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I am going to try to talk about where New York ended for me. But realize that to some extent it’s unfair to address the end of a thing without acknowledging its beginning. I leaned heavily on Joan Didion for the title of this piece, and her essay by the same name kicks off with beginnings and endings too. Our view on the subject is different, of course. Didion writes that she finds it easy to see the beginnings of things and harder to see the ends.
I think I see both clearly. I just have no real interest in revisiting my early days in New York. It evokes something between boredom and apathy to recall the days when I first moved back from London and was technically still “living” at my parents’ place in Montclair, but taking the 66 bus into midtown Port Authority at least weekly, sometimes more frequently, depending on how many consecutive nights each week I spent downstairs at Shelley’s East Village duplex with the lights off watching The Hurt Locker on repeat. I just loved that Kathryn Bigelow had won an Oscar for this grimy-ass war movie. I couldn’t get enough.
It’s so boring to remember that first fall of 2009 turning into that first winter back in the States. Thanksgiving was novel again, and it was my parents’ turn to do the turkey. It was late morning; I was hungover, covers pulled over my head, and this massive bird was roasting in the oven with seemingly no one else home besides me. It all struck me as hysterically funny. Did the bird turn the tables and eat my family? What was going on?
I can recall all the things from those first years in New York. That’s probably why I don’t enjoy talking about them. When I wasn’t sleeping at Shelley’s on 6th between 2nd and 3rd, there was a space above the store I owned on Clinton Street in the Lower East Side. I’d sleep in the loft on a tiny mattress I’d dragged up, along with a couple of pillows and a black comforter I still had from college. The store really hadn’t been a vanity project, you know. It was more like a life preserver.
All I knew for certain when I moved back from London was that love as I knew it…it wasn’t a lie. It just wasn’t anymore. Leaving in its wake an overwhelming sense of disappointment and loneliness and drowning so complete that the only relief was the sheer bottoming out. The sadness causes the partying, and the partying comforts the sadness, becoming together a salve and a crutch. Both are such an integral part of you over time that finally changing requires its own other letting go. Many women never do. We literally die for the right to our sadness. God knows we’ve earned it.
My friend, Richard, lived in a studio down on Clinton and Delancey at the time, so some nights if I felt like company or was scared to sleep above the store, I’d walk down to his place. I’d shuffle past other exhausted shop owners pulling down their screeching gates and sweeping off their sidewalks. We’d watch Modern Family in bed on Richard’s laptop and laugh, and I’d fall asleep with him breathing gently next to me.
“I could feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later—because I did not belong there, did not come from there—but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs.” – Joan Didion, Goodbye to All That
There was a promoter girl downtown at the time named Kathy, with beautiful, long, jet-black hair. Kathy did not know that she was a club promoter. Richard and I called her “Crazy Kathy” on account of her being—not crazy at all actually. Just the type of New York person that doesn’t ever talk about where they’re from and has no home in the city to speak of and nothing that they ever tell you about themselves or their life or past is truthful or real. She was fun though! Kathy had a table at a different restaurant-club combination every night. Monday dinner at Beauty & Essex, dancing at Avenue after. Tuesday Sons of Essex, then on to Gansevoort. Wednesday Catch for dinner, and Tenjune after. Stanton Social, RDV, and then The Jane on Thursdays. She was in the Hamptons on the weekend. Obviously. It never stopped, and I never saw Kathy pay for anything. Not a meal or a cocktail or a pack of gum. When I was with her, I guess I didn’t either. They were the emptiest days of my life. This was the beginning of New York for me. Then maybe there was a middle.
Fall 2016 pulled a work Fashion Week project around with it, and I found myself at the bar at my gate at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, paralyzed by my unwillingness to board a flight back to NY. I hit ‘Recent’ on my phone and dialed Jon Gray of Ghetto Gastro, the culinary powerhouse whose hectic schedule is only outdone by his sage advice. It was late in whatever country Jon was in. He spoke slowly. “When you’re good within yourself…no matter where you are in the world, it’s Paradise, baby,” he said. I could hear his broad smile through the phone. And then there was an end.
I still feel flush with excitement when I see the city in TV shows and movies. A dream city, the humming playground of dream people. But it never felt like that for me. When people ask about the timing—about when I fell out of love with New York—I don’t think I was ever really in.
New York is a city that rewards its inhabitants the older and more experienced they get. Ironically, as the city rises up to meet me in every way, I have no more appetite for it. No more street cleaning. No more ‘Showtime!!’
“New York ain’t hard, baby. Not really hard. It’s just sad, and what you need to make it here is the easy stuff I got rid of a long time ago.” What is the ‘easy stuff’ Son’s talking about in Tar Baby, anyway? What does he mean?
This week, my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, Dr. Lu, suggests that maybe I should hang my Mike Tyson hoodie up for good. Dr. Lu is wise and insightful, I think probably quite old, but looks forty and, unexpectedly, is very attractive to me. “Why do you wear that?!” he wants to know. I look down and shrug. Mike is on the front of the sweatshirt biting Evander Holyfield’s ear off. “Let people see you.” A pause. “The real you.”
Writer: Blake Scotland
Illustrator: Zet Gold