An atypically reflective post subject and a tl;dr alert. You’ve been warned…
I’m not even close to the only person that has called The Big Apple home to say this, but this time of year is usually not a particularly good one for me…at least not since 2001. And given things that have gone on in my personal and the US’s bubble in the past few days and months, I’m feeling it a bit more than I have in most other years. It’s not all bad…but I’m certainly not 5-by-5.
For most Americans, and certainly pre-September 10th New Yorkers, any drama surrounding this period of late summer/early fall started on September 11th of that year. For me (and the rest of my family), it started two days before that .
September 9, 2001 was the day that I got the call from The States (I was teaching English and being a freelance journalist in Japan) informing me that my mom was gravely ill after a severe stroke. I needed to make my way back home to St. Louis.
I would have caught a flight the next day on September 10th, but Typhoon Danas decided to pay a visit to the Tokyo area that morning; so kicking off an international flight with all of that strum und drang directly overhead was certainly not going to happen. I didn’t think that anything else was going to take place to keep me from getting back to Missouri.
Little did I know what was coming up about 18 hours later…
After finally being able to place a call to the US two days later and wrapping up some affairs, a couple of weeks later I headed back to the Midwest to check on and to be with the family.
So thinking of this time of year for me involves a bit more up close and personal hurt than it may for some others.
Fast forward to a few months after that, and past a cancelled contract to finish my year and a half in Tokyo and then head to Paris for a radio gig, I decided to move to New York City so that I wouldn’t be on the other side of the planet from my folks while I trying to do whatever it was that I was going to do next in my life.
Now most people were not moving TO New York right after 9/11 and the debilitating aftermath, but I’m rarely accused of being someone that does something because most people do it. On top of that, I’d just spent a deliberately educational year in the Land of the Rising Sun. That country has a well-earned reputation for not being a place that you can ever fully become an integral part of by spending a certain amount of time there and doing all the typical things that a life-long resident would. 外人だ! (There’s a foreigner!) is a phrase that any non-East Asian appearing person would become accustomed to hearing constantly after almost no time at all. You could ride the Yamanote Line every day for decades and function as a Tokyoite, but never truly be one.
So going from Kanagawa to Queens…from speaking .20 of the language used daily everywhere to 2.0 of the languages used daily everywhere…and from knowing absolutely no one at first to being around some of my oldest friends from University City the instant I rolled over the George Washington Bridge made the prospect of setting up shop in a place with an actual bombed out crater in its heart not the worst thing that I could come up with. I wanted to give it a go.
And I gave it a went.
I went on to earn my NYer stripes through being in blackouts, transit strikes, heat waves, blizzards, hurricanes, nor’easters, and random parties in random places. I kept on earning by being stuck in the subway, stuck with crazy neighbors in my building, and stuck on bad dates in fancy places (and being a bad date myself).
I worked in a loud telephone survey call center and on a loud Wall Street trading floor. I waited on line for Summer Fest for fun and I waited on line for cronuts for work. I whiplashed my brain by being an assistant for a philosophy professor at Columbia University during the day and being a transcriber of video for a reality TV show at night.
I even learned how to tolerate karaoke, properly eat a slice, successfully hail a cab while Black, and not hate riding a city bus.
But most importantly I met the people…my neighbors…my friends…my friends-as-family. They were New Yorkers all, whether they were natives or transplants like myself. And it was good.
They lived in all five boroughs and came from five other continents. They were older, younger, and even exactly the same age as me. They had skills and talents and strengths that were not to be believed. And they walked too fast and cursed like sailors because, fuhgeddaboudit, that’s what’s fuckin’ done by everyone.
We danced. We drank. We went out. We hung out. We performed. We learned from and supported each other. And we talked. And we talked. And we talked. I told them my stories, and they told me theirs. We did what friends are supposed to do and did it well.
And even though I was literally on the other side of Earth on that clear, blue Tuesday when many of their worlds changed forever and that day became an unshakeable part of their story, they called me one of their own. I was still a New Yorker too.
My original tenure in The City was at an odd “shoulder” time for New York and myself. We were both in between eras…in rebuilding periods. I was already in Astoria the first September when the two ghostly shafts of light shot up into the night from next to The Pile downtown. Less than 13 months before that in Yokohama, I could not have contemplated that I would have moved to town only six months after the twin towers fell any more than I could have imagined that I’d be leaving town just over a dozen years later…about six months before the “replacement” One World Trade Center tower would be completed.
The trauma that rocked the tri-state area because of two airplanes was being addressed at the same time that I was trying to address the familial trauma that strokes and age and time had imposed on my world. There’s no way that I would have known that I’d get another call back home 12 years later to attend to another stroke dealt to my mother and end up on a 1,100 mile, 54 hour snowbound Amtrak rail/bus adventure instead of an 18 hour trans-Pacific flight. But that happened…and I unexpectedly changed course again. I found myself back in University City once more, but this time it was for a long haul.
So now, 16 Septembers later, with an inconceivably crazier political landscape than 2001, an even bigger and more frequent set of hurricanes, and with the very recent death of my mother, I find myself a bit more reflective than usual. To be de rigueur, let’s just say I’ve been “triggered” to be a bit more reflective than usual.
Since I was finally able to get some of my belongings out of storage in Queens only a few months ago, The City has been on my mind more and more. I’d had to put New York out of my mind. I had more pressing and acute family related issues to worry about and no time to think about my stuff in boxes in Woodside near LaGuardia. After all, they’re just things, most of which could eventually be replaced.
But most of the people that were in my so-called-New York-life were harder to put out of my mind. In most cases, it wasn’t possible at all to put them out of my mind. It would be equally impossible for me to deny my birthright as a kid from U. City as it would be to not think of some of my New York friends. (That is not possible.)
And in the couple of trips back for more of my stuff that I’ve made this spring and summer, I’ve gotten to connect and reconnect with more people and see what I’ve missed in my three plus year absence. There have been some tremendous ups and tragic downs with folks. There are people who have left The City who I never thought would go and some that have stayed in spite of every indication that they would have been outta there. There have been those extremes and all sorts of things in between. There has been Life there. That is in order and to be expected.
Facebook and other social media has, of course, provided a window for me into some of what they’ve been through. The main consensus items from everyone seem to be that the MTA is infinitely worse, plus the Rent Is Too Damn HIGHER, and this and other things have made the town even more unlivable (and not in the way that every NYer constantly says that either…it’s actually being made unlivable).
So my “reappearance” has made many people ask, “What are you going to do now? Are you moving back?” The answer is I don’t know what the future will bring or where it will take me. I’m open to any number of possibilities and things I haven’t even thought about.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge the Greatness of New York City; but, I was never one of those New Yorkers who thought that The City was the only place in the world to live. New York is uniquely amazing and a place that I loved living in. Period. End of story. That can’t be denied. I could see myself being there again at some point. If I had unlimited funds (bahahahaha) I’d love to always have a place to call home there. But I don’t see Sodom-on-the-Hudson as the alpha and omega of life. I don’t know that anywhere is for me, personally. So I can’t answer that one set of questions that I keep getting asked.
But I do know that my brain seems to have shaken itself from its four and a half year stint in Neutral and has remembered how to go into Drive…slowly. And I know that that’s a good thing and that I’ll try to figure something out in short order.
I do know myself a bit better, and I do know who my friends are a bit better, because of who’s been there for me and who hasn’t…and that’s as important to me as any sort of location and job that I need to find myself in.
That said, today there is only one place and one set of people on my mind. That’s just the way it is. It has to be that way. I spent as much of my adult life in New York City as I did anywhere else. There’s no way that I can’t have it and all of the inhabitants during my time there in my thoughts.
So I’m with you today, New York. I’m with you today, New Yorkers. I always will be.
Just Another U. City Kid