’s nothing left to do.

It’s become in vogue, apparently, to hate on New York. You can blame it on Bloomberg’s elitism, the national anger at Wall Street, the obsession with In & Out Burger that I just don’t get. But if you can hack more than 15 months here—I’d suggest getting a job with decent growth potential, first—you’ll discover a deeper city that the tourists and haters don’t see. A city where the world comes together in the cramped nooks of busy neighborhood bars, where a rabbi, an imam, a priest and a guy with an alligator face tattoo really do all ride side-by-side in a single subway car, where in the wee hours of the morning, somewhere in the East Village, the front doors of a karaoke bar open wide to the street and let loose a roar of human beings, sauced and smiling, who aren’t ready to go home, not just yet.

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