It can be hard to brag about living in New York. I don’t say this because it’s hard to be the bragger. There are plenty of things to brag about in this city: the food, the people, the nightlife, the arts, the opportunity, the weird. I say it because of the other half of the bragging equation, the braggee.
My brother lives in Colorado. What I feel for the city (love it immensely, want to spend all my time there, and can’t understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else) and what I feel for the wild (it’s fun, a great way to test yourself and get away from everything, but for a weekend at most), are what he feels for the wild and for the city. We’re pretty much polar opposites in those regards. I usually get a call from him once a week, telling me exactly what he’s doing at that particular moment.
“Oh hey man, what’s up--”
I'm on a ski lift right now that’s higher than any mountain you've ever been on, and I'm comfortably wearing a t shirt. I've been skiing all day, and tomorrow I'm going whitewater rafting with some friends. Tonight I'm going to party in the woods with everyone else who works at the ski lodge. I just saw a bull moose.”
Yeah, OK, that's awesome. That's really awesome. I would drop whatever I was doing for a weekend of doing that if it anything like that existed within a five hours of me.
"What are YOU doing?" he asks, a big smugly.
"Well, let’s see. I’m walking around the Upper West Side, running some errands. It's gotten nice here, I'm just wearing a hoodie today! But it's supposed to rain later, and it might decide to go back down to forty tomorrow. It’s alternated between drizzle and suffocating humidity the past two weeks. I saw a man in a park who was molesting himself while screaming at a tree, and I think I just stepped in human feces."
"I... Ok, what are you doing tonight?"
"Umm... Oh, I'm going out for pizza with some friends! Then we might go see a friend's group in the basement of a bar, then spend $40 on three drinks before my wallet forces me to call it a night."
"Wow, that's... yeah... Well, I got my tax return back. Turns out it's really easy to buy a shotgun out here."
"Oh, I got my return back, too! I'm going to sign up for more improv classes!"
"So I'm getting a gun, and you're getting theater classes?"
"...Are you even trying?"
I thought I was. I really did.
This isn't to complain about New York City. I love living here and won't consider living anywhere else for a while, especially not Colorado. But it's hard to brag about living here to people not from here. They just don't get it. They can't.
Because everyone who thinks it's awesome to live in New York already lives in New York.
Living here, thriving here, and loving that process, requires a special view of the world. You have to value the strange, weird, and beautiful. Am I attempting to put the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains up against a jam-packed 6 train at 3:30 in the morning on a scale of beauty? Not at all. But I will say that a night out in the East Village can test your endurance more than a week in the Colorado wilderness. A dumpling from a stray Chinese storefront under the Brooklyn Bridge will taste better than a meal from any five star restaurant New Jersey has to offer. Two hours spent in a theatre under a grocery store in Chelsea can reveal far more about the wonderfully twisted depths of the human psyche than a PhD, as long as the person having the experience is appreciating the right part of it.
I’ve known I had to live here since before I remember thinking about where I’d live when I moved out of my parents’ house -- since before I was even aware that one day, I’d move out of my parents’ house. There was just no other option. It was something about my future that I was absolutely sure would happen. Some kids are born knowing they want to be doctors, or writers, or actors. I didn’t know what I wanted to do once I got here, but I knew I’d be doing it here. Other people don’t have that simple clarity; they have to find where they’ll start their path before they start on it.
While I knew where my path would start, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be once I was on it. But that’s a key part in appreciating this vast, wild city. The people who do love that uncertainty, the challenge of hammering out your part of this piece without knowing what that part it's going to end up being. We take in every drag queen, karaoke joint, brunch, parade, basement sushi bar, disco arcade, and stranger, relishing in each dirty experience.
The ones who don’t like that just don’t come here, or leave after a week and vow to not return for another year or two. The ones who love that, who need that bit of chaos in their lives, are already here, or are on their ways already. We can’t brag to them, because they’re probably the ones waiting for us to get off the phone with our brother in Colorado so they can finish telling us about the hidden cocktail bar they happened upon last night before our brunch entrées come out.