IX. "Through the Lincoln Tunnel with a Parrot and the Velvet Underground, Oh My!"
I don't know why I am moving to New York. After graduating from college there is an inherent allure, a pressure, a parrot squawking on my shoulder — "Move to New York! Move to New York!" is says. "Polly wants a Gray's Papaya!"
So here I am, sitting on a Union Square bench with a notebook, in a suit I never wear, waiting for time to pass before I go to a job interview. Four days ago I was moving out of my college apartment in Virginia. Life is fast. Sometimes I have to remind myself it is happening.
At the interview I am introduced to a few other advertising copywriters a few years older than I am. They all seem affable enough, kind faces of twenty-something minor-league poets and part-time musicians. They see through me too, see the aspiring-novelist sell-out (or just aspiring-sell-out). At least that's how it feels, despite the knowledge that, hey, none of us could be poets or musicians or novelists without some sort of quasi-lucrative, quasi-creative, day-job.
Walking to a conference room for the actual "interview," a Senior Writer (to whom I am trying to portray a respectable side of myself) asks which Woody Allen movie brought me there.
– What do you mean? I ask him.
– Well, what brought you to New York? Everyone has a Woody Allen movie or something that made them fall in love with the "idea" of New York and want to try and move here.
– Oh. No Woody Allen. Not really. Probably just the Velvet Underground.
And thus I lose a notch of respectability. The rest of the interview goes as planned. But I don't really care if I get the job. Things work out.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I was sitting in the Lakeside Lounge, a bar on Avenue B Friday. One of the people there went to Seattle U. a few years back and we talked about Dolour and Sunny Day Real Estate, and how seemingly everyone is doing coke nowadays. It made me miss the rain of Seattle, but the lower east side is exactly the type of place I want to live right now. I just hope I can find a place. Moving to New York means basically taking what you can get as soon as you can. I might have to settle for Astoria or Morningside Heights or something, which is shitty in comparison.
Outside the bar, the Alphabet City neighborhood is lovely. Dirty and wet and none of the buildings are much taller than any of the others. A bit of a peaceful serenity is evenly dispersed among the bricks and trees of Tompkins Square Park. It's nice; like watching a baby, crying in a passing stroller, gape its mouth noiselessly as you watch from behind the window of an upper west side coffee shop.
Everyone walks a little faster in New York. Me too. But what is the big deal about this place? It's glorified as the center of the art world. If you want to do anything — at least if you want to do it big! – you have to be in New York. It's just how it is. Financiers, artists, designers, poets, musicians…all are inherently plagued by the squawking parrot on a shoulder. "Polly wants a cracker and a Tasti-d-Lite!"
I like the anonymity and the freedom to meet strangers. Seattle is big, but not so big that you don't start running into the same people at shows and at clubs. Odds are that if you meet a stranger at a Dolour show, you might see them the next week at the Divorce . showIt's just how it is. I like that New York is huge. The size makes it humbling. You are never singled-out. Even celebrities are everywhere. And that makes it also self-motivating when you are here. "Well, I am in New York," you say. "I should probably act like it. I should probably do something worth-while. I should probably live, if I am living in New York."
So props to the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan for making me want to come here. I am sure I would enjoy it if I moved here, and odds are I will (move here) for at least a while. But let's face it, it's not that much of a special place. It's just an excuse to either make something of yourself, or just an excuse to be an asshole.
After coming up here a lot from D.C., New York seems like it is just an excuse to buy expensive clothes or rip your already torn jeans. Just like going to Georgetown is an excuse to act like you might know more about law than any other 23 year-old, New York is an excuse to walk fast and be rude in other cities. I'm a New Yorker, you might say in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco. It's an excuse to complain about the smoke in Seattle clubs, an excuse to make rude comments in Chicago about how everyone else's apartment is better than yours, an excuse to do jack shit on the weekends, because fuck, where are you going to go? You're on an island! (And nobody! leaves Manhattan.)
But it's an excuse to do the things you wouldn't normally do anywhere else. To get in a Bowie/Reed tribute band. To talk to painters and coke-heads and acid-droppers and homeless people who sell signed Phillip Roth novels in front of the west side Zabar's grocery store. An excuse to convince yourself you might be able to write a book, paint a portrait, take a photograph.
Personally, I am not sure the good excuses outweigh the bad ones. I just like listening to the Velvet Underground while I ride a bus through the Lincoln Tunnel. And I'm scared as hell that if New York is supposed to be the best city in the world, the world might just be closer to Hell than Heaven.
Or it might be better than I thought it could be. I have no idea. The glass isn't half-full or half-empty. I don't even have a glass at this point.