Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Everyone is Being Cool Without Me

Nothing good ever happens on a Tuesday, and yesterday was no exception.  After a particularly frustrating day at work and the umpteenth consecutive day of being ignored by my office crush, I decided that it was time to treat myself and use the Leonidas gift certificate my parents gave me for Valentine's Day.  (Oh, you are thinking, how sweet!  Her parents gave her chocolate for Valentine's Day!  You are thinking this because you do not know my mother.  This was Guilt Chocolate; it was Why Don't You Have A Boyfriend, Preferably a Jewish Lawyer Boyfriend, To Buy You Chocolate So Your Parents Don't Have To Get You a Gift Certificate Chocolate.  But I figured it would still taste good, once I actually went and purchased it.)

So I set out from the office to Leonidas, except it is not, as my mother told me, "right next door"; it is about fifteen blocks away.  Three blocks into my walk it started to mist, and by the time I got to the shop it was definitely raining, and I definitely did not have an umbrella.  Plus, due to my eternal-yet-irrational optimism, I had convinced myself that something good would happen that day and so was dressed nicely, which is to say not-waterproofly.  Plus-plus, I arrived at the store on the stroke of seven, which turns out to be when they close.

So, no chocolate.  I set off for the subway station, which was another fifteen blocks (Midtown is not evenly tiled with subway stations, and half the ones it does have only seem to go to Brooklyn).  This was a really fun walk, because the rain intensified and became a thunderstorm - a really loud, kind of scary one.  By the time I got to the train station, I was drenched, and the first train that came was too full to get onto.  On the second train, I ended up standing right next to a woman I know vaguely and spent a few hours with last weekend - and she didn't recognize me.  When I smiled at her, she looked at me like I was a crazy person (which is exactly what I must have looked like) and moved away.

So, crappy evening, and nothing about its crappiness was specific to my personality or circumstances.  Bad days at work, bad weather, commuting woes, the failure of chocolate to simply materialize in one's apartment - these are pretty much universal annoyances.  But the way they all coalesced into a perfect storm of crap was, I think, uniquely enabled by New York.  You live here long enough and you forget that it is not, actually, a regular feature of life everywhere to be pushed and shoved and squashed, to climb a ladder or unfold your couch when you're ready to go to bed, to be constantly competing with nine million other people for every square inch of space and every penny of rent money and every iota of attention or interest or humanity.  You forget that a concrete path between a road and a river does not constitute nature and that dog poop on the sidewalks is not evidence that you live in a great neighborhood.  You also forget that you could survive without ballet and Broadway and access to every amazing thing ever created.  Or you don't forget, and you know that eventually you'll have to leave.

Sometimes I think about where I'll go when I leave the city.  Seattle, maybe?  San Francisco?  Boston?  I know I prefer cold to warm, and I want to be near mountains or water or both.  It should be a real city, or close to a real city, but also close to somewhere with space.  And I have to be able to find a job there, and there has to be a decent population of single people over 30 for me to hang out with.  It would be nice, too, if I could afford to buy a smallish house with a yard big enough for dogs.

But, really, those are not my criteria.  They're considerations (and having a job is indispensable), but they don't rule much out.  Everywhere has some sort of nature or culture and most places have both, there aren't too many places where real estate is more expensive than here.  No, the real consideration is the type of people who live there, the attitude of the place.

What I want is related to - is the antithesis of - the latest manufactured buzz of the New York Times: FOMO (available online here, although because I am a New Yorker I read it in print, a definite benefit of residency).  This stands for Fear Of Missing Out, and it refers to the sense, when you look at your friends' Facebook posts, that they are all happier and cooler and more interesting than you.  They are at the latest gallery opening or the hottest nightclub; you are in your pajamas watching reruns of The Office.  They have an adorable baby in a pink snowsuit with its own ears; you have a four hundred dollar cell phone that nobody except your parents ever calls.  They are reading interesting books and making new friends and taking vacations to France; you are going to work and playing sudoku and eating leftovers with your roommate.  Whoever you are, whatever you are doing, at this moment somebody - and probably somebody you met once, at a bar or your sister's high school reunion - is doing something infinitely better.

This feeling may be familiar to all users of Facebook or even all people, but I think it's particularly strong in people who live in New York.  New York is a city run by people who have to have the best, do the best, and be the best, and the rest of us either go along for the ride or settle in for a long haul of being told we're not good enough.  (See: Penelope Trunk here and elsewhere on her blog.  Also, a lovely and talented (erstwhile?) reader once said, either here on her own blog, that part of the reason she left the city was that dating was difficult because men were always looking over her shoulder for the woman who might be just a little more... whatever... than she was.  I had no idea what she was talking about at the time, but in the years since I have thought of this comment always and it seems more and more true with every man I date.)  New York is a place where - yes, I have become ones of those people who says this, and believes it - you can see and do and be amazing things, more so than possibly anywhere else, and consequently it is a place where there is a lot of pressure to see and do and be amazing things all the time.  

The thing is, I don't want to see and do and be amazing things all the time.  Sure, sometimes I want to see a great performance or visit a world-famous museum or experience an outstanding restaurant or do some other of the things that New Yorkers think you can only do in New York and in reality you can do in any major city and a lot of minor ones.  And sometimes I want to hang out with friends, and sometimes I want to practice yoga alone in my apartment.  This is obvious to you, if you live anywhere but New York, because you probably have an apartment big enough to lay down a yoga mat in.  

There's nothing stopping me from living my life the way I want to here, and I mostly do, but this isn't the best place for it.  This is a city made of crazy aspirations and driven by the fear of missing out, where just the thought that someone else might, somewhere, somehow, be doing something a little more awesome drives people to deprive themselves of sleep for years on end, inhale a pack of cigarettes' worth of pollution every day, and work and party themselves into a frenzy just to stay a little ahead of the curve on some hybrid skinniness/wealth/hipness scale, and wake up ten years later wondering where the time went and why they haven't figured out, much less accomplished, anything they really care about.  This is a city composed almost entirely of a profound insecurity that nothing - no salary, no party, no apartment - will ever be enough to mark its bearer as a success and that all of it, the money and the women and night after night of awesomeness, will not keep one single filmmaker or investment banker or trust fund artist from eventually, and at the exact same rate as his peers in tiny towns in Wisconsin or possibly faster, getting old.

When I leave New York, in two or five or ten years, it will be to go somewhere that isn't driven by fear.  It will, hopefully, be somewhere with good weather and good public transportation and a decent feeling of community - but more importantly, it will be somewhere that isn't about being beautiful or successful or awesome.  It will be somewhere that's about being happy and healthy and helpful and yourself.  And when I go, I'll still have Facebook, and I'll still have all my Facebook friends, in New York and San Francisco and Pennsylvania and Japan, and when I log on I'll see their status updates, and I'll know that everyone I've ever known, plus the nine million total strangers who live in New York City, is being cool without me, and I won't care at all. 


  1. It used to be the case that whenever it began raining in Manhattan umbrella sellers would appear out of seeming nowhere and sell their wares on the sidewalks. Starting about ten years ago they seemed to be getting less and less common, I don't know why.


  2. Not erstwhile! I'm still here.

    Your post, especially the last graf, sums it up. That's exactly how I would have put it.

    For me, moving from the East Village to L.A. was the right choice (the decision was agonizing, the transition was cake). However, it was convenient for me that the choice to "move home" dovetailed with a job offer, and a major metropolitan city with its attendant cultural opportunities, as well as family and old friends. Also my kind of weather.

    I also still have FOMO (or FOMA, "fear of missing anything," as we put it), but much less so now that I'm more or less comfortable in my own skin.

    As for the umbrella sellers, I was thinking the same. Where were they when you needed them?!

  3. For reference:

    Everybody Comes to New York for the Jam, But Nobody Buys It

  4. Thanks for posting, lil Dubin! I had forgotten where/how to find this.

    Increasingly I feel like I can tell how much I like someone by whether they can understand (not necessarily agree with) my perspective on New York. An alarming number of people cannot grasp why anyone would ever *not* want to be as cool as possible on a scale they did not design.