There are New York City moments, little things so unique to a city life that, regardless of their propensity to happen anywhere the required elements exist and regardless of their latitudinal origin, feel like something that Simon and Garfunkel invented. There's no inclusive list, no boxes to check but, looking back, a denizen of the city could rattle them off without taking a shovel to the years of dust covering the memories. They're the stories that we'll tell our kids when, sitting on a porch in the summer sometime in some suburb far removed from the streets we used to call home, somewhere with a forward-thinking school system and jungle gyms not separated from the sidewalks by twenty-foot high chain-link fences, they ask us what it was like.
I've killed a bottle of Stoli on a Sullivan Street fire escape that belonged to a freakishly intelligent and fantastically hot philosophy major under a light summer rain.
I've eaten sushi while sitting on top of a mailbox for the sake of the view.
I've cooked and served a picnic for two in Central Park, reveled in the showmanship of pulling a bottle of wine, a brick of parmesan and a cheese grater from a backpack while a band tuned up for Summer Stage, a concert I couldn't afford to pay to get into but that sounded just as good from the outside.
I've gotten fantastically drunk in East Village dives that no longer exist, bars so familiar and wonderful with jukeboxes so keyed in to their crowds that I never wanted to leave and, on some nights, decided not to.
I've given subway musicians twenty dollar bills because the music they were playing answered questions I didn't know I had.
I've found books on the carts outside The Strand that I've bought for a buck and sold inside of it for fifty.
Speaking of The Strand, I've worked there, packed and unpacked books in the swelteringly hot un-airconditioned basement, cursing The Man and trying desperately to be a Bohemian. I've been fired from The Strand too, and got a job with said Man, which I realized was a helluva lot better than actually working for a living.
I've written a lot and published practically nothing.
I've developed loyalties to hot dog vendors, to falafel stands, to street corner lo mein, to backroom indian restaurants that don't have signs out front.
And on and on.
But here's the thing: that was all years ago. At some point it stops being New York and it starts being a life like any other. Rolling papers make way for paperwork. Closing time makes way for happy hour. Claiming to be a grownup somehow morphs into actually being one. Living the city life turns into thinking about maybe writing a book about it some day.
I grew up outside New York and I came of age in it, and I think I'm done. The stories are old and tired, so close to a stereotype that I can't quite remember whose life, exactly, they represent. The City Life is an unattainable ideal - when I look around at the people who have influenced me here, I realize I've stopped saying "That's the guy I want to be" and migrated to a more perspective-heavy"what happened to him that this is where he's landed?"
Forty and claiming, over and over again like a train wreck, to do less coke than he used to. Contemplating which girl's name to get tattooed on his back. Going into debt to afford an Upper West Side apartment that he rarely sees. Embezzling money from her band to keep up appearances at her boyfriend's bar. Hanging out with a succession of friends so late into the night that they invite him to crash on their floor because he was embarrassed to have been evicted and didn't want to ask for help. Handing out flyers on the street for breakfast money. Pissing on the door of a bar that wouldn't let him in ever again after a night he doesn't remember.
I'm an adult locked in a playground, and I want out. And because I'm an adult, I can.
Loving New York is living it. Understanding it, knowing it, being a part of it, means knowing when to say goodbye.
I promise I won't hit the lights on the way out.