No Dream, No Good: Why I’m Leaving New York

posted in: New York City, Rant 6
New York served 54.3 million tourists in 2013. Photo: Wikipedia.
New York served 54.3 million tourists in 2013. Some of these people live here, though. Photo: Wikipedia.

I have tried, but it is plain: I cannot live in New York City.

Instead of falling in love with this place — my plan from the start — I have grown to resent it and am itching to leave. The itching could be bedbugs, but I don’t think so.*

New York City doesn’t care what I think of it, of course. New York didn’t notice when I arrived and it has stayed utterly ambivalent toward me since. Anything I have to say about New York will fall on the millions of deaf ears here, which is part of my problem with this place: aren’t two deaf ears enough? Not for New York.

For the past few months, I have been doing research. I’ve been watching interviews and reading essays and op-ed pieces by people who say New York is dead. I realize this is not a good strategy if your goal is to fall in love with a place, but when I hit Month Four and began feeling outright hostility toward the city, I launched my gloomy search. I had to find out if other people didn’t get it, if other people here were walking around perpetually sour like me. The things I liked about New York when I would visit my sister over the past fourteen years were there, but the bottom dropped out entirely when I had my own mailing address. Why?

I had a feeling my problem had to do with the way New York is now, in 2014; perhaps I might’ve had a different experience with a different version of New York. Maybe it would’ve been perfect for me in the weird and dangerous 1970s, or the wild and dangerous Jazz Age. Maybe I would’ve done better as a New Amsterdam colonist, scouring my washtub. It’s a bad skier who blames the slopes, but I’m blaming the slopes on this one: I don’t think New York in 2014 is so fantastic. The research I did showed me I am not alone in feeling this way. I’m in a crowd, in fact, which is annoyingly appropriate.

If you adore New York or if you’ve already made up your mind that I’m a weenie who just couldn’t hack it, I hope you’ll stay with me. I agree that there are valid arguments supporting New York as awesome and I’m perfectly willing to grant you that I’m a weenie.

But first.

Fran Lebowitz (lifelong New Yorker, cultural Cassandra, personal hero) has plenty to say about 2014 New York being awful. For years, she’s been watching her city turn from the intellectual and artistic capitol of the world into a theme park. (I think Lebowitz was the first to make the New-York-as-Disney Park analogy and it’s a little worn, okay, but it fits too well to ignore.) Former mayor Bloomberg — a billionaire, remember — had a goal when he took office. He wanted to increase tourism and commerce in his city. To do that, he had to make it a kinder, gentler version of itself. The safer folks felt New York was, the more of them would come here, which would bring in money. Bloomberg served three terms (he changed the term-limit law to make that possible), and thus had years to work on his New York Beautification Project. And indeed, the place is Disney-fied. You must wait in lines for everything you want to do. Extras are never included in your ticket price. Grand, sparkly attractions replace smaller, older rides because they photograph way better and push ticket prices up. And it seems that, like the planters and fences at Disneyland, everything in New York these days is rounded, never sharp, for liability reasons.

And then there’s the matter of housing. If you tried to rent a one-bedroom apartment on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland, in the shadow of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, I reckon it would probably cost you about $4000/month. They don’t rent apartments on Main Street in Disneyland, as far as I know, but if they did, that’s probably what they’d go for. And this is what it costs in New York for a one-bedroom, give or take several hundreds of dollars, depending on how good (read: sneaky) your broker is. If you want to live cheaper in Disneyland, you’ll need to find a room for rent way out in Toontown (a.k.a. Jersey City) or maybe further than that. Maybe just hit the parking lot and skip the broker and your silly visions of Main Street altogether.

But here’s the thing. All that can be fine. It is fine for millions of people (at least a few hundred thousand) because they have a dream. They have a dream of making it in New York or they simply want to be in New York to escape a life they couldn’t stand. That’s great — and that dream is the crucial. It is the key; it is precisely what allows the young man to squeeze into the subway at rush hour, what zeros out the rage of the woman who sees that the checkout line at Trader Joe’s begins at the door of the Trader Joe’s. You gotta want to be in New York real, real bad to put up with the bullsh-t and if you do, it can work for you. In summation: to live in step with New York, it would seem that you need either lots of money or a dream so dear you don’t care about living with four roommates in Toontown.

Well, I ain’t got Bloomberg money and I ain’t got no dream, New York. I’m gonna have to dip.

I came here for an adventure, and I’ve had one. But I can’t stay. It’s wrong for me. I never felt like I had to make it in New York City to Feel Whole. I feel more or less pleasant at least half the time in other places, but I grit my teeth and steel my face when I’m “home,” which, admittedly, isn’t that often. Perhaps I haven’t bonded with New York because I haven’t been in New York enough, but try telling that to the part of me who almost started yelling at someone on the street the other day. A woman was trying to open the door to her garden apartment on a really hairy section of St. Mark’s. There was garbage that had caught in the doorway and on the cement steps leading down. She had a baby in a stroller with her. I saw the baby and the woman and the trash and the crappy doorknob to the basement apartment that she couldn’t get into and I had to stop myself from screaming, “Have you lost your mind?? Get that child out of here! Are you insane? This place is filthy!”

There’s more to the story. More reasons why I have to leave. Where shall I go? Ah, now that is a very good question. But I think I’ve said enough for now.

*I do not have bedbugs. Yet.

PaperGirl Celebrity Sighting: Joe Bastianich!

We go way back, me and Joe.
We go way back, me and Joe.

There are a handful of moments in my life that could be described as “smooth.” When playing Trivial Pursuit once, I was asked, “Who was the Duke of Flatbush?” and without missing a beat I replied, “Levi Strauss?” My sister actually shot Mountain Dew out her nose. And in Las Vegas once, I winked at a man before he shot dice at the craps table and he won an enormous pile of money. These are the moments we cling to when we realize we’ve had a shred of Kleenex hanging out our nose for the better part of the afternoon.

Well, I was real smooth last night. With a celebrity. 

I was walking to dinner with Yuri. We were on Michigan Avenue and turned onto Ohio, where I noticed the banners for Eataly. Eataly is chef Mario Batali’s death star, an enormous, multi-level Italian restaurant/marketplace that first opened in New York City. At Eataly, you can have a fishbowl-size glass of wine, buy imported salami, sit down to dinner, and then be rolled out the door by attractive young people in chic aprons who will give you a cannoli for the road. And we’re getting an Eataly here, on Ohio and Michigan, and ours will actually be bigger than New York’s, coming in at 63,000 square feet to Union Square’s runty 50,000. Doors open next week.

Yuri and I were arm-in-arm (it was freezing) and I see the Eataly banners; as we pass the first bank of papered-up windows, I see standing under the entrance a man I recognize to be Joe Bastianich. I recognize him because Joe Bastianich is famous. He owns vineyards and produces fine wines; he is one of three celebrity judges on popular television program Master Chef; and he’s a restauranteur titan who aside from having his own 3- and 4-star joints scattered ’round the globe, works closely with chefs — such as Mario Batali of Eataly. Joe Bastianich was standing under the eaves of his new restaurant, presumably waiting to meet someone. Maybe his wife, maybe his buddy, maybe God. He’s a very important guy.

I see him, he sees me see him. With nary a pause in my gait (and without breaking from Yuri), I glance up at the Eataly banner above us and go, “How’s it goin’ in there?” And Joe Bastianch looks a little surprised, like maybe he should know me, and he goes, “It’s good.” He looked at me again, closer, but he can’t place me.

I was like, so cool at that moment I felt I could speak for the entire city of Chicago, so as I pass him, like over my shoulder, I go, “We’re looking forward to it.”

“Me, too,” says Joe Bastianich, and Yuri and I just keep on a’walkin.

“Who was that?” Yuri asked me. Yuri doesn’t watch Master Chef.

“That was a famous man,” I said with a tiny little bunny hop, allowing myself to finally geek out. Being smooth with a celebrity is tough for one simple reason: broad exposure in television, print, and film makes a human being seem like an alien life-form that can eternally replicate itself. We would all act a little weird around a replicating alien if we met one, so that’s why it’s weird to see Madonna hailing a taxi, or Igor Stravinsky eating at Jimmy John’s. Or Joe Bastianich checking his text messages on Ohio Street.

Mr. Bastianich, you don’t know me. And I am not nearly as cool as I may have appeared last night. But Chicago is looking forward to Eataly and I can speak for the city when I say welcome, sir.*


*Mary Fons may be reached for gift cards, exclusive wine tastings, and general VIP treatment at Eataly via the contact form on this website. Thank you. — The Management