I'll Take New York We are currently dangling between two very minor milestones. Just over a year and a half ago, I arrived in New York City--picture all the cliches you can of the smalltown boy arriving in the big city. In fact, just watch the video for "Paradise City," and picture me like a young Axl Rose, with shorter hair, more of a tendency to stumble around drinking and telling people how much I love them, and less of a propensity for smacking around women. That's nothing like my arrival here, but it's more interesting than the truth.
The other milestone is, shockingly, my six month anniversary as a happyrobot writer. I don't really know how to celebrate that beyond opening up another bottle of foul alcohol, but I feel like it might be time for me to actually meet some of the other happyrobot writers out there. My anniversary comes up on the 31st (I started writing on March 31st, apparently); if anyone would like to meet up then, or before then, robot-message me, or let's just hash it out in comments.
Regardless, this is a post about the city. I moved here 18 months ago, and still feel kind of off-balance. I wasn't precisely a country bumpkin moving to the big city: I'd lived in Singapore for a time, traveled for over a year in Europe, living out of a backpack and a bottle of scotch (or ouzo, or grappa, or poteen, or becherovka, or raki, or unicum, or whatever the national alcohol was of the country I was in), and survived for almost a year in Los Angeles, but lets be honest here. I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, the most cosmopolitan city in the least cosmopolitan state in the Midwest. When the state you spent 18 years in has a smaller population than the borough you are moving to, this constitutes what can only be termed a "paradigm shift" (and dear god, I hate the word "paradigm," but it's the only word that truly fits).
And L.A. is no real help. Living in the wilds of Orange County, California is like living in Sartre's "No Exit" writ large. It's a giant suburb of six-lane highways and strip malls textured with restaurant chains that close at 9pm, with car exhaust, forest fire smoke, and the occasional earthquake being the only real excitement to be had.
Plus, I was living with my parents, working at an automobile parts factory, and generally trying to avoid the fact that the only landmark of note within an hour's drive was the Richard M. Nixon Memorial Library. These are not elements condusive to healthy psychic growth.
But New York! I wanted to be a part of it! Or at least find a place where I could get some decent sushi or stay out past 11pm. So I moved to the city--not a country bumpkin, but not a well-developed urban warrior, either.
Samuel Johnson once wrote, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life," and the same is probably true of any decently sized city, but New York probably more than any other. New York called to me; it seemed perfectly set up to fit me like a glove. I'm liberal, curious, and easily bored with the mundane. Also, pretentious and self-centered as hell. So the type of city where they issue weary condescension at the airport seems tailor-made for me.
So how is New York, 18 months on? Well, I'm massively in debt, so I must be doing something right in this city. When you come from Fargo (oh yeah? Yeah sure, you betcha!), it's hard to get over the feeling of "Where are all the white people at?" It's less worrying to live in a city where it's possible to fall in love a dozen times a day just walking through the city streets. But the fears and nervousness fade in time. For instance, I used to have a tremendous and completely irrational paranoia about fire escape ladders and the metal grates on the ground. I used to be irrationally afraid that the ladders would come shaking lose as I was walking underneath them and come crashing down on me. I used to avoid the metal grates: they seemed ready to give way underneath me at any moment (in all fairness, one did break under my weight while I was in Athens a couple years back, nearly dropping me twenty feet down into Hades).
Sure, living in the city is hard work--sometimes terrifying. And occasionally I think that if I'd only stayed in Fargo, I could be married and own a house now--spend my time watching sitcoms and going to sleep at 10pm. But who really wants to live one of those lives of quiet desperation?
Besides, maybe in five or ten years I'll have this urban living thing mastered. At least I'll have a great time trying.