The Myth of New York
Everyone comes to New York seeking something very similar: belonging. Especially in the communities in which I run—the queer, the kinky, the subversive, the social change junkies—we have all come from other places, other more small-minded, limited, restrictive places, hoping that the Great Mythology of New York will hold true for us, too: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ...” wrote Emma Lazarus in her famous poem “The New Colossus,” printed on the Statue of Liberty.
Not only was New York City the representation of the ultimate American acceptance from other countries during the United States’ construction, it has become the ultimate refuge for the rest of the country’s marginalized citizens, too. We weirdos, freaks, and perverts are the new tired and poor, the new masses yearning to breathe free, and those of us who have grown up in the wake of the social change mass-movement of the 1960s know that Greenwich Village is the place to be. We know from all the mythologized New York depictions that if you are an outcast in your own little town, you will find all the other outcasts flocking to the Village, to Brooklyn, to the artist lofts of Williamsburg, to the artist collectives in warehouses, to the galleries in Chelsea and the coffeehouses in the Lower East Side.
New York never pretends that this is without a cost. “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere,” it reminds us, implying, of course, that it is harder here than it is anywhere else.
I wish this were an exaggeration, but alas it does not seem to be. I have spent the last five years learning how to live in and with New York City, weathering her mood swings and demands, learning how to find her favorite foods at three am, figuring out how not to ruin her lingerie in the laundromat dryers, and writing poem after poem about basic survival here, about the constant attack on all five senses, about how oppressive even the precipitation can be, about how you are soaked to your drawers in one block flat during one of New York’s cloudbursts. I used to ask everyone at parties on Brooklyn rooftops, what are your survival techniques? How do you not get overwhelmed? How do you ensure this city feeds you, instead of draining you?
I’m not sure I have those answers, even still; I just have a series of rules and regulations that seem to work, at least for a while. I finally have an apartment that I nickname The Sanctuary which gets fantastic afternoon sun. I invested in a good pair of ear-covering headphones for the subway, and have gone through a dozen black bags to carry all the tools needed to navigate the long days in the city.
We fight a lot, New York and I. We just don't see the world the same way. New York has a constant stream of new suitors ready to pay more, dress fancier, work harder, and bestow undeserved (well, in my mind) compliments at every intersection of avenue and street. She wants big things of me, makes unreasonable demands on my time and energy and wallet. She expects me to stay out until four am and then make it to work on time, productive, the next day. She expects me to not care about being bullied and pushed and assaulted by someone else's thick perfume on the subway. She expects me to come home and cook a nice meal and accomplish ten more things and take care of myself after a long full day when my limbic system barely works.
So why did I come here? “Seattle has no bite!” I used to say. “Everything there is so easy, comfortable. I want things to be more challenging, more multi-dimensional.” I hope that is one of the last times I will wish my life more difficult, because certainly, I got what I wished for. I wanted to be able to say “I lived in New York City in my late 20s.” I knew I wouldn't want to put up with exorbitant rent and roommates and late-night loud bars forever, and I wanted to take advantage while I still had my hearing and some stupidity. I wanted to test my own limits. I wanted to reach, to see what I could squeeze out of the endless opportunities of The Big Apple.
But more than that, I wanted to find myself. By which I mean I wanted to find people like me.
And that I have—though it is not without cost. First, I moved into a first-floor 300-square-foot apartment with two windows across from the Hell’s Angel’s garage in the East Village, understanding that this is the grittier part of the Village, that this is the queer and artist neighborhood. It was all about location (and a very, very pushy real estate agent and landlord). My (now ex) girlfriend and I paid more than two thousand dollars a month for this privilege, and while I scoured the bars and cafes and performance spaces for potential community, I tripped over car-fulls of over-dressed, over-painted blonde New Jersey kids carrying handbags that cost more than my rent, who would later that night puke on my doorstep.
This seems to be a common narrative: we overpay to live in the neighborhood where culture tells us people like us live, we put up with mean roommates and sushi smells and living over clubs which keep music pumping well past midnight, we don’t have windows or adequate space to make breakfast, we don’t have a table to have friends over for dinner, we can only get cell phone service in certain rooms, our plumbing is awful, our hot water goes out every weekend, our landlord drives up in his Mercedes and refuses to get out of the car.
We pay too much for a barely adequate living space for the privilege of proximity, for the privilege of searching, searching, searching for the place in which we belong. In that search I have ranged from stupid to desperate to elated, trekking from borough to borough for one miserable event after another because it's queer, because it’s kinky, because it’s my-particular-brand-of-subversive and maybe just this once the right people will be there and I’ll meet my new best friend.
And I continue to put up with it. I continue to attend community events even though I know there will be five people there who will give me dirty looks and not speak to me. I continue to search, because New York pulls me back in every time. The potential is infinite. Our chemistry strikes deeper than I've ever felt, and when I have one of those magical days with her, where everything goes right and the sun glitters beautifully off the puddles of piss as I cross Houston and Allen, I feel more at home than ever, and I think, I might just be able to make a life of my own here.
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