Empire State


midtown from downtown

I was out with my friend Frankie the other night. It was just the two of us after a show, which was itself after a party, so it was more-or-less the inevitable time just before you call it quits and find a cab home. We were at a bar. Some Williamsburg special with cut up playing cards festooning the tables. It wasn’t our first choice, but it was out of the cold and we could hear ourselves over the pulse of the jukebox.

“One day, I’m going to miss this,” Frankie told me. It was a thought that had come to him the night previous while walking home in Bayside, so late it was morning. It wasn’t, he explained, just a thought that struck him because he was walking home or because of the train ride before that (or the midnight movie before that); instead it was a strange awareness that passed over him, a pre-emptive nostalgia for being young and in New York. A knowledge that some day all of this will be over.

I understand that feeling. Someday I’m going to look back at this part of my life and remember only fragments. There will be faces that I won’t be able to name, flashing in and out of my memory. It will be the prehistoric, mythical origin of my adulthood. A time spent wandering in an ever-exploding (yet still empty) universe. Someday, my life will coalesce into a normal existence and these things will all escape me. I will miss them.

I especially harbor the feeling that I will miss New York, eventually. That some day I will leave this city for indie films on the West Coast, or travel so much I will never have a permanent home. Someday I will get sick of this city. I know that because I can feel it—just like Frankie could—only this isn’t nostalgia so much as an incipient disgust crawling up my spine. My love will vanish like in that sunny hour when the pristine snow melts and shows the world that it’s always been garbage and dog shit underneath. In time, I will learn to mind the savage poverty breeding hatred below the earth of this place. I will get sick of the rent. Sick of walking under scaffolding and over manholes; sick of crying on crowded commuter transit. Someday I’ll feel like Joan Didion and write my own “Good-bye to All That.”

But not quite yet. Mostly I’m still relatively enamored with this place. More so now, perhaps, than ever.

We moved to Brooklyn in November, and it’s the happiest I’ve been in a little while. I’ve been meaning to write about it, in fact: just general thoughts on our new lives in Bed-Stuy. I want to tell stories for all the stray cats in our neighborhood, for all the shops on Lewis Avenue, and for all the brownstones on our street. Obviously, that hasn’t happened. It’s winter and the community garden is a locked, dead space. The neighborhood remains similarly unexplored. Most of the time, all I know is the icy walk home on dark and empty streets.

Hopefully I’ll be able to drag myself out when it’s warmer, but I’ve come to realize that Bed-Stuy itself is not the place I’m dreaming of exploring. It’s about Bed-Stuy as a time in my life. A time when I swear I’ll make it to my friends’ shows, for once (bridge and tunneling it home was about as glamorous as it sounds). A time when I can actually have people over because it doesn’t take an hour to get to my apartment. A time when I can rebuild a little bit of the crumbling roof that hangs over my life. A time that I’ll miss, one day.


50 thoughts on “Empire State

  1. Been gone from New York for over thirty years. I miss it a lot. Always wanted to go to Ellis Island, ride the Ferry, go to Coney Island and see the museums again. But that is life.

  2. I moved from NY to Philly and it hasn’t been the same….NY seems to have a certain spark and being born and growing up there all my life makes it a more special place to return to.

  3. Beautifully measured, honest and painterly. It’s an intriguing paradoxical balance between being so present to your surrounds and yet regarding them through the lens of longing. I’ve yet to go to NY, but seeing how it has impacted you in every direction, you’ve made it shoot to the top of my list.

  4. Loved this. So visual and complete. I’m visiting NYC for the first time this summer, and this really caught my eye.

    Your writing is beautiful!

  5. It’s a beautiful city in certain ways. I have a beautiful picture of New York serving as my blog’s banner image. (I have to admit I amped up the color and contrast a little. ;-))

  6. You nailed it. I moved from NYC to Atlanta when I was 27. I turn 39 next week. I missed it a lot for the first few years, and to this day, there are still things, faces, and places I miss. Young in NY is the best place to be, but one day you learn to move on. Great piece!

  7. I just moved to NYC last May. I didn’t love it at first. Everyone here says, “Give it a year.” It’s not that I don’t love city life, it’s just been a weird adjustment. Not having family or my own friends here was the hardest. But now, I can honestly say, I am falling in love. There’s nothing that cannot be done here and the energy is amazing. I enjoy Brooklyn quite a bit, although I tend to get lost in circles when driving in it. Queens is my home for now and it’s pretty awesome. I wrote my own piece about NYC when I first came here. Have fun and enjoy!!

  8. Full-On-Adoration of NYC stays with you (Says the Gurl Who Lived Here for Almost a Decade Now)..Just gets speckled with crappy parts that only NY-er’s understand. Great read!

  9. This took me back to the years when I lived on the Lower East Side. Williamsburg hadn’t happened yet. Believe me, you will miss it. That’s very perceptive of you. It’s good that you have enough self-awareness to appreciate it and know it’s all so ephemeral. I now refer to my apartment on Clinton Street as the good old days. They really were.

  10. Very nicely written. While I am not living in New York City, this time if my life is one that I too will look back in and miss. I always miss what is behind me but look forward to what is ahead of me.

    Again, excellent writing.

  11. I find that the beauty of Brooklyn is found when you bike through the different neighborhoods. You get a sense of the vastness of it all and you pick up on the vibe of each neighborhood as you pass through. Get yourself a good camera and bring it with you everywhere because beauty can pop up at a moments notice.

  12. Great writing, keep it up! :-))
    ps. I was also lucky enough to get to NYC, and I felt the same way on last evening walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I left a tiny part of my heart there…….

  13. Just got back from there for the very first time. I will be going back! It is truly a concrete jungle where dreams are made! I was also told I would hate it and London was far better. Those guys were crazy! Great poem.

  14. The thing that separates NYC from any other American city is the SHEER SIZE AND DENSITY! There’s always stuff to do, always new areas and neighborhoods to explore. Besides that, there’s unlimited nightlife options, unlimited food options, the best transportation system in this country, beaches, mountains and other cool getaways close by, and the most beautiful women come from all over the world to live here. I don’t know why anyone who could afford it would choose to live in any other city, even Chicago and LA just doesn’t compare.

  15. You are exactly right. Idk how old you are but yes when thinking about where we were at a certain time in our life we can remember by sound and sight and it feels glorious. All we will have are our memories….cheers to that.

  16. I read this, remembering fragments of my old life in NY, and wondering how 15 years have passed since then. I remember feeling like you, that someday I would miss NY, and being young in NY. And guess what? I was right!

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