Thursday, September 15, 2011

Goodbye, New York City

It's been a weird week for me, and not in a way that has anything to do with my life, job, or otherwise. Well, it has to do with me, but I guess you could say in an indirect way.

A number of my friends and acquaintances are leaving New York City. All of them have been here living and breathing in the city for two or more years, and poof! All of a sudden I'm getting calls, emails, texts. I'm seeing tweets and Facebook updates.

People are packing up and leaving Manhattan.

And it's weird.

Where are they going? Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, France. And yes, people come and go in New York City, I'm aware of that. It's a very fluid and impermanent place to live. Fresh-faced dreamers step off the planes, trains and automobiles every day and prepare to tackle this city. They want fame. They want fortune. They want an education. They want excitement. And then every day people leave. They get married. They get new jobs. Things get too expensive.

It's just that SO MANY people are leaving right now. One person every once in a while is a loss, but when suddenly you know ten people who won't be here in 30 days, it gets pretty strange. You feel it. It's sort of a scary, lonely feeling. The cheese stands alone, this time in the Big Apple.

And why are they leaving? It is true that New York City is a tough place to live. Money-wise, most certainly. And in this economy? It's almost like the city's an unclimbable wall from the moment you get here. Rent is expensive. Food is expensive. Living situations aren't usually ideal. People are threatening to blow us up. Jobs are few and under-paying.

I know actors who came here with dreams of Broadway, only to find themselves in full-time jobs to pay the rent with no opportunity to actually go to an audition. I know people who came for a great job, only to lose that job, and discover that the money in the bank, coupled with unemployment, won't be enough to stick around for long. I hear stories like this every day spoken through teary-eyed faces.

They're tired of New York, they say. It's time to start over somewhere else. To me that is so frightening. I am a bit of a homebody. Seriously. I put down roots and those roots grow and knot and twist and anchor me down deep. It just so happens that the "home" to which I am a "body" is one of the busiest, craziest, costliest, nutzo-est ones in America.

I don't really enjoy traveling, and the thought of picking up and moving my life to somewhere else is unsettling. To these folks who moved all the way out here, and are now moving all the way back, to you I double-tip my hat. You're braver than I am. You took a larger risk than I ever would.

Coming to New York City for me was a forgone conclusion. Having been born and raised on Long Island, just a train ride away, coming here was a nothing. I packed a few bags, knowing full well I could always head back home and get more if I forgot anything. I initially moved into a cheap apartment that my uncle rented to me. I could see my family whenever I wanted. Going home for Christmas cost a grand total of $22 for a round-trip ticket.

And because of this, "failure" or "having to leave New York City" is something I am almost protected from.

What I'm saying is that, if I were to have to "move home," I would only end up 45 minutes away from the city by train. Even if New York City were to chew me up and spit me out, I'd land somewhere by its nipple, and probably begin climbing all over again to get back.

I love New York City, and yet I hate it. It's wild and exciting, but it's also a bitch and a bastard. It never, ever sleeps, which makes it easier for it to come at you every day and try to get you out.

Is this cynical? Maybe. But it's this opinion that inspired me to write my novel in the first place. Gulliver Travels is a book about the never-ending quest for survival in New York. How difficult it is. The antagonist is none other than the city itself, which is quite a formidable foe. Especially in times like this.

To all my friends who are leaving, or who have already left, you'll be missed. I hope you come back sometime, when you're rich and successful and can just buy a loft in midtown or something. I'll also come and visit you. Again, you're braver than I ever was, and it breaks my heart to know I won't be seeing you as often as I took for granted.

But that's enough sadness for one post. Good luck to everyone. One day at a time. Wherever you are.

- Justin Luke


  1. Thanks, justin. I miss you already

  2. Awwww Justin. You know you'll always have a space to come crash with me to get some sun, sand, and...well...whatever else starts with "s." ;) You know I'll stay in touch kiddo, and you better do the same. :)

  3. As one of those guys (well, it's not totally forgone that I won't be back in a month or so), I hear ya.

    A big part of me wants a break from the city. I was born here, and I lived my own life here the past seven years. But it's become exhausting. It's like a relationship whose highs are no longer enough to make up for the grinding exhaustion of the every day struggles.

    Yet, what if I do permanently move? I mean, sure, I could always move back, but the city changes so fast, it would feel like starting all over again even if I came back after a matter of months. The rapid change of people, places, and things that's so exciting when you're there become a bit daunting when you're coming back.

    Plus, I'd miss it. It is a city like no other in the world, one of the true urban originals. Where else could compare? London, maybe. Paris, Moscow, Tokyo, Berlin, and maybe Rio too. But most every other place, no matter how wonderful, inevitably leaves you thinking "well, NYC has that... AND a million other things".

    I know no matter where I go, I'll miss being able to do, eat, and buy anything I want 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    But I'm in my 30's now. I don't have the energy to enjoy all the things I did as a young gay in the city, and since I've never been one of those 80 hour/week money chasing banker boys, I don't have the money to enjoy a lot of the other things the city offers on a regular basis (theater, opera, music, travel, dining). I want to settle down -- I'm a bit of a nester, like you -- but in spite of earning six figures last year, I was still living in a 5th floor walkup with a roommate I found on Craigslist. It's just hard to have the sort of adult life I would want in NYC, without also having to take a job I'd absoultely hate.

    Look at it this way, Justin -- you know you'll always make new friends in NYC, and all these friends leaving? Just free places to stay whenever you travel! :-)

  4. This might be the best post yet.