Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Neighbors Are Moving Again

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I don't know what it is about this city. People eventually move. To bigger apartments, other boroughs, other states.

It usually goes like this:

1. Courtship.

Perfect time to live in New York City. It contains so much neon and glamour and so many bars and tapas restaurants: all sorts of places to take photos of your fabulous new love life and trendy neighborhood-hopping and Autumnal walks hand-in-hand taken by a good friend from the back, all to be posted to Facebook immediately.

2. Engagement.

The love affair with NYC continues. The getting-to-know-you phase winds down: conversations over  bean salad at Turkuaz  shift from weekend trips and tentative confessions about family members to locations and photographers. Some couples put the ring on Facebook, others are more discreet, because a lot of people think it is a patriarchal symbol and if it's a diamond it is most likely mined by a slave laborer. I've yet to see a photo with a caption that reads Here's our ethically-mined diamond and you know what, screw it, I decided I wanted one even though I majored in Women's Studies at Wellesley. 

Maybe someone brings up having kids and the eventuality of needing more space. The discussion is short, because neither person is ready to give up living in NYC. What if you want a Coke at 2:30 in the morning? Let's enjoy this fall walk by Bethesda Terrace -- Oh! This would be a nice spot for a wedding day shot!

3. Wedding Day.

Some people can swing a NYC city wedding, but usually those people have wealthy parents. Others opt for tiny destination weddings and spend big on photographers so they can bring the wedding experience back to their friends online after the fact. That's almost like being featured in a magazine, which is way better than spending time with people you love. Some couples can do both. I don't know what else goes on at the weddings, so I'll move on. But after the wedding, bank accounts are smaller or completely wiped out. NYC is gorgeous and the land of a thousand wonders, but who can really manage a normal life here? First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a hall with no room for a carriage. 

4. Moving Day.

You've found the place. Pottery Barn ensembles, telescopes, normal size couches and Thanksgiving celebrations will all fit into this house! The kitchen has a real counter and there are spider burners on the stove. Thank god we can leave the clutter and confusion and the pigeons behind, the couple thinks. The money, the stress, the sacrifice, the predictable frustration on your daily commute: why is that man's leg touching mine when the subway seat next to his is empty for god's sake? That's all behind us now. We'll have peace and stars in the night sky and wallpaper where we'll mark our children's growth. Permanence. For all the glitter of the Chrysler Building, Manhattan can't provide that.

Your neighbors in the building, the parents of a toddler, see that the lobby door is portentously propped open on a late August day. The stairs are creaking under the weight of furniture accumulated at flea markets. You pass the toddler's mother in the hallway, who is locked out of her own apartment because she forgot her keys and her husband is at a distant playground with the kid, and you nod but you say nothing. Nothing. Finally the mother speaks up. Damn it. Damn it.

-Hey are you moving


Where to? 


Oh, wow. Good luck. 

The mother then goes back to her cell phone and pretends to be deeply uninterested and not at all depressed by this sudden transition in the human makeup of her New York City dwelling. 

Transition. Change. Exits.No warning. All that stuff hurts. 

The mother then imagines a leafy lane and white shutters and a creek and woods and knows that these people are moving on to the next stage, the one at which people feel they should leave Manhattan. Someone is going to get pregnant (the woman, probably) and then they'll need space. Or grass. Or something.


It was only two years ago that we, the couple with the five month old baby asleep in the carrier, rented an apartment in the building.  Ken bought his place upstairs at the same time. He had garden supplies and he was planting tomatoes on the roof. We have nice neighbors, I thought happily.

 Ken had another girlfriend back then. Mara was hip and young with bright red hair. She was moody as hell but a lot of fun. Except then she ran off to build orphanages in Nepal. Ken who planted tomatoes on the roof was single again.

 Karen moved in two months later.

So I adjusted. Sure, I was wounded that the redhead picked saving orphans in Nepal over marrying, settling down and staying with us, er Ken, in NYC. But maybe the new girlfriend was something special. She opens big with cookies and cooing over the kid. She leaves a note on the door from her two tiny dogs, wishing my daughter a happy birthday. We have a couple of nice chats: how do you balance finding nature for your child and living in the city? The public school system? Hmm. 

And suddenly they are engaged. Of course. But who knew a real estate broker had been called? Who knew they were abandoning ship according to the checklist of how people always leave this city?  Neighbors in NYC pack up their emotions with their boxes it seems, even before the boxes have been packed.

It's a near certainty that Mara was the one who got away. Ken doesn't smile at Karen the way he did when he looked at Mara. But hey, life moves on, fancy photos of a destination wedding must be taken eventually, those sperm aren't getting any younger.  Ken did what he had to do. He found someone who wanted the same things. So what if she wasn't the love of his life? He'll have a baby and a leafy glade in Connecticut and their friends will post lots of cinematic "candid" shots of their new life in Connecticut.

What is it about this city? Why does everyone leave? I know why, but it hurts every time. It hurts to watch each stage play out and to be asked what your plans are and to tell people you have no plans other than to keep renting and having one kid and going on about your NYC life. Sometimes you can't take the sidewalks another second -- cigarette smoke and the bumping into people staring at smart phones and the hauling of groceries and the absurd rent check. Other times you know you are the luckiest person in the world to have your tiny cell  in the world's most compact city. So what if the baby doesn't have a proper closet? There are bookshops and libraries to walk to. There's Central Park in fall. There's Prometheus at Rockefeller Center. There's the iconography and the illusions we who live in our tiny corner of Manhattan hold dear.

Maybe Woody Allen was right about the country.

You've got crickets. It's quiet. There's no place to walk after dinner. There's the screens with the dead moths behind them. You've got the Manson Family possibly.

On the other hand, I am not sure New York City is all it once was or is cracked up to be. As we now know, Woody Allen certainly isn't. Now he's a crumbled ash heap of a New York City icon if there ever was one. Perhaps the once iconic symbol of New York is a mirror of his own former love: the city itself.

Anyway, the neighbors are moving again. I won't tell my daughter. Maybe she'll notice at some point that the dogs who needed medication for anxiety no longer bark as they run past our door for their daily walks. Maybe she won't. Maybe by now she's used to the neighbors moving.

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