One of the things I know from moving all the time is that in the week before a move, you stay up all night. Having spent most of the daylight hours procrastinating by reading through your old bank statements and being mesmerized by the Blue Planet DVDs you put in for background noise, nighttime is the right time for packing. You also stay up all night with that roving anxiety that is your physical self reacting to imminent change. That too.
One of the obsessive insomniac motifs keeping me company this week is how I am about to experience a dramatic loss of street cred. Explanation:
Item 1: I am moving from New York to Los Angeles shortly.
Item 2: I have lived in New York for ten years.
Item 3: I have never been to Los Angeles.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, Item 2 makes Item 3 a little less scary. Hardened urbanite that I feel like, learning to navigate someplace new feels more like a fun challenge than a daunting obstruction. In fact, on vacations to twisty places like Paris and San Francisco, I have shocked myself and those around me with an aptitude for reading maps and finding things and asking for help when needed. I am prepared for things to be foreign. I’m pretty jazzed about it, honestly. But.
On Labor Day 2003 I unloaded a Chevy Cavalier’s worth of my books, clothing, and doodads into a heavily-infested apartment share in Queens occupied by two people I found on the Internet. I had never ridden the subway before or visited a bodega. Since then, I have offloaded many Cavaliers’-worth of possessions (I figure my current amassment would fit into a Ford Explorer, maybe a Tahoe) through a succession of apartments that led my trail of discovery around seven or eight neighborhoods. Packing up now, it’s still all books and clothing and doodads. However: I have accrued something much more interesting.
I have done all these things. I have held leases in three boroughs, slept over in four, and vomited in all five, plus Jersey. I have hung around long enough to regale the young people with tales of extinct subway lines and to jaw with old timers about what I was doing during the blackout/blizzard(s)/transit strike/earthquake/hurricane(s). I can remember the night when I aged out of the Lower East Side and the long day when I walked Manhattan tip to toe. What joy, last summer, riding on the Franklin Avenue shuttle train, to realize I’d ridden every line the MTA had to offer: A to Z and 1 to 9–yes, 9!. I’ve eaten at Sri Pra Prai, Gramercy Tavern, three Momofukus, four Shake Shacks, the best taco truck in Queens, and the local bars on the blocks of twelve different addresses.
I’ve dropped a week’s pay on a single meal and not been sorry. I’ve survived for months alternating cans of beans and tuna with free beers from the old dudes at the local dive for sustenance. I’ve gotten over the idea that either of these things made me a better person: they did not. I’ve watched Broadway shows from the stagehands’ balcony and once held a paper check for $25 million in my hand (it was not made out to me, I was just a messenger. Like Joan of Arc.). I’ve been to parties in abandoned buildings where you do things like put on surgeons’ gowns so performance artists can spray you with foodstuffs while circus performers dangle from the rafters. I have ridden the G train from Brooklyn to Queens at two am alone; crossed myself against the threat of violent street crimes while the person closest to me destroyed my financial solvency. I’ve gained said solvency back, one paycheck at a time. I’ve fallen in love in the spring and the fall and endured six summers with no AC. I have worked on the East side and the West side and found a professional home in a place I never would have predicted.
This seems like something, right?
I’ll take care of the scoffing preemptively: I realize that doing the things everyone else does in one of the most populous places on earth does not make you special. It makes you the opposite of special. I mean, for crying out sakes, everyone’s eaten at Momofuku and disgraced him/herself at their local bar on karaoke night.
I used to ride my bike past this graffiti on Kent Avenue a few times a week that very charmingly reminded everyone that NEW YORK DOESN’T NEED YOU. It’s true, she doesn’t. But still.
It’s a jargon, an insider’s recognition of shared good things. These are the things we talk about to remind one another why we are paying this mind-crappingly-insane rent. These accrued experiences are supposed to stand in for stuff, which we don’t have room for in our apartments and likely couldn’t afford, anyway. This is how we make our home here. It makes this overcrowded archipelago my home, whether I like it or not.
So why leave home?
There is a longer answer. One that involves bad neighborhood mojo and Vitamin D supplements, job prospects, creative stagnation, agoraphobia, and feeling unable, any longer, to ignore so many fellow humans each day of my steadily plodding existence.
The short version is that I fell in love one winter, and the reasons to leave outnumbered those for staying.
Hence: off to this foreign place of cars and vanity closets and sunlight and who knows what else? I’ve never been there, not even on vacation. I’ve only been on two vacations in a decade. Do you know how much rent I’ve paid? Who can afford to travel?
So it is exciting. And sad. Not because I don’t want to go. I want to bust out of here so fast people will check for their wallets after I’m gone.
The sadness causing me to grind down and slowly poison myself with the plastic in my night guard is my grief for the above list.* Because I’m not self-involved enough to believe anyone elsewhere will care about the place where I ate fried duck’s blood in Flushing. No one will care if I hiked 120 blocks after the hurricane to avoid talking to my neighbors. They will not care, in this new place, and they won’t likely suffer my nostalgia. No doubt my imaginary new acquaintances in LA have heard it before. Is there anything more obnoxious than a homesick New Yorker?
So I worry. I worry because it’s more than a change of residence. I have to find new things to love and feel proud of–new experiences to stand in for the stuff I still can’t afford. Going from naturalized to FOB at my age. Oy.
Actually, I can’t wait to give our friends out there new excuses to relive the parts of their city that they feel nostalgic about. What should I do first?
*And, actually, the people I’m leaving here. But I can’t think about that now. laaalalalala.