Fool’s Gold? A New York Couple in Cyberland

SAN FRANCISCO-The day my Manhattan apartment was packed up, I finally saw the guy who had been living next to me for two years. I had never seen him before. He didn’t say hello. Neither did I. It didn’t seem like much to me at the moment, but these days, it’s the little things I long for.

The movers were part of an incentive gift from my boyfriend’s company, a startup comic book Web site, meant to ease the turmoil of the New York-to-San Francisco move. We are part of the great cyber gold rush. E-commerce. Sounds chic, very 1999. Doesn’t feel that way. In July, I refused to go. It was impossible to choose between my boyfriend and New York. I have shared four full years with him, but 25 with New York. Loving a place more than a person is creepy. By September, I caved. Our new San Francisco neighbor was waiting with open arms and too many stories.

Apartments here are enormous. We have sweeping panoramic views, gorgeous sunsets, a garbage disposal, a washer and dryer. I work from home. I do all of the things I always promised myself I would do “if I had the time”: I read-not skim-papers, magazines, books. I sleep. I exercise. I floss. If this e-commerce thing ever pays off, my cyberboy and I will floss ourselves silly all the way around the world and then return to New York. That is the dream.

The reality is, I am miserable. The apartment makes me uncomfortable; growing up in New York, my bedroom was the size of my closet here. What to do with all of this space? We don’t have enough furniture. I feel guilty if I neglect a room for a day. So I make an effort to spend equal amounts of time in all areas of the apartment. I still don’t know what to do with a garbage disposal. I can’t ask my boyfriend; he works all the time. This is a new trait, his work ethic. I can’t figure out where it came from and neither can he. But stock options are stock options. As far as I can tell, joining a startup Web site is the young Ivy Leaguer’s answer to gambling.

The real problem is, San Francisco sucks. I mean really, really sucks. If one more New Yorker says to me, “Oh, I loooove San Francisco, it is the only other American city I could possibly live in!” I will barf. I loathe San Francisco. You can’t hail a cab. You can’t jaywalk. The people are ugly and unfashionable. No one has boundaries: They walk right up to you on the street and say things or even tap you on your arm. The “subway”-consisting of a little above-ground trolley thing-is slow and backwards. There are more homeless people here than I have ever seen in my entire New York life, and most of them are 16-year-old white kids. You can buy California wine in New York, but you can’t get a slice of pizza in San Francisco.

The Jews here don’t look like Jews! I feel so exotic. I went to a bar mitzvah and the rabbi was WASPy. People expect me to have an accent. The night life is pathetic, even in areas that are “hip” and constantly compared to the East Village. To go from one bar to the next you have to walk and walk and walk. Bars close at 2 A.M. and you can’t smoke in them. No one ever has wet hair, which leads me to believe no one bathes.

As far as I can tell, there are no trash bins or pay phones anywhere. People walk like snails even though they spend their lives in cafes drinking coffee. The hills are monstrous so you can’t wear heels. I watch grown women run down my hill on their way to work. They aren’t running because they are late, they are running because it is too steep to walk. It is uncivilized.

Everyone here is into out-of-doors stuff, which is great if you like trees. Personally, I think of trees as decoration, not recreation. The weather changes by neighborhood. Basically, it is cold in the morning, hot midday, cold at night. So the natives change their gear constantly, pulling those Patagonia fleeces on and off all day. There are quasi seasons: freezing in July, hot in October. And fog, the kind that chills you to the bone, all other times. Except when people visit from New York. Then the sun dapples all over town and warms the crooked streets, releasing fabulous scents from the flowers. No wonder New Yorkers think they like it. As soon as visitors leave, the fog can be seen rolling up streets like tumbleweed, like something out of a horror movie. Sometimes I hate this place so much that I stay in my apartment for more than three days at a time.

When I first got here, the supermarket made me cry. We went to Safeway, the only 24-hour thing in this whole “city.” Bulk items! I actually bought 24 rolls of toilet paper. My boyfriend has a Safeway card. And we were genuinely excited about how much money it saved us, almost 20 bucks! “Wow, that’s a lot of money!” “Yeah, pretty cool!” This is not the sort of thing we ever talked about in New York.

I’m not exactly seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. The possible cybermillions (read: thousands) feel like a mirage. We are still broke. Currently, we have no friends. We both have relatives here, but they are “grown-ups.” My ex-boyfriend is here and he is always good for lunch. Then there are the people my boyfriend works with but, well, they are into comic books. And I guess I was obnoxious enough that my chatty neighbor has stopped trying to take me for jogs along the waterfront.

When the phone rings, I explain all this to my friends and family at home. But they’re still jealous, they squeal, they forget again that they’re calling at 6 in the morning San Francisco time. As I listen, I pull open my desk drawer and finger my prized possession: my ticket home. I’ll be in New York for Thanksgiving. I’ll dress up and ride the subway. It will feel too crowded. I will stay out too late. More than anything, I will be blissfully O.K.