(Part Seven in my series on my six years in New York)
When you live in New York, there are certain lies; half-truths in which you become fluent:
“It’s not that far/small”
“I’m taking time off”
“I love Brooklyn/Long Island City/Washington Heights”
“Who needs a doorman?”
“I never go/never have been to Times Square/Battery Park/the Empire State Building”
There are other lies, of varying degrees of white-to-black, that men and women tell themselves and each other. But I have found that because New York is a reality separate from most places — indeed — because the island of Manhattan is properly an island separate from even the other four boroughs comprising the City of New York, there are some things one must tell herself in order to survive.
“I don’t mind shopping at a bodega; it’s like living in Europe!”
Bodega-shopping is not, in fact, like living anywhere in Europe — unless one means “living outside of the Euro-zone”; living in a former Soviet Bloc country. Living in the food-desert that is some parts of New York; blowing the dust off of cans of “produce” is nothing like living in France. The mere fact that you trudge daily to the corner store to partake in the ritual of picking up a near-expired quart of half-and-half and some overripe, overpriced tomatoes should in no way remind you of the summer you studied abroad (unless you studied in East Berlin circa 1987). I find it depressing when I go home to visit my parents in the ‘burbs and spend 10 full minutes in the laundry detergent aisle, dumbfounded by the number of types and scents of fabric softener I forgot existed.
“Location, location, location” or “Small is charming!”
Your 300 square foot studio — fifth floor walkup, no doorman — complete with roaches and lilliputian appliances, for which you pay $2,000/month, is not charming. 10 blocks from the subway is not “location.” But these are the lies we tell ourselves in order to justify how we live and what we pay.
If you lived anywhere else, you’d be a millionaire. I remember when I first graduated from law school, and we were struggling to make ends meet on what seemed (on paper) like a great salary. But that same salary, when paid to colleagues in North Carolina, was letting them pay off their law school debt in just a few payments; they would buy big houses as they started their jobs. The contrast was stark; depressing.
“It’s not that far!”
You live in Long Island City/Ditmas Park/Bay Ridge/Somewhere a taxi driver won’t take me. The restaurant is in Spanish Harlem. That bar your friend’s boyfriend’s cousin told you about is 27 blocks from the closest subway station. I’m in a pair of 5 inch heels. Yes. It’s that far.
New York seems to have its own, unique set of sexual mores. Maybe they’re “European,” as a friend recently tried to convince me; maybe they reflect that New Yorkers have embraced the human failure to exist as a monogamous animal. We pass through boundaries of relationships like microscopic particles through cell walls; nourishing each other, poisoning each other. Living, dying. Everything is exactly as it seems and then not.
Maybe that’s not just a New York thing. Maybe it’s a human thing, and I became aware of it once I was in New York.
There are other lies; half-truths…
We lie about the places we go; the things we do; the people we are. This is the lure of New York’s anonymous culture. It is easy to lie when you do not have to be held accountable — when you can easily blend back into the crowd. But under the cloak of anonymity, as I have learned the very hard way in my New York days, it is easier, and perhaps more rewarding to tell the truth.