My Personal Ode to New York City

New_York

Well, Chris gave his notice last week, and I’ve told all my freelance clients as well — we’ll be taking the months of November and December to travel, then we’re moving to Denver at the beginning of January.

I haven’t thought this much about Manhattan since I was a naïve college freshman, majoring in journalism and dreaming of the day I would move into my own tiny little apartment anywhere I could afford in this amazing city, working my way up through the ranks at the magazine of my dreams.

Of course now that we’re moving away, all that I can think about is how I got here, and what a wild ride it’s been since.

My Manhattan chapter never involved most of the things I originally thought it would. The dingy, shoebox sized basement apartment. Unemployment. The vast debt and, in some cases, even vaster loneliness. My Manhattan story started out as a light at the end of the tunnel. After a particularly difficult breakup – which culminated with my moving back in with my parents in New Jersey for a period of eight months at the ripe old age of 23 — I was eager to take the first thing that came along if it would start me on the life I knew I was meant to live – the one that was waiting for me in Manhattan.

Instead of a dingy basement apartment, though, the first offer that came along was a humongous (by New York standards) bedroom in a converted 3-bedroom apartment in an elevator, doorman building in the Upper East Side — with laundry in the basement, to boot.

I remember the day I met Alexis – the girl who would become one of my first Manhattan roommates – in Bryant Park. I had just come from my internship at Jane, which I loved, and the stop to meet her was right along my route back to the Port Authority along 42nd Street to catch the bus back to my parents’ house. Alexis wore soccer shorts, sneakers and a t-shirt, and I was immediately at ease. “I can do this,” I remember thinking. “I can move back in with roommates after having lived with only my parents and my ex-boyfriend for the past two years.

And I can do it in Manhattan, too.”

Maura and Alexis were great roommates. We got along, were friendly enough and were always cognoscente of each other’s personal time and space. We were never rude or disrespectful … everything was just fine. My room in Normandy Court was so large that it basically fit most of the worldly possessions I had up to that point, and what I was missing, Maura and Alexis had provided for the apartment, having already lived there for two years before I arrived.

From the September I moved into Normandy in 2007 until the April I moved out in 2008, my Manhattan life was moving along exactly as I would have expected it to. My two best friends from college also lived in Manhattan, and having Alexis and Maura as roommates – girls who I genuinely liked – curbed any of that loneliness I had heard about and prepared for. I had moved on from being a not-at-all-paid intern at Jane to a not-so-well-paid freelance editorial assistant at another magazine, and then on again to an ever-so-slightly-better-paid on-staff EA at another magazine, and that was just as it should be. Because I’m a bit of a freak and there’s nothing I love more than budgeting, I made it work (with the help of a little bit of credit card debt in the process, of course).

Then, when I was least expecting it (and to be honest, not really exactly wanting it), I met Chris. In the most spectacular of New York fashions, I met an adorable Australian on New Years Eve at a gypsy punk band concert who was leaving to live in Canada in two weeks.

After we remained together the entire time Chris was gone (naturally), and he moved back to the states to accept the full-time job his internship had offered him and to continue our relationship (obviously), it was time to leave Normandy Court – the place that was my first official home in Manhattan – and find a place to live together.

I searched all over this island – midtown, the West Village, Chelsea, etc. — and settled on the second-to-last apartment I saw, one that happened to be only one block from my former residence at Normandy. That one-bedroom, fourth-floor walk-up between 2nd and 3rd Avenue would become our home for the next six years. It’s where we adopted our first pet together – a rabbit named Nugget – and then our second, a cat named Penny.

It’s where we lived when we got engaged five years later, and then married. It’s the apartment where we took wedding photos, had our first arguments, discussed our future and talked about having babies. It’s the apartment where I went through another magazine job, then an online editor job, until finally settling on fulltime freelance writing, and where Chris moved up the ranks at three different advertising companies.

We turned 30 living in the apartment, bought our first Christmas trees together in this apartment and celebrated our one-year anniversary here.

This apartment. This one-bedroom, fourth-floor walk-up apartment.

And this Manhattan. My Manhattan. I became an adult here. I founded my career here. Met the love of my life here. Got married here. I’ve cried here. Gone into debt here. Become financially savvy here. I’ve made oh so many amazing, wonderful friends – friends that I more than a little bit worry that I’ll lose when we move.

But this place, for all its laundry list of amazingness, has taken a lot out of me, as well. It’s exhausting living here. And I’m tired of schlepping heavy bags with me every single time we’re traveling (which is a lot). And I’m tired of overpaying for our (albeit well-loved) one-bedroom apartment. I’m tired of subway rides and crowded everywhere. I’m tired of the humanity, the concrete, the sweltering, airless summers.

Slowly, one by one, those amazing, wonderful friends who I met here are all starting to move away, as well. Of course many still remain, but for some, growing up and becoming a real adult means leaving behind those not-yet-fully-formed dreams we all had of living in Manhattan. I’m not sure if I ever thought that I’d live here forever – but I sure as hell always knew that my life would have a Manhattan chapter. Coming up on 32, though, as friends all start to marry off and buy houses and have babies, I have to wonder: “Can I accomplish everything I want to in life here in Manhattan?”

Saving money for future goals (house, kids, travel) has slowly become a game of randomly picking and choosing when we can actually enjoy this city and go out and spend time in it. Sure, there’s a lot to do that’s free, but there’s also a heck of a lot more to do that’s not.

I’ve loved my time here even more than I think my naïve college freshman self could have imagined. Living in New York means so many things – and you do become a bit hardened after being here for seven years. To me, it all boils down to one thing: Do I want to wait until my Manhattan memories become something I resent? Isn’t it better to go out on a high note, feeling like you took absolutely everything you could from this place that you love – and that you gave back just as good as you got?

Writing this essay right now, staring out at my fire escape watching the goings-on on the street below, I’m not so sure anymore.

What I know I’m happy about is the fact that our new apartment – wherever that may end up being – will contain so many artifacts from our life here in New York City, both outright and subtle.

  • The kitchen gear that I picked up when I worked as an assistant to the food editor at a magazine.
  • The huge pop art, close-up photo of myself and Chris that was brought to me by a company during a deskside meeting at one of the magazines where I worked.
  • The old-timey map of the five boroughs that Chris and I found at a vintage store in Saratoga Springs.
  • The ‘New York City Walking Tours’ tourist cards that were left here by Chris’s parents after one particular visit – along with all their other ‘Must Do in New York’ memorabilia.
  • The Christmas tree ornaments purchased at the Bryant Park holiday booths.
  • The plants we picked up at the Home Depot on 58th St. and somehow managed to keep alive.
  • The New York Post I kept from the first time Obama was elected as President.
  • The gorgeous chair I bought from the Pier 1 that used to exist on 3rd and 87th, that I carried all the way home by myself.

I’ll take less tangible things with me, as well, the memories that, as long as I write them down, will hopefully never fade. Things like …

  • The first time I saw a movie in Manhattan. I don’t remember which movie it was, but I remember the theater – a huge one in midtown, and I went with my college roommate, who also lives here. I remember feeling so grown-up, and so exhilarated, from that most mundane of activities.
  • Walking to my subway station for the first time after moving here, dressed in a skimpy dress and little black heels for a night out on the town, and the homeless man cat-calling to me from a nearby bench.
  • Going to the expensive, all-natural grocery store near Normandy Court the first time I needed groceries after I moved in because it was the first one I saw, when all along there was a Gristedes literally in the basement of our building.
  • Getting yelled at by a fellow resident of Normandy Court the day I moved in, all because I went back to check on my boxes when I realized I was leaving them in an unguarded area. He followed me down the hall like a deranged person, yelling, “What do you think, I’m going to steal them!? Maybe you don’t belong here in New York City!” I laughed at him and kept on walking, until the doorman told him to leave.
  • Spending every day possible in the city with a high school friend the summer before I moved here, traipsing from bar to bar in SOHO, making friends with bar tenders and flirting with boys.
  • Standing in the longest line I had ever seen in Central Park for a chance to see a free Vampire Weekend concert with Chris, and getting caught in torrential rain while doing so, the concert blaring in the background. We never made it in.
  • Running my first half marathon in Central Park – two hill-filled laps around it – and all of the hours of training I put in with friends in the months before.
  • Performing an entire month of jury duty here — enough said.
  • Volunteering in Harlem for a months-long afterschool literacy program, and becoming seriously attached to my “little”.
  • Coming back from an office outing in the Hamptons and watching from the bus as cops pulled a cyclist out from under a car that had hit him. He may or may not have died in that accident, and I’ll never forget being stuck in that traffic, watching the tragedy play out.
  • Attending a black tie charity fundraiser event at the Marriott Marque in Times Square and being so embarrassed that I couldn’t afford to donate more than $20 to the cause at the time … but feeling fabulous in my little black dress at the same time.
  • Celebrating a friend’s birthday with a trip to the Museum of Natural History for their once a month Friday night dance party – an event for which we paid $25 of our meager EA salaries – and then getting so drunk at her apartment before we even left that we stayed for five minutes, caught a taxi back to her place and spent the rest of the night taking turns throwing up our vodka Sprites and $25 sushi dinners.
  • Zesty’s, oh Zesty’s. The most amazing little pizza place that used to live on the corner of 95th and 3rd. Many a drunken night my friends and I would stumble in there, ordering the pasta pizza (you can do that when you’re 24) to soak up whatever the drink of choice had been for that night. Then later, watching as Zesty’s was the first of every single business on 3rd Ave between 95th and 94th St. to be put out of business by the building owner so he could build (yet another) high-rise apartment complex there.
  • The Indian food restaurant that used to live on the corner of our street, which was ranked a D for cleanliness and that I’m pretty sure gave me food poisoning.
  • The day Chris and I got married at City Hall, taking our wedding photos in the City Hall building, and on the steps of the building across the street that everyone thinks is City Hall but isn’t. Taking pictures in front of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building and in Madison Square Park. In Grand Central and the Highline and Central Park. Our cranky driver, who had no idea he was meant to drive us around all day on New Year’s Eve while we took photos. Eating our first dinner as a married couple at the restaurant at The Standard, and staying in one of their corner rooms that first night, surrounded by windows and the fading city lights, watching the Empire State Building put on quite the little light show at midnight.
  • My first real date with Chris, wherein I was so nervous before he showed up to my apartment, not quite remembering anything in particular about him from the drunken, hazy night before, when we had met. Him showing up, adorable, handing me a six-pack of Corona he had bought at Zesty’s because you don’t show up empty handed. Deciding to go for a walk to find some place to eat – then walking down 3rd Ave. all the way into the 50s from the 90s, not finding anywhere – or not wanting to stop talking to bother looking – and turning back up on Lexington and ending back at my place, where we ordered Chinese food and chatted with my roommate Alexis about her experience abroad in Australia.
  • The man who threw up in front of me on the train, and the man who peed in front of me at the subway entrance the very next day. The young girl having a seizure on the train, the man in a business suit who fainted, the homeless man with no legs who roams up and down on the floor of the subway cars, miraculously, begging for money.
  • The way our subway stop is lined with Christmas trees to purchase every December, all December long, and picking one out each year for our place, the size of the tree growing in proportion to our salaries.
  • Taking the subway into Grand Central when I worked in midtown, and entering my building which was directly across the street from the Chrysler building. Then later, taking subways to Astor Place, Union Square and finally, Bleecker Street, as my jobs all brought me farther and farther downtown, but never away from my beloved – if overcrowded and perpetually stalled – 6 train.
  • Walking to and from my apartment at Normandy to my job on 42nd and Lexington as many days as I could – a straight 2.8-mile walk there and 2.8 miles back.

What it all boils down to is if moving does turn out to all be a big mistake, I think I have enough memories to last me for a lifetime.

Because Manhattan – you will always have just a little piece of my heart.

C&C58

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