I asked a college acquaintance, the only person I knew in the entire city, how much a studio would cost.
“A studio for what?” she said.
“A studio apartment? One room?”
“Why would you want to live in one room?” she asked in absolute earnest. Which made sense considering the price of real estate in Providence I would be able to both live–and eat! And not just the free hors d’oeuvres at happy hour buffets catering to the struggling 20-somethings like me.
I found a charming two-bedroom apartment just a couple miles from work. It was the entire first floor of a house, with closets bigger than any allowed within Manhattan borough limits. Tulips sprayed across the front yard, stained glass dappled my dining room with golds and reds, but it was the working fireplace in the living room that sold me. I had a huge front porch on which I imagined lazing with the crossword puzzle on Sunday mornings, resting my coffee milk–the offical cold beverage of the State of Rhode Island–on the rail as I waved to passing neighbors.
The apartment even came with parking. Free parking–a term foreign to the New Yorker’s vocabulary. I didn’t even have to walk six blocks to get to my cah; it was right in my driveway.
And then there was the cute older (thirty!) coworker who offered to help me “get settled” anytime. I was going to do just fine. Just fine.
I never could have expected that the twenty months I lived in Providence would put me in therapy for six years.
There were plenty of reasons for it. The crappy on again-off again office relationship was probably at the top of the list; with the new boss who fired me for, among other things, “being just a little too New York” somewhere just below it. In fact he had a good sixty or so other reasons that he unfurled the day I found myself unemployed in Providence, including the fact that my headlines were too long and I “cared too much about advertising strategy” for a copywriter. Yeah, that was a fun meeting. But hey, at least it all ended with him ushering me out a back door during a company meeting and telling me I could come back for my stuff on a Sunday. You know, to spare me the embarrassment.
Further down the list was the fact that in Providence, I was asked whether Hannukah and CHannukah were the same holiday. There’s also that little bit of insanity in which more than one person assumed that when I said I was originally from the City, that I meant Fall River, Massachusetts. And then there was the neighbor situation.
I remember telling my stepmother that a gay couple lived above me. “Ooh, how exciting,” my stepmother fawned. “They’ll take such good care of you! Isn’t that what every single woman wants, a gay couple for neighbors?”
Yes, I agreed. Absolutely. Until several months later when I came home at lunchtime to find a dozen police cars in my driveway and our shared back door battered and off its hinges. Apparently dealing drugs to nearby high school students, then having sex with them in spite of your HIV-positive status isn’t too highly regarded in Providence. Score one for the normally bumbling local police department.
Then again, I think they lost that point when I asked them about getting that door back, um, on the doorway. Their response was We don’t know when we’ll get you a new one. Can’t you just stay somewhere else for a while?
I felt so safe and warm that week.
I was delighted to learn that once the second floor apartment was cleared out and its evil tainted contents auctioned off, that a family would be moving in. A family. With children. How great! Little did I know that family was code for white trash mutants from hell who threatened to kill me (“We know people“) if I reported their stained undershirt-wearing selves to the landlord for any number of illegal, unethical, or otherwise disgusting activities including flicking hundreds of cigarette butts on our lawn (and sometimes in my window), and beating the crap out of their mentally-challenged teenage son.
Good times, Providence. Good times.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Providence, however, was the fact that the city was way beyond a fashion don’t. More like a fashion Dear God, are you trying to kill someone with that shellacked spike of big hair left over from 1983? And so I drove home 180 miles to New York every six weeks to get my hair cut, that fearful was I of the competence of the local stylists. Perhaps it my visit to a pedicurist who didn’t realize that nailpolish was just for the nails and not the entire foot that gave me the impression that Providence aestheticians were somewhat lacking in aesthetic abilitiy. Or maybe I just had a hunch.
Now let me be clear, dear Rhode Island readers, before you start sending me hate mail, that not every resident of The Pothole State…er, The Ocean State is fashion-backwards, insular, incompetent, and/or criminal. It’s just that everyone from your state fitting this description somehow managed to come in direct contact with me while I lived there. Let me say for the record that you have very nice beaches and I did get a kick out of the dancing traffic cop.
Needless to say, after I hightailed it back to NYC for a job with an appealing enough 10017 zip code, I embraced the city (no, not Fall River) and all of its comforts. I clung desperately to my family here, to my friends, to the skyline, the parks, the nightlife, the cafes. To the smells from the street fairs, the endless commotion out my office window. Even the comforting sounds of car alarms at night and insomniac drag queens screaming WHOOOOO at 3 AM.
I was home.
For years, I convinced myself that I was happy because of New York. That New York was my life. That I was New York and it was so inextricably a part of me, that to remove myself from the city would be to wither. Or to go crazy. But even if I did go crazy, at least if I stayed in New York I’d have plenty of company. That’s the thing about New York – whoever you are, there’s a place for you here.
It’s a strange thing that New Yorkers do; we see ourselves as New Yorkers, often before we see ourselves as women. Or Jews. Or artists. Or liberals. I’m not sure that there’s another place in the world that natives and transplants alike so tie to their identities (with the exception maybe of Texas). In what other locale would a native wear a garment proudly proclaiming his own city’s name? San Francisco shirts are strictly for the tourists. Boston shirts you can leave to the students. But a Brooklyn shirt? An E train shirt? A New York City shirt? Hey, it was good enough for Lennon.
And so this New Yorker swore never to leave my city again. Not when the going got tough, not when the psychos flew the planes into the World Trade Center. I would stay here forever, surrounded by an entire city of people who would never think to say that I was a little too New York.
Only there’s one thing I didn’t count on: Falling in love with a man who didn’t want to stay here forever. Committing to him. Having a kid with him. And that changes the game entirely.
We’ve decided to move to LA, God help us.
There are any number of reasons we’ve decided to head to the left coast early next Spring- my career opportunities, Nate’s sitcom-writing aspirations, his boredom, my love for him, the always perfect weather, the Pacific Ocean, the year-round ripe tomatoes.
I won’t have to be away from my daughter for two weeks or more in a stretch when production season rolls around–a series of separations that nearly killed me earlier this year. I won’t have to work West coast hours from the East coast any more, a situation which has me fielding phone calls from the office well past midnight some nights. (And you thought I was just up late reading blogs.) It was one thing when I was single and energetic and…well, energetic. But these days, I’m just not in love with approving copy changes on a commercial script over the phone, just as Conan O’Brien is signing off for the night.
In L.A. we can have a bbq grill. A grill! I hear it’s the law there – every resident is entitled to a grill and who am I to break the law? Maybe we’ll even have a yard. And while New Yorkers are supposed to disdain yards and all things yard-related (we have the Park thank you very much) there’s something to be said for opening the back door, and letting the kid run around while you fire up the burgers.
That’s hamburgers, by the way. We may be moving to LA but we’re not doing the veggie-vegan-soy nut-crunchy thing quite so fast.
Of course there are any number of reasons that, when I think about living in L.A., make me want to run shrieking from the room, with these bizarre things called my natural boobs flapping in the wind. But I’m trying not to dwell on those (or the flappy boobs) right now. Because as Nate says, I can talk myself into anything, and I can talk myself out of anything. I damn near talked myself out of him, that’s for sure.
In making this decision, I am trying to hard to do what I believe (and a very trustworthy couples therapist agrees) is right for my relationship. I’m trying to choose my family over my city. My future over my past. My child, and her need to have two happy, united parents, over my own parents who are none too thrilled about my departure.
That last part is quite possibly the hardest decision I’ve made in my life to date.
But the way I see it, nothing is irreversible. I came back from Providence and survived. I can come back from LA too if I can’t handle one more conversation about celebrity dog trainers and feng shui gurus and the unproven medicinal benefits of Kaballah water.
Or maybe–just maybe–we’ll go there and we’ll be happy. I’ll see my daughter more. Nate will find his career path. New opportunities that we hadn’t even considered will come our way and life will be rosie and gay.
But whatever happens, wherever we live, I’ll tell you this much: I’ll always be a New Yorker at heart.
Also, I’m keeping my nose.