A week ago I spoke in front of a small gathering about my 10 Cities project at the Secret Kingdoms, a recently opened English-language bookstore here in Madrid. It was a surprisingly brisk hour (for me, at least) in which I shared a few favorite stories from that decade of my life and read some of my writing, including an excerpt from Yahweh’s Children.
At the end of my talk, there was a Q&A where the audience asked a number of interesting questions about my travels and the motivations for my choices. Even though I’ve answered questions about 10 Cities for well over a decade now, there were still some fresh inquiries, which were a fun challenge to tackle on the spot.
One of the most common questions I get is, of course, “How did you choose your 10 cities?” With the half dozen interviews and articles I’ve done, and the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with friends and strangers over the years, I’ve answered that question countless times (short answer: mostly, circumstances decided for me). But, I realized the other day, never once have I turned the question on the inquisitor to ask, “What 10 cities would you choose?”
So, I’m doing it now. Whether you’re a new reader or you’ve been on this journey with me since the early days, I want to know, what 10 cities would you have picked if you were doing this project? You can stick to the same limitations I was under and select ones from your home country, or you can just pick any 10 cities throughout the world. You do you. The only firm rule is, in this hypothetical, you will live in each city for 1 year exactly, and none of them can be your hometown (sorry New Yorkers).
Feel free to answer in the comments, or on Facebook, or Twitter, or simply write it on a piece of paper, bury it, and have your grandkids digs it up in 100 years.
On July 3rd, as Americans were in the middle of their Independence Day weekend celebrations*, there was a shooting at a mall in Copenhagen, Denmark. Three people were killed, many more injured, and the 22-year-old shooter was taken into custody. Of course, it’s likely you didn’t hear much about this shooting because of the even deadlier mass shooting that occurred on July 4th in Illinois.
For most Americans, if they heard about the Copenhagen mall shooting at all, it was possibly because they read about Harry Styles canceling his concert, which was supposed to take place that night near the mall.
It is possible, though, if you lurk in certain parts of the internet, that you’ve seen this shooting (and a similar shooting in Oslo, Norway a couple weeks ago) upheld as proof that gun control doesn’t work. The refrain (almost celebratory) is, “See, even in Denmark, the country with some of the strictest gun laws in the world, mass shootings still happen.”
So, I have to say something.
In the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas in May, the US government managed to pass some gun control(-related) laws. Most of us who want stricter gun control in the US, even those who celebrated their passage, will admit these regulations are insufficient. They’re a step in the right direction, but unlikely to do much to staunch the bleeding. Something is better than nothing, so I’m glad the law was signed by President Biden. But more is needed.
Let’s look at Denmark.
Two shootings in Copenhagen, Denmark
I’ve only been to Copenhagen once, on a long layover in 2016. I had 6 hours to walk the city, which is basically all I did. I did have lunch in a college/hipster-y part of town. As I ate at a high top table in the bar area, the bartender and I talked gun control.
The year before, Copenhagen had had one of the worst shootings in its modern history. A man killed 2 people and wounded 5 cops. The bartender (who spoke flawless English, naturally) explained that pretty much everyone in the country agreed on their gun laws. He said that people in Denmark didn’t understand the US’s obsession with guns (a sentiment I’ve heard often since then from people in other countries). For the Danes, a shooting happened and they were thankful they had strong gun control. They’d have accepted even stricter laws.
No, the laws didn’t stop the 2015 Copenhagen shooting, nor Sunday’s shooting (3 dead, more wounded). But it was 7+ years between 2015 and this shooting. This recent mall shooting is the worst Denmark has had since 2015. It’s absolutely a tragedy; one America has every few days (often not even making national news).
Gun control is not an impenetrable wall, but it is a wall. It works to lessen a flood. Many on the Right (and dishearteningly on the Left these days too) will point to this Copenhagen shooting as proof that gun control doesn’t work. But two shootings in seven years proves it does.
These skeptics will say America’s much larger population explains the disparity, but the stats show differently: 12 in every 100,000 Americans are killed by guns, compared to 1 in every 100,000 Danes. Looking at the European Union broadly, it’s not even close. (You can check for yourself.) Guns don’t kill people. People with easy access to and a bizarre fetishization of guns kill people.
The Law of the Land
So much of the opposition to any kind of gun control is predicated on this utterly ridiculous standard that if a single law can’t stop every shooting, it’s pointless. This is the base argument of every gun nut who opposes gun control, and it is, plainly, stupid. Seatbelt laws don’t stop every crash or every car death, but statistics clearly show they have saved lives. That’s the whole point.
The purpose of gun laws – the purpose of any law – is not to make the world perfect but to broadly improve the outcomes of the citizens of the world. This tragedy in Copenhagen isn’t lessened because Denmark has gun control laws (though perhaps it was less severe than it otherwise would have been; we can’t know). But there are certainly less tragedies in Denmark like it because of them.
When is America going to figure that out? How many children need to die – or live in constant fear – in their classrooms before the US takes substantive action? How many regular people going about their lives have to be slaughtered before we stop giving credence to the death cult known as the NRA? I’m not a policy expert. I don’t know what mix of gun laws, mental health policies, and social programs will have the biggest impact. But almost any laws would be better than the status quo. Again, the most recent law, while welcome, isn’t enough.
(Maybe we could start by banning the AR-15? And, yes, I know that the AR stands for ArmaLite rife. I’ve even fired one.)
Sadly, as with so many other issues lately, I’m afraid there is no number of deaths and tragedies that can get America to act like a sane nation. It feels, increasingly, like a nation on the brink.
There is no quick fix for those who have been directly affected by a mass shooting, whether in Copenhagen or the US. But, perhaps, with time, there will be a general sense of peace for Danes knowing such a tragedy is blessedly uncommon. Will America ever know that peace?
*I wrote most of this post on the morning of the 4th before the mass shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb. With at least 6 dead, it was a grim reminder that even when other countries have the rare mass shooting, there will always be one in America soon after to overshadow it. America’s gun culture is unsustainable.
For over a year, I’ve been a regular contributor at The Millennial Source, an up-and-coming news source that pulls back from the breaking news headlines to provide context and background. With the constant stream of news stories and IMPORTANT ISSUES shooting at us from the firehose that is social media, TMS’s mission is to help you feel less overwhelmed by, well, everything. It can be quite noisy out there.
As a TMS writer, I have had the opportunity to write about an array of topics that mean a great deal to me (long-term readers of 10×10 will know I have a lot of varied interests). I’m particularly proud of two recent series, one on the racial inequality of the US justice system in terms of both arrests and recidivism rates, and another on the Dasgupta Review and its solutions for climate change.
If there is one topic I’ve covered more than any other, though, it’s conspiracy theories, and, more specifically, QAnon. By this point, you’ve probably read or heard quite a bit about QAnon, so much so that you may have come to the view, shared by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, that the media talks about the movement in far greater proportion than its actual influence. After all, nobody really believes in that silly stuff. Well, unfortunately, they do, and at far greater numbers than you might realize.
Last October, a Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that only 7% of the 1,583 respondents believed the QAnon conspiracy theory was true. So, there you go, no big deal, right? Well, except that another 11% said, “It goes too far but I believe some of what I’ve heard”, and 23% said they were unsure of what to think about it. A worryingly small majority of 59% said it was an extremist theory that was not true at all. Importantly, these were the people who had heard of QAnon, so none of the unsure 23% were people who were simply unaware of the phenomenon.
Remember: QAnon is a conspiracy theory that claims Democrats and most of Hollywood are cannibalistic pedophiles that worship Satan and are actively trying to control the world. And, at the same time, Donald Trump (former buddy of Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump) was the one who was going to take down this “deep state” cabal (not so much, it seems). So, when 11% said QAnon was a little true but went too far, maybe they just though the cannibal stuff was over the line. We don’t know.
What we do know, though, is when asked directly about one of the core beliefs of QAnon, “Do you believe that top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings?”, 25% of respondents said yes and another 24% said they weren’t sure. Worse yet, 50% of Republicans said they believed it (and weirdly, 5% of Democrats, which is confusing). Furthermore, 49% of Republicans believed “President Trump is working to dismantle an elite child sex-trafficking ring involving top Democrats” (as well as 7%(?) of Democrats).
Which is to say, even though 37% of the respondents said they had never heard of QAnon, including 45% of Republicans, many people still held the basic premise of the conspiracy theory to be true.
I’ve personally seen this dichotomy in action: many people from my Christian youth with whom I’ve maintained Facebook connections have fully gone down the Republican conspiracy theory mind hole. They’ve bought into the nonsense that the election was stolen from Trump and that Biden is an illegitimate president. They also believe that Democrats are pedophiles; they’ve told me so. At the same time, they tell me that QAnon is stupid and they obviously aren’t believers in that made-up conspiracy theory.
The “Democrats are pedophiles” belief predates QAnon (and even QAnon’s immediate predecessor, Pizzagate), but there’s no question that it wasn’t a belief held by 50% of the Republican Party until the presidency of Donald Trump and the spread of these pro-Trump conspiracy theories online. And if 50% of a major political party believes something, can we really call it a fringe belief?
The issue, though, and the reason that people like heir-to-the-Swanson-fortune (and white supremacist) Tucker Carlson can claim QAnon is overblown is because the hucksters behind the whole movement (including pig farmer and child pornography-enabler Jim Watkins) are fairly savvy: they realized that their movement was getting a lot of bad press even as it was growing, so they explicitly told their followers to start obscuring the origins of the movement.
Instead of sharing Q drops (the anonymous, mindless drivel that “Q” posted on 8kun) and using Q-related hashtags like #wwg1wga, followers were urged to focus on spreading the message through something everyone could agree on: Saving the children. By using the preexisting #SaveTheChildren hashtag (and other related ones), QAnon’s pseudo-Biblical nonsense could spread through well-meaning social media users and mommy influencers. After all, only a monster would have a problem with people just trying to save children.
(Never mind that people who actual devote their lives to fighting sex trafficking have repeatedly said this type of online activism and “awareness raising” actually does more harm than good for the cause.)
So, QAnon lives on: in conspiracy theories about COVID-19, in weirdly pro-police cosplay, and in the persistent belief that Democrats, as well as Hollywood celebrities like Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey, are pedophiles. And it will continue to live on because, even though social media platforms have been shutting down QAnon accounts, it’s all but impossible to kill off a belief once it spreads and has been allowed to grow. That’s why cults often live on even after the leader has died or disappeared.
For anyone who would still insist QAnon is meaningless internet roleplaying, keep in mind that QAnon adherents were fundamental to organizing and executing the coup attempt at the US Capitol on January 6. Furthermore, QAnon believers have also been arrested and charged for burglary, terrorism, attempted kidnapping, murder, attempted murder (of Biden), and attempted vehicular manslaughter, all in the name of QAnon beliefs.
As those beliefs continue to spread and morph – even if they do so independently of the QAnon banner – they will represent a growing danger to not just the US, or to other countries where it’s taken root (including Germany and Canada), but to our basic ability as a species to live in the same reality. And without that, it’s impossible to tackle global problems, including world hunger, climate change, and pandemics.
So, while I’m just one voice on a small website trying to keep track of these spreading conspiracy theories, I’m happy to be a resource for anyone who wonders about this subject. There are plenty of fantastic journalist at larger outlets (Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins at NBC News in particular) who are doing the Herculean task of tracking so much of these conspiracy theories to their origins, and I would recommend anyone interested in the topic to search out their numerous deep dives.
But, if you’re like so many other people out there (myself included) who finds it hard to read everything about everything, but wishes you could, check in at TMS and we’ll be happy to provide you a brief explainer on everything from Armenia/Azerbaijan geopolitics to what exactly a Boogaloo Boy is. And, maybe, together, we can push back on the noise.
I’ve done unconventional things in my life. Generally dumb, maybe a few clever choices, but mostly, just odd. For instance, have I ever mentioned that time I moved to ten different cities over ten years? Oh, I have?
Well, in the midst of those ten years, I tried something else that many of you might not know about, especially if you only started reading this site in the last few years.
As my sixth year – Nashville, Tennessee – passed the halfway mark, I wanted to try something to shake-up the proceedings of a project that had started to have predictable beats. That far into the project, I was locked in to completing the whole endeavor, or die trying (sounds dramatic, but honestly, there were more than a few months where my next meal wasn’t guaranteed).
So, in order to liven things up and keep myself from getting too bored, I introduced a new gambit. I opted to put the power in readers’ hands: They voted on my next city.
I was prudent enough to know that giving the internet unrestricted options would wind up with me being sent to Bedford, Wyoming or some other desolate ink dot, so I gave voters options: Austin, TX; Denver, CO; Portland, OR; and Seattle, WA.
I didn’t have a lot of readers in those days (some things never change), so there wasn’t a deluge of votes, but there were enough to make it interesting. The voting lasted about two months, and though Seattle and Portland pulled ahead initially, it wound up being neck and neck, with Denver, Austin, and Denver duking it out for first place (Portland, to my surprise, fell far behind and was never much of a contender after the first couple weeks).
In the end, as I’m sure you can deduce, Seattle won the vote, beating out Denver by one vote. Fortuitous that it did, as well, because my year in Seattle was one of the best of the entire project and the city remains among my favorites in all of the US. Conceivably, it’s possible I would have come to love Denver or Austin or Portland just as much; we’ll never know.
All these years later, I can admit, letting internet strangers vote on my next home does seem a bit out there, even more than 10×10. It was a period in my life where I had no preconceptions or directions for what would come next so I figured I’d let the winds decide.
I feel like I’m at a similar place in my life, now.
A couple weeks ago, I was sitting at one of Madrid’s many spectacular cafés with three friends and I asked them that cliché question that everybody hates, but which I think is worth contemplating from time to time: What would your ideal life look like?
It’s something I keep asking myself because I’m not entirely certainly. In part, that’s because, as I age and pursue certain avenues, other pathways that I had previously contemplated are closing to me. Some people will say that you can still be anything you want at any age, citing some septuagenarian grandmother who went back to college or a celebrity who didn’t became famous until their 50s. Those people are morons. Don’t feed them.
Life is finite and if I had only one dream, it’s true, I could dedicate myself to it and in time I might achieve some level of success. But I don’t have one dream, I have many. Just like I don’t have one home, or one passion. I want to master every art form, I want to live in every city, I want to taste every whiskey.
I want to live on every continent. Yeah, Antarctica, too. And then I want to fly to Mars.
When I answered my own question with my friends, I said that I didn’t care so much what I did for work so long as it allowed me to keep traveling. I wish I could be a renowned author (never going to happen) or a world-famous photographer (probably not going to happen), but those pursuits aren’t likely to change the course of my life.
I’ve gotten to an age where it would be damn near impossible to go back to the US and work my way up in a traditional career. That bridge is, if not burnt, then covered in gasoline and being occupied by a bunch of smokers.
I’m not sure any of it matters. I’ve never made much money in my life, always just skirting by. But skirt by I have, and I’m now living in my thirteenth city on my second continent. Somehow, I’m still going. So, I guess I’ll keep going until I can’t. That’s pretty much the point of life, verdad?
I don’t know where I’m going next, or when, but there are more destinations ahead, of that I’m confident. So, just for fun, as a bit of non-binding but informative polling, I’m putting the question to my readers again: For my next continent, where should I move?
New York City, split into five boroughs and a thousand neighborhoods, cannot be defined as one thing. When someone dismisses this city with some hoary cliché about hipsters or millionaires, I know they’ve never actually spent any time here. This city has as many personalities and styles as it has corner bodegas.
I’ve lived in Brooklyn, worked in Manhattan, rarely been to Queens, coasted through the Bronx, and touched my toes on Staten Island. I’ve had one experience of the city, and it is hardly representative. But it is still authentic.
As I’ve done for previous cities I’ve lived in and left, I’m taking time to look back on my time here and grade various aspects of the city. Let me stress, though it should be obvious, that these grades are based on my experiences which have been shaped by a lot of factors that are not universal. This isn’t an attempt to give a definitive grade of the city, only to organize my final thoughts on yet another one of my short term homes.
Let’s get going.
Public Transportation – Hoo boy, this is a loaded topic right now. On the one hand, New York’s subway system is the most extensive in the country, one of the biggest in the world, and connects culturally distinct neighborhoods to create a melting pot like no other place in the world. All that, and it has free wifi.
On the other hand(s), MTA is riddled with systemic problems and hopelessly obsolete equipment, all coming together to create one of the greatest metropolitan clusterfucks of all time. It’d be impressive if it wasn’t so damn infuriating. Hurricane Sandy only exacerbated the issues and an already strained system – which has a ridership far outpacing its capacity – is currently in a transitional period. Repairs and improvements are possible, but the costs will be staggering and will necessitate massive disruptions, all of which might prove worth it in ten or fifteen years, but for current New Yorkers (not especially known as being even-keeled), it is going to be a nightmare. (One of a number of reasons I’m happy to be leaving now.)
There’s a lot of blame to go around, though currently it’s mostly falling on Governor Cuomo. There’s no question that he deserves a chunk of it, but in reality, the underlying problems are the result of a kick-the-can mentality that has existed for decades. This city – and state – needs to act now or matters will only get worse and worse.
And, yet, if I’m being honest, I’ve personally been quite lucky. When I first moved to the city, I was on the C and A lines, which are inconsistent and overcrowded, but by no means the worst in the system and generally within spitting distance of being on time. Better still, since moving to Crown Heights, I’m right off of the 2, 3, 4, and 5 lines, four of the most accessible and reliable routes in the city. That might change when other lines get shut down for repairs, but for my time here, it’s been ideal.
To give a fair overall grade, I have to consider both my personal experience and the general quality of the system. I’d give it top marks if I were only reflecting my experience, and it’d barely get a passing grade if I were solely grading on the big picture. So splitting the difference:
City Planning – From the very first time I walked through Manhattan, some fifteen years ago, I was awestruck by the sheer grandeur and scope of this modern wonder. When people think of a city, whether they’ve been here or not, they’re thinking of New York. As far as modern metropolises go, it remains the truest form.
There are a lot of ways in which NYC is falling behind other major cities (see: Public Transportation), but it will forever remain one of the most unique and successfully laid out cities in the world. Even more impressive, a lot of its “city planning” was achieved by mere chance, a natural evolution guided less by intentional design than by individual actors pursuing their own interests and somehow forming a cohesive whole.
Yes, many neighbors make strange bedfellows: Chinatown and its pervasive fish smell flows over to some of the most expensive and ostentatious avenues in the city. That’s just part of the charm. There is nothing I enjoy more than taking a walk through urban spaces, and what New York offers more than any other US city is an unending kaleidoscope of facades and personalities. Sure, in a post-Giuliani world, it’s lost much of its aura of danger, and Times Square is a logo-ejaculating neon nightmare, but there’s still plenty of grime to be found if that’s your bag, and if that’s not your bag, something more to your tastes is only a short subway ride away (assuming no delays).
NYC is massive. While there are many neighborhoods that feel downright suburban and there’s no shortage of economically impoverished areas (I’ll leave the debate over gentrification for someone else), this city manages to both be an explorer’s delight and still absolutely accommodating to a homebody. I can’t tell you how many Brooklynites I’ve met who rarely leave their neighborhood, let alone the borough. Truly, something for everyone.
Bars/Nightlife – Um, yeah, New York has nightlife. What really needs to be said? If you like to drink and hang out late with other people who do, you are never going to be out of luck in this city. When I first moved to the city, I happened to move into one of the few bar deserts in all of Brooklyn, a yet-to-be-gentrified portion of Bed-Stuy where you could walk for fifteen minutes in any direction and not find a watering hole. Truly, a rare spot. It didn’t last long, because at the beginning of my second year in that apartment, I stumbled across The Evergreen, newly opened and within walking distance of my apartment.
Other establishments were starting to open in the area by the time I moved to Crown Heights, a neighborhood that has no such dry spots. It matters not where you live, though, because a train or a bus or a car will deposit you into some form of nightlife within minutes.
In terms of bars, Manhattan is overrun with the flashy, expensive joints (meh), Irish pubs, and dives that still charge you ten bucks for well whiskey. Brooklyn does hipster and trendy, naturally, but you’ll also find plenty of true dives and neighborhood haunts and whatever else might be to your taste. Of course there are clubs and secret raves and strip clubs and whatever it is that floats your boat. Oh yeah, they have boat parties, too.
The point is, if you come to New York City looking for nightlife, you’d have to be a real twit not to find a scene for you.
Art Scene – When you think of art scenes, New York City is always going to come to mind. Granted, that’s partly due to its history: whether you’re thinking of the writers of the 1920s or Andy Warhol’s Factory, this city has been synonymous with art since the 19th century.
Even now, there’s Broadway, and the Met, and Carnegie Hall, and all the other famous venues, big and small. TV and movie crews are a fairly regular sight, especially in Brooklyn, and every major musical act in the world passes through here for at least one night. If you’re looking for big name performers, they’ll be here.
The real test of a city, though, is how well it fosters the smaller art scenes; do artists still come here to pursue their dream at the cost of everything else? Of course. Does anything come of it? Of course, for some. A lot’s been made of the city’s astronomical rent prices pushing out struggling artists and hampering similar art scenes from growing up here, and there’s unquestionably some truth to that, but frankly, we’re living in a pretty terrible time to be an artist no matter where you’re living. I would know. At least in NYC, you’re likely to find a sympathetic audience. Well, not antagonistic, at least.
In my three years here, I’ve attended massive arena concerts, shows in the park, and intimate venue gigs; I’ve been to an independent movie premiere, an off-off-Broadway play, and burlesque, drag, and fashion shows; I’ve read my terrible poetry to a too-kind audience and watched a woman perform a folk opera; I have been to museums and galleries, passed buskers on the streets and subways, and checked out street dance crews. Oh, and I’ve seen a few dozen movies. If I wasn’t such a lazy bastard, I could have seen a whole lot more, too.
The point is, New York City might not be the most hospitable place for artists, but art lovers really have nothing to complain about.
Grade (Music): A; Grade (Everything else): A
Living – By certain metrics, New York City is the most expensive city in the country (in terms of affordable housing options, San Francisco and Boston are actually less viable), so that is going to affect one’s way of life here. Sure, if you come here to work on Wall Street (or to indulge your fetish for grown men in superhero get-ups), you’re going to be living large. For most of us, though, the astronomical cost of living puts a damper on life.
And yet, for every $34 cocktail, there’s a half dozen free concerts or movie nights. There are always free days at museums and the botanic gardens, and if all you’re looking for is to get drunk, there are cheap options. No, you’re probably not going to find New Orleans’ rock bottom prices (and no Nickel Shot Nights), but a night of drinking doesn’t have to cause you to break your lease (unless you have one of those friends that insists on drinking in the Lower East Side). The point is, moving to the city does not require one become a monk, just savvy.
Then there’s the issue of housing. The stereotype is real: Some NYC apartments really are hamster cages without the views. If you’re deadset on living in the trendiest neighborhoods (did you immediately think Williamsburg? Congratulations, you’re already passé), then sure, expect to squeeze a twin bed into a closet. Otherwise, there are plenty of very good areas in this city that have reasonably affordable, human-sized digs still in walking distance of public transportation (see above for that mixed bag). Who knows how much longer that will be true?
Affordable is, of course, a subjective term. When I’ve told family members back in Kansas what I pay for rent, they balk, and my rent is one of the cheapest in the city. Some people come to this city with lucrative job offers, while many others don’t enjoy that privilege. Like most American cities, New York is basically intentionally pricing out the poor. On the other hand, NYC has embraced the $15 minimum wage (it’s being gradually phased in over a number of years), so that’s small relief.
The bottom line is, this city is expensive – depressingly so – but if your dream is to live here, to make it here, that dream is still within reach. You’ll just have to hustle.
People – Man, what can you say about New Yorkers that hasn’t already been said by every single movie and TV show you’ve ever seen? Well, a lot, actually, because media representations are always incomplete at best, or bullshit at worst.
Are the characters from Girls real? You betcha. Sex and the City? Probably, but I couldn’t afford to hang out with them. Friends? If you mean white people, then yes. Looking for something less Caucasian? Well, Spike Lee’s joints truthfully capture an aspect of the New York (Brooklyn) way of life, but those are more historical documents these days. For every popular depiction of New York City out there, there are still plenty of stones unturned. Some people will never see themselves represented on TV.
Let’s just say it: New Yorkers are loud, impatient, and rude. They wouldn’t argue the point. But I’ve only lived here a few years and I was already two out of three before I got here, so I don’t think you can blame that on the city. Get past the stereotypes and the fear, and the people here are really just a microcosm of all of society. Sure, that’s a cliché of all cities, but more than any other city in the country, NYC truly defies easy generalizations. People from all over the country and the world have traveled to live here. How could only one personality type exist here?
Also, nice people are the worst.
My experience of the people in this city, both locals and my fellow transplants, is that they’re generally friendly, at times confrontational, but usually happy to let live. They get heated about politics and sports, and they can sit in a bar and talk to a stranger for three hours about their favorite bands. They’ll screw you over from time to time, but they’ll also watch your back; their faces will light up when you walk in after a month’s absence. They’re people. This is New York. This is everywhere.
And if you’re wondering, “Do they think they’re better than me?” Yeah, probably. But if you’re worried about that, then aren’t they?
Eight years ago, yesterday, I launched this blog with a post entitled “Count the days.” At the time, I was already four years deep into my project, one month out from moving from San Francisco to Chicago,so I decided that it was about time I started documenting the journey. Well, sort of.
From the very beginning, my blog posts had a schizophrenic inconsistency, covering a whole litany of topics and themes (my second post, published the same day as my first, was apoemI’d written about two girls merged into one composite character). Truly, it was a blog in the most tedious, cliché sense of the word. Good thing it’s gotten so much better since then, right?
Last days are never as profound as they appear on TV. People don’t confess their love in airports or spend one final day doing all the things they always dreamed of doing but never did. Goodbye parties, of which I’ve had my fair share, have become increasingly subdued over the years, especially as the thought of waking up hungover before a flight has grown unappealing. I’d rather show up to the airport well rested.
People leave; life goes on.
Some years back, I began a tradition, one of many small affectations-turned-habits I’ve picked up over the years in an attempt to create a faint sense of constancy and purpose in my otherwise pointless life: On the night before I leave a city, I go to a bar by myself, a joint I’ve never been, usually in a neighborhood I hadn’t gotten around to exploring. I sit down, have a few drinks, maybe chat with someone, maybe not. Then, after an hour or so, I pay my bill and leave. No grand affair.
I could justify the tradition with some post factum literary explanation: it signifies how I came to the city alone and will leave alone; it reminds me that no matter how long I spend somewhere, there will always be somewhere I haven’t explored; it’s preparation for my reemergence into solitude.
The real explanation is so much simpler than all that: I’m tired. A lot of work goes into making a move, and a great deal of energy is expended in the gauntlet of goodbyes. I’m grateful for a chance to see people before I take off, but it takes a toll. Holing up someplace where no one knows me or cares if I sit in absolute silence is restful. It’s my Irish Goodbye to the whole city.
I will miss New York City, both a final city and a first. It has been my home for longer than all but my birthplace, and its inexorable glow has been my guiding light for as long as I’ve held dreams for the future. From the moment I set foot in Brooklyn, this city has tested and resisted me.
The very first time I found myself running late here, I had a quintessential New York experience: Without explanation, the train I was on shut down and held in the station. After waiting nearly ten minutes in confusion, a man came rushing past the car, not an MTA employee, just a fellow passenger, and bluntly informed the lot of us that there had been a shooting in the next station. A typical welcome, I suppose.
No wonder I love this town, I’ve always been a sucker for a lady who plays hard to get.
I don’t mean to imply life here is always a challenge. There are great pleasures to be had in this city, both cultural and personal. From a sunset rock concert in Central Park to a vibrant, surreal burlesque/musical/fashion show in an unmarked theater in Bushwick, the city has indulged my cravings for new. I’m a boring person in a city that expels boredom.
New York makes a lot of promises; it’s up to you to see them fulfilled.
When – if – I come back to the US, I don’t know to which city I’d return. New York is the obvious choice, but it is exorbitantly expensive and its capricious social circles will only be harder to pierce with more years on my back. Chicago? Fun and pretty, and friendlier than NYC, sure, but also just a smaller version. Seems like stepping back. Seattle still holds a part of my heart, but who knows if it would be the same nearly a decade on. Of course, there’s always Kans…. haha, nope. Couldn’t even finish the thought.
I’ve had many homes here in the States, but I wonder if they would still feel like my homes if I returned to them. For that matter, will the United States? Granted, there are still massive portions of the US I’ve never seen, so I could always find some new corner, maybe a secluded cabin in the mountains, a babbling brook and towering trees for neighbors.
Who can say?
I’m a man of fleeting desires, though, so all I can speak to is how I feel in this moment, and right now, my heart wants to see the world, to cross borders and time zones and watch sunsets from lost horizons; to not look back.
“I don’t know” is a phrase I’m using a lot lately. I have left behind the realm of long term goals for an open road. With each new endeavor I set out on, there are fewer signposts to provide me guidance. Potential calamity, a constant companion throughout my ten year project, remains reliably by my side, and we’re packing light. Everything else is up in the air.
Thirty-one. As I have done somanytimesbefore, I’m counting the days until my next departure, both overwhelmed by the long list of things I have yet to do (and would like to do), and filled with anxious excitement for the unknown. Thirty-one days is a lifetime; also, merely an instant.