It seems to be that nowadays a great majority of us have all lived in New York at some time or another. Most of us have had that moment where we have stepped off the aircraft in what appeared was the city of dreams with the hopes of being discovered, making something of ourselves, or perhaps having the idea to start new and be accepted.
But as much as it may be hard to believe, there are some of us that are born into New York City the way others are born into blue eyes, good-looks, or a muscular body. Contrary to the preconceived notion of growing up in brown-stones on the Upper East Side, with nannies and help, caretakers and maids, and sous-chefs galore, many of us grew up normal in the City, or grew up what we would fathom to be normal to any child growing up, at such a young age.
And I could go on and tell you about the somewhat secret parties in hidden nightclubs and downstairs basements in gritty Chinatown areas where garbage lined the streets, and the red of the traffic lights seemed to glow much brighter than any other color, at any hour of the day. Where downtown the rules and laws of the rest of the City did not seem to quite apply like they did everywhere else, or somehow went nonchalantly unnoticed or un-enforced. The pop-up warehouse parties we attended in seedy Brooklyn areas that at that time were dangerous and unsafe, and now are a haven for artists, writers, hipsters, and trust-fund babies alike who sip overpriced lattes out of styrofoam cups in extravagant coffee shops and in the same ironic breath complain about how no one else is taking global warming seriously. Meanwhile in these dilapidated warehouses we pretended to love these kinds of parties for the “alternative music,” “cheap alcohol,” or “ample space to rave”, but rather secretly the fact that we were much too young to be let into anywhere else, and this was all we knew. Or all the nights of the weekend when we ventured into Astoria endlessly parading down Steinway Street into hookah shop after shop until one owner would not ID us, as we were much too young, inflate the prices quite a bit more, but undoubtedly serve us. Because that is the thing about New York; people are always looking to make extra money.
And although like the rest we lived paycheck to paycheck whatever that means at such a young age, we all never really felt entirely broke. Because even if you did you always knew that were ample opportunities to pick up some extra cash out in the City like dancing at a nightclub on weekends, or being a shot-boy/girl, or going on dates with random men or women you met on sites like seekingarrangement for either a meal you could not afford, fast-cash, or hopefully both. You have had the idea of selling your prescriptions to your friends for some quick extra cash, because God knows we are all on something if we live in New York. All the while you listened to your rich friends argue about how all they were actually entitled to in life was a prescription drug problem, and their trust-fund.
The winters were always insufferably long, and the amount of sunlight you had to accomplish your daily tasks, or stop you from slipping into a spiraling depression, shortened with each breath you took. At some point the sleet would turn into snow that would turn into rain which always resulted in those sidewalk area corners you always think are the black pavement of the street, when in reality it is the leftover sludge that will keep you wet for an entire day. You aim carefully to avoid these dangerous corners, yet it always seems as you are destined for doom at one point or another.
We grew up in contempt together through those long harsh winters, just as the saying goes misery loves company. We waited months and months for the summer to come and when it did we complained once again together that it was far too overwhelmingly hot and humid, and we would welcome the cold weather back, which we did not realize how in just a few more months we would yearn for the musky summer air back. I remember a blizzard in April of ‘96, the month in which my sister was born, as I sat in the hospital staring out the omniscient windows watching the city shut down little by little, waiting for my sister to enter the world. I remember a summer heat blackout in the early 2000s in which we kids gathered all the candles from each others homes who lived on the block, and roasted marshmallows over the candles while sitting on a friends stoop, while our parents frantically panicked of the uncertainty of ever having our electric back, and all of our food spoiling. In which all the parents of the block gathered all their meat from their freezers together and grilled it to prevent spoilage and had a huge feast as we kids all jumped in a neighbor’s pool to cool off.
I remember the endless summers where our street was closed just for a day, to have what felt like Disney out on our front yard. A day full of feasting, rides, games, clowns, fun-houses, and fire-hydrants open for splashing around. Otherwise known as the legendary block-party.
I remember the day we were all sitting in school, much like the day before or some amount of days after and the world froze. Where other teachers, and school-aides, and the like flocked into our classroom because from our floor-to-ceiling windows New York’s original antiquated public brick schools once boasted, you could see the flames, smoke, and the horror; of something happening just five miles away. I will never forget how the silence had never sounded so deafening, and such an absence of words could be so descriptive. The look of disbelief, grief, and ambiguity that filled these adults faces that had known on that cold September day, some of the boys and girls sitting beside me had just lost a parent.
Amidst the rest of the world that had frozen in shock and glanced at this gruesome spectacle from the comfort of their television screens at home, we evacuated our beloved school faster and quieter than any drill we had ever practiced before; the steps of us children mid-step bustling down old metal stairs, and tears screaming down my classmates faces, which made it all too loud when it was all too quiet. Days would go by after that with more and more children returning to school, dressing in all black, displaying weary looks and benign depression.
We grew up to field trips we thought were normal for years like visiting the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Queens Zoo, the Holocaust Museum in Manhattan, pumpkin-picking and countless hay-rides at the Queens Zoo in autumn, senior trips at ranches Upstate, drug-free dances, and high school prom. No mentions of homecomings or all those serious high school sports, as space always remained a distant luxury to us. I remember a friend that I had made in college from Pennsylvania one day asking me about my homecoming, to which I did not know how to respond as I had never heard of such an event before. Instead we filled up our school schedules with activities that did not require fields and tracks but rather stages, labs, and rooms that could be transformed into creative spaces. Our schools were tall and high, having your second class on the first floor, and your third class on the fifth; and if you were lucky enough you never had to step foot in the grimy basements which were usually full of cold tile lining the walls from floor to ceiling, and somehow boasted a general scent of mold.
We grew up being told there was a world of endless possibility out there, and being in the City we believed every word of it. We believed social class or race was hardly a thing, and anyone could move around freely. Social norms, race, color, or wealth did not apply here like in other cities, and everyone was free to be whom they wanted.
I remember the countless weekends of driving to the island to go to the beach to cool off, which seemed all so far yet close when you are that young. I remember the infinite drives to the house Upstate in the Catskills on those long summer weekends to escape the city and breathe the smell of freshly cut grass and pollen, which are smells I had never smelled before in the garbage encrusted streets of the City. Things seemed to be simpler then.
I remember my favorite park Upstate in my town of Livingston Manor, situated in front of a gorgeous colonial-style brick school, bell tower and all, nestled along a river. It looked like an image out of a postcard, and I will never lose that sight of the river glistening on a bright hot summer day. I can still feel the burning of my hands on the sun-soaked metal monkey bars, I waited all year to climb. Or the slide that would never pass any safety regulation or inspection nowadays, I begged my parents to let me go down once more, a few dozen more times. And the endless shopping at the only store up there called Aimes, which has long ceased to exist. And I remember in autumn going to a mini golf place not so far away from our town in which we played mini-golf inside a castle, and painted the letters of names in bright paint and glitter.
When I was a bit older there was a cornucopia of Sunday brunches in which my friends and I gathered in the slightly dodgy area at the time of Alphabet City, for endless mimosas, Spanish-style omelettes, and spicy Habanero shots all for twenty or so dollars each; all the while presumably everyone else in the country outside of the City was attending church and repenting for their sins. I remember the days of staying out all day Sunday reminiscing and gossiping over Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas, with no real ambition or drive, or rather any actual finite plans set for the Monday to follow. And I remember the weeks where we went out every night of the week to our favorite parties at our favorite clubs and knew everyone there, but went more to be seen and see rather than anything else.
And what I will not miss is the yellow-brown snow-slush that seemed to line the streets just moments after the actual white snow fell. Or the abundance of people constantly lining up for things, that do not even require lines. Or the bundling of layers upon layers to brave the cold. Or the fifth floor walk ups my friends on the Lower East Side boasted despite the lack of connection to a subway, purely as some obnoxious status symbol.
For I know now that for twenty-four years I have given the City my all, and it has tried ever so dearly to return the gratitude. I know that I will always remain in love with New York the way you always secretly remain in love with your first love somewhere hidden in the depth of your heart. For it is impossible for most who have migrated to the City to truly grasp and understand the city in its entirety, but for those of you that have been lucky enough to have the City share its deepest darkest secrets with you, I am sure you understand exactly what I am talking about. For if anyone asks me upon my travels where I am from, I will always smile happily and say New York City.