It’s official. The answer to the question “Is It Time To Leave New York?” is Yes, at least for me. I signed an early termination form, giving my landlord 60 days’ notice for ending my lease early. By the end of November, I will no longer be a New Yorker. After 22 years, after riding on every Subway lines possible, after eating at dozens of New York Pizzerias, it’s a lot to think about.
The simplest explanation for my departure is money, or, more accurately, the lack of it. New York has always been about status and been more expensive than any other U.S. city, but the end of rent regulations, the drastic reduction of crime and other enabling factors have opened the floodgates and made things profoundly different now. Manhattan, and now its outer boroughs, has become a free-for-all for the very rich. New studio apartments in my neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen go for $3,000/month. A brand new building on my block offers studios for $4,000/month. And the new development at the Hudson Rail Yard? Fuhgeddaboudit. It’s greed on the grandest of scales in the form of real estate rape, without the courtesy of a reach-around (which is available for an extra fee, though).
Coupled with skyrocketing housing costs is a shift in work. For the past 13 years, I’ve been a designer, art director and content creator of sorts, providing an extremely detailed and very personalized service that was intricately custom-tailored to each project, like a bespoke suit. Nowadays, people want a Mercedes-Benz – or something that looks like one from a distance – for the price of a bicycle. It’s a fast-fashion world, and from the smaller boutique outfits to the major media players, people want it cheaper and cheaper every year. That doesn’t really jibe with the cost of living in Dubai on the Hudson.
Another thing I’ve noticed is a rapid rise in the sheer mass of people. This town has always been crowded, but ask anyone who’s lived here for a long time and they’ll tell you the same thing: Who are all of these people and where are they coming from? (And where are they getting the money it takes to live here??) Within a three block radius of my apartment building, thousands of new apartment units have been built in the last six years, and more are under construction. The sheer mass of bodies on the sidewalks going to and from work and out and about on weekends is nuts. At the current rate of growth, one look at the 1/2/3 subway platform in Times Square at around 6pm leaves no question as to why an already-stressed mass transit system is headed for even more challenging times.
As the wonderful Emmy-hoarder Julia Louis-Dreyfus said on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast earlier this year, “New York is so expensive, so crowded… and full of very rich people.”
I will miss it, though. I got to do a lot of things and meet a lot of people that would not have been possible in any other city. I got to act on stage, television, and film because I lived here. I got to meet, dine with and get to know some of my idols because I lived here. I’ve been published and featured in magazines, photographed for a popular New York coffee table book, recorded for voice-overs and audiobooks. The sheer proximity to everybody else here enabled me to get connected to some of the most interesting, most exciting, and most hilarious people I’ve ever met. I got drunk here (a lot), fell down here (a lot), and ultimately got sober here. I fell in love here, a few times. One of those times was with a man who might have been the love of my life. And then he died. (I don’t talk about that much.) I’ve buried good friends here. Robert, George, Kevin, Merle, Norm, Austin, and others… And, of course, the best boss I’ve ever had: Joan. It’s been a wild ride. Everything I built here, I built it on my own name, which is also my father’s name. I’m proud of my life here.
New York is where I became a grown up. I learned who I wasn’t, I figured who I was, and I accepted and became that person. You can’t really bullshit here. People are too close together and we can smell it. Grandiosity and nonsense get snuffed out pretty quickly, and your smarter types have no tolerance for it.
You also learn to be efficient here. Deadlines are real, the pace is fast, and people want things yesterday. In order to survive, you have to be quick on your feet, graceful under pressure, and very decisive. There’s no time to linger and belabor. Go, go, go. This town moves like a 45 rpm record. When you step off a plane in another town, a New Yorker can immediately feel the speed move to 33 rpm. New York City is exhausting, but the rush can be exhilarating and intoxicating.
All that said, my decision to leave New York reminds me of my decision to stop drinking. When I hit my bottom, the time had come for me to acknowledge that alcohol was the problem. Drinking wasn’t working anymore. Over the past year, I’ve hit a different kind of bottom, but a very real one nonetheless. Ludicrous housing costs; plus trying to keep up with laughable pay; plus no money left at the end of every month after working until I’m half dead; plus drunk bridge and tunnel trash fighting, yelling, pissing and puking in front of my building; plus proximity to boast-worthy New York features like Broadway shows, good restaurants, shares on the island and other amenities that I can’t enjoy because I can’t afford them; plus continuous exasperation with all of the aforementioned and more equals “maybe New York is the problem.” Like I did with alcohol, I’m taking New York out of the equation and working on what remains.
On a bad day, I’m a mess about it. Earlier today, I had another one of the many breakdowns I’ve had since I made the decision to go. “What have I done?” “What’s going to happen?” “What do I do now?” As I mentioned earlier, I’ve built my entire adult life here, and so much of how I identify myself is tied to this place. It’s a bit of an existential crisis.
On a good day, I’m able to see things very differently. I often compare trying to survive in New York to pining for the affection of an indifferent lover who doesn’t care if I spend the night or go home. Because that is what New York is: an indifferent lover. She doesn’t care if you spend the night or go home. She will gladly take, but she won’t necessarily give back. Loyalty is one luxury that this luxury town seldom offers. I don’t matter here. I’m not essential. With exceptions, we’re all replaceable, certainly by younger legionnaires who are willing to do what we do for a lot less (though not necessarily better), which makes profit-hungry business owners and shareholders much happier. I certainly have an ego with a generous dose of vanity, but I also have the wherewithal to understand that when I leave, few people will care or even notice. New York will grind on, without a blip in her pulse.
The few people who will notice are the precious true friends I made on this Gotham journey – the kind of friends who stuck by my side even when I wasn’t useful to them, which is a rare bird in a town of opportunist climbers and takers. It’s a small group, but a group that is dear to me. I love them and I will miss them in ways immeasurable. Most of them come from my beloved tribe of sober folk who saved my life and selflessly taught me how to show up and to live one day at a time without a drink. They will be the hardest to leave.
What I won’t miss is the feeling of debilitating and demoralizing impotence in a city tricked out for people with superhuman spending powers. Since I don’t do hedge funds, daddy’s money, or luxury real estate or ride in the wagons that circle those camps, I’m going to try a different land where I can still do work I really enjoy, where I can actually have some money in the bank, where I can afford health insurance again, where I can avoid having a panic attack at the end of every month, where my dogs can sniff something other than heaps of garbage bags and sleeping homeless people, where I can walk and not get steamrolled by growing herds of blow-dried drones staring into their iPhones, where the real estate market hasn’t lost its goddamn mind, where the local government hasn’t completely fucked over the class of citizens that made the city interesting in favor of the dull rich who are surfing the shiny hollow wave of a city they’ve smothered.
In spite of all that, I conclude this schizophrenic missive with a very heavy heart. I love this insane town and the dear friends I leave in it. As one of those dear friends once said to me, “New York is a c#%t, but she’s my favorite c#%t.” I couldn’t agree more.
Once I’ve sold all my possessions except for my clothes, my bicycle and my dogs, I’m off to an exotic land called Cleveland. Wish me luck.