I’m sick of New York. There—I said it.
The other day, I made a list of pros and cons about the city. I jotted down, rather quickly, 27 cons ( cramped living, subways!!!, stressful, unfriendly people, terrorism???). On the pro side I wrote Cuban-Chinese food and then below that I wrote friends and family (but I can keep in touch). And then I was done. ‘
Have my ties to New York become so tenuous? Is that all that keeps me here: the promise of good plantains any night of the week? When did I go from being the archetypal New Yorker to someone who cannot wait to get out?
I didn’t move here to break into acting or to become a rock star. I was born and raised here. And when I say “here,” I don’t mean Long Island or Westchester, but the isle of Manhattan. I was born at Beth Israel hospital and had most of my major life moments in New York City. In the 29 years I’ve been alive, I’ve only spent four of them away. Those were my college years in California, when I grew out my armpit hair and rode a mountain bike everywhere (because, as a New Yorker, I’ve never learned to drive). But while those years were liberating, I spent almost every minute missing New York: the bagels, the pizza, the diversity, the all-night transportation. I moved back right after graduation. How could I not? Why would anyone choose to live anywhere else?
I mean, New York. It’s New York! It’s sophisticated. It’s intellectual. It’s energized. In New York, anything can happen at any minute. That’s what it feels like, right? Like there’s so much possibility in New York. These days, though, I’d trade some of that possibility for a porch. I’d gladly sacrifice that “New York feeling” to get a little peace.
This first dawned on me at the beginning of the summer, as a good buddy was recapping her weekend. She and her boyfriend had driven to New Jersey to get away. They’d decided to go to the beach and she’d worn a bikini. This is a friend who would rather suffer from heat stroke than have to wear shorts in New York.
“Wow, you’re brave,” I said. “A bikini! I’m too out of shape to put on a bikini.”
“No, you’re not,” she said. “You just need to leave New York. As soon as you leave New York, you won’t feel out of shape. Trust me, we’re in great shape in the rest of the country.”
She was right. A few weeks later, I went away to visit a friend who lives in Pittsburgh. After a day there, I thought: You know, I could stand to gain a few pounds ….
I used to leave New York and scoff at how small-town the rest of the country was. Everything seemed quaint outside of New York, but a kind of quaint I could do without. I used to return home and breathe a sigh of relief. Oh, thank God! Back in New York. Back to reality. This time, my return was not so upbeat. When I got back to New York, it had lost some of its sheen. It was hot and smelly, and everything seemed to be an ordeal.
On my first subway ride back to work, I was seated next to a man who was choosing between two cell-phone rings: a rooster crowing or a samba tune. I couldn’t believe it. This guy was subjecting an entire subway car full of people to 10-second bursts of tinny samba, then crowing rooster, tinny samba, crowing rooster. Shouldn’t this be something that he does at home…? I thought. On the second train, a middle-aged woman was reciting the Scriptures and praising Jesus. By the time I got to my office on 59th Street, I was ready to give notice and set out for the countryside.
I spent hours on the Internet researching. I’d Google “I want to move out of New York,” just to see what came up. I hadn’t yet uttered the sentence; it seemed like heresy. So I typed it out instead: I want to move out of New York. I found tons of like-minded people. People who were bitching and complaining about sporadic train schedules, small apartments, unfriendly faces, the cost of living.
The next step was saying it aloud—first, casually, in a phone conversation with my folks. “What?” My father choked. “Move out of New York? Who moves out of New York? Everybody’s trying to move into New York.”
But once I’d said the words, I found it nearly impossible not to shout them from the rooftops. I’d run into someone I hadn’t seen in ages and I’d launch right in with: “I want to move out of New York.” It’s like I was possessed. I couldn’t hold it back.
Most people greeted my news with total shock. “Can you get a job outside of New York?” a journalist friend asked, eyes blinking. A befuddled co-worker said: “Can you do that? Just move out of New York?” Like there’s some actual barrier that keeps us here. A neighbor of mine, an indie filmmaker, refused to accept it: “No,” he said. “Impossible. Can you survive outside of New York?” He didn’t mean can I survive. He meant can one survive.
Look, I’m just guessing here, but I do think that people have moved out of New York and lived.
Last week, I ran into my friend Jon in Park Slope. We went to fourth grade together at Calhoun and we’ve lived 15 blocks apart for most of our lives—originally on the Upper West Side and now in Brooklyn. I immediately blurted out my news, expecting the usual response. But instead: “Let’s go,” he said. “Let’s get out of here. Enough with New York already.”
So, it’s settled. I’m leaving. Really, it’s just a matter of time. Now all I have to do is figure out where. I mean, where do you go after New York?