There’s nothing you can’t do

23 05 2010

New York City is a pain in my ass.

For example, late last night AND earlier today, a local island combo was playing their version of ‘Dancing Queen.’ Great: take two irritants (steel drums and ABBA) and put them together and what do you get?

Closed windows on a warm day, that’s what you get.

Did I mention that the only other tune they seemed to know was ‘Amazing Grace’?

Ex-cel-lent.

But this is also my city, full stop. I was watching the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys (honey, what’s going on with that hair?)  vid ‘Empire State of Mind’ for the first time (!) last night, and even though the only really good thing about that song is the refrain, honest-to-god, I welled up.

I gave myself over to the song, to the city.

This is it.

Which is not to say that this is all there is. I read a piece in the Times today about a woman who opened a series of hotels in Austin, and the accompanying slide show offered glimpses of local shops and local characters and I thought, Oh, they don’t have that here. And I was wistful, because I knew that as much as I like those local shops and local characters and ways of life which are decidedly not available in New York, I wouldn’t leave New York to live in those other places.

I was wistful because for the first time in my life I knew I would stay.

SmallTown? Great place to be a kid, but once I hit double-digits I knew I was on my out. Madison—loved it. A quarter of a million people and it felt like a big city to me. My world opened up in ways I hadn’t even thought to expect, so what else was there for me to do but go through that opening?

Minneapolis, mm, not so much, but that was largely due to my displeasure with grad school. There actually are charming neighborhoods and funky shops and I still miss my troika of used book stores near Hennepin and Lake, but: No.

Albuquerque is charming in a charmless sort of way, a bit ramshackle and easy and full of the western wide open blue,  but too hot, too sunny, and not enough water. (Still, ABQ, like Madison, is one of the major settings of my second novel.)

Montreal was wonderful, and the only other city which gives, for me, New York a run for its money. If it weren’t for New York, in fact, I might have emigrated just to live in that city.

Somerville? Great apartment, great upstairs and downstairs neighbors. That’s it.

All of this is my belated response to a series of recent posts in the blogosphere about the the absolute and relative worth of New York. Eh, I think, it’s not for everyone—and that’s not a criticism of those not-fors, but a recognition that no place is the absolute Best Place: it’s all relative to who and how each of us is.

I didn’t know that New York would take when I moved here, and, frankly, my first year here sucked: money, work, money, apartment, money money money. I still worry about money, still don’t have enough of it in a city which feeds on it.

Do you need the litany of problems with this joint? The dirt and the crowds and the cutbacks and the roaches and rats and no charm, no quiet, no ease, no let up to the hustle. Nothing is as good as it was and nothing will change the ceaseless changes. This city does not care about me, does not need me, will not notice when I am gone.

But it allows me to be. I have been restless for over thirty years, and will be restless evermore, but in this city my restlessness can roam and I can remain

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