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As I’m frequently inclined to laboriously point out, I’m a native New Yorker. Now, in the grand scheme of things, that actually doesn’t mean very much. Put together a list of so-called “quintessential” New Yorkers — from Andy Warhol to Andy Samberg — and you’ll find that most of them originally moved here from somewhere else. Being a native doesn’t automatically imbue someone with the city’s signature of insouciant cool, although it probably makes one pretty precious about it. That’s me in a nutshell.
While I was born on the stuffy Upper East Side, I moved downtown after college, waving a middle finger at those staid streets and leafy byways, and relocating into a studio apartment in the East Village that was a beer-bottle’s toss from my favorite dive bars, live music venues and record stores. While I’d spent my teens skulking around downtown Manhattan, now that I was actually living there, I was going to revel in every little experience.
And revel I did. As a journalist working two graveyard shifts a week at a news magazine, my unconventional schedule enabled me to immerse myself in every lasting downtown cliche left on offer. On a regular basis, I braved both mosh pit and men’s room at CBGB, imbibed irresponsibly at Downtown Beirut, courted deafness at the Lismar Lounge and got lost in the cavernous tributaries of The Limelight. Life was never dull.
Then, of course, I met a plucky British girl with beguiling dark eyes and a smokey, infectious laugh at a Halloween party in SoHo, and life forever changed.
After dating for a couple of years, Peggy and I got married, and suddenly my studio apartment seemed woefully impractical for our purposes. By a stroke of luck, Peggy spotted a larger apartment in the same neighborhood …. one that would, ideally, accommodate a child.
Almost immediately upon the birth of our daughter, Charlotte, people started to talk up the myriad benefits and easier life growing families like ours could readily attain in, say, the verdant suburban enclaves of Westchester. My usual reaction to these not-so-subtle suggestions was pugnaciously overstated. While friends and family alike would tut-tut at our “unrealistic” endeavor to stay in the city, I’d emphatically vow that we’d never join their “cult of compromise.”
While friends and family alike would tut-tut at our “unrealistic” endeavor to stay in the city, I’d emphatically vow that we’d never join their “cult of compromise.”
Conveniently, my wife had zero desire to leave the city either. More to the point, I’d grown up in Manhattan in the notorious era of the abduction of Etan Patz, the age of “White Flight,” the calamitous blackout of 1977 and Son of Sam’s reign of terror. I’d survived a childhood in New York City and escaped unscathed and only relatively maladjusted.
As such, we dug in our heels, much the incredulousness of our loved ones.
In short order, Charlotte was joined by a baby brother, Oliver, and our once-spacious apartment started to feel ever-so-slightly more intimate.
With my time now monopolized by family and an increasingly demanding career, my once-frequent nights out on the tiles as a beery rock pig had been — understandably — sharply curtailed. By the same token, however, the city itself was changing.
My once-frequent nights out on the tiles as a beery rock pig had been — understandably — sharply curtailed.
Prompted by the jackbooted march of technology, my cherished circuit of indie record and compact disc shops was being decimated. Storied rock clubs like CBGB, Coney Island High and Wetlands Preserve were all closing over higher rents and quality of life complaints. In the wake of 9/11 and the Bloomberg administration, gentrification was sweeping over Manhattan like a tsunami. In a nutshell, everything that I loved about NYC was vanishing before my eyes.
It’s now 2015. My children are no longer toddlers and share a single room. The impracticality of that arrangement is becoming glaringly apparent to my wife and I as we await the arrival of puberty like an incoming scud missile. I’ve started channeling my frustration with my gentrifying hometown into a weblog, tearfully documenting the shuttering of favorite locales and the accompanying death of the city’s character.
This all said, we’re still here. Even in its current incarnation of monied exclusivity, New York City still fires our imagination. There is still more stimuli to be experienced walking down a single strip of concrete here than can be found in entire suburban townships.
But compromise we must. With our apartment shortly to become cripplingly inefficient in meeting our growing spacial needs, we are poised to move out of our place downtown. Ironically enough, my former neighborhood on the Upper East Side — a patch of real estate I’d sworn never to return to — is probably now a more affordable option, and also rife with more amenities than the urbanite playground we’ve long called home. If we can find a place up there that fits out needs (and our budget), that’s where we’ll head.
But Westchester? I’ll sooner see you in Hell.
Alex Smith is a lifelong New York, as well as a writer and photographer. He is currently undergoing the challenge of raising two kids in New York City.