Alright, don’t laugh at me, but that Jay-Z/Alicia Keys Empire State of Mind video gives me the chills (say WHA? did you just say that a Jay-Z song gives you the chills? Oh, come on). Like if I was still living on the west coast, this video and song would make me insanely and utterly homesick just like most images of NY did back then. But you wanna know what really sent me reeling with homesickness every time I saw it? The opening theme to Living Single, you know that sitcom with Queen Latifah and Tootie from the Facts of Life. Sure, plenty of other shows took place in NY, but Friends was so decidedly !Fake NY! and while Seinfeld was very NY, it didn’t make me long for the city with this ache in my heart like the opening street scenes from Living Single.
So what is it about this place that gets under your skin and lures you back even though you vowed never to return when you fled for the states in the Pacific Northwest which was as physically far away from NY as possible without crossing any oceans? Why do we put up with the crowds, living in small spaces, the trash, the noise, the grit, the ridiculous school situation, the astronomical costs of healthcare and housing, and people always in. your. face?
I really have no answer for you other than this place has always been home. I’m glad I moved away from here for those years back in the 90s as it gave me perspective on where I came from, but when I think about what I missed most about home, it wasn’t so much about specific places or people (though I missed those too). It was much more intangible than that, a certain feeling or energy that I associate with this city that can’t be replicated anywhere else. Unlike my years in Olympia or Portland, where I probably could have collected cans every month to pay for my share of the rent for the 2 story Victorian house that I lived in with 3 other people, NYC isn’t an easy place to live. I remember when Mark moved here 14 years ago without ever really having visited the city as an adult. He followed me here when I decided it was time to move back and he lived on a living room floor of a small, dark apartment in the Financial District that he shared with a former classmate. He was 3 months in and he was close to calling it quits. I’m not romanticizing this city at all and I’m sure that our lives would be much more comfortable and affordable if we moved somewhere else. But I discovered that I actually missed the struggles, the diversity on ALL fronts, the friction and craziness and yes, the in your face people that make you work harder and achieve higher. I NEED this.
NY isn’t for everybody and many people have a love/hate relationship with the city like an abusive partner that they can’t quite quit, but I’m hanging in here and I’m raising my kids here. When I was living away from home, my mom couldn’t figure out why I wanted to live anywhere else when all I needed was here in NY. Okay, mom. You win.
(oh, and Times Square above? I don’t love Times Square, but I recently found myself there one night after not having been in that neighborhood in probably years. Felt like a tourist, it was alien territory. New York, after nearly 4 decades, you still surprise me.)