In a month I’ll finally be moving out of New Jersey. When I originally moved out of New York City, I planned on staying with my parents for the summer, bartending at the shore and making tons of money, and then moving to L.A. in September. Simple. Instead, I fell in love, made very little money, performed in two shows, went to a few weddings, and decided to move to Chicago. Simple.
In honor of my finally making the transition from one city to another, I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about my nine years spent in New York. The mistakes I’ve made, what I’ve learned, all the drinks I consumed. My move to Chicago is my chance to start over, but along with all my clothing and random furniture I take with me memories of a city that once seemed like the only place I could ever live. Once I was in it, it was very hard to see out. Looking back, I wish I had left sooner. But I didn’t. And that’s all right. I’m not too old (yet) to pursue what I want to be doing.
So in honor of those nine years, I’ve decided to spend the month of February writing about random memories/moments/experiences I had throughout my time there. The good, the bad, the weird, the “this could only happen in New York” sort of stuff. It’s an excuse to write. It’s something to nostalgically read when I’m old and can’t remember these moments on my own. Especially since in the grand scheme of things they seem so insignificant. But I guess they’re not, if I’m able to remember them, even now, and feel the need to share them with the internet.
They won’t be in chronological order, except for this first one. My memory isn’t that good. I won’t include names aside from first initials if necessary. These stories aren’t meant to slander anyone, and I don’t think they will. If anything I’ll be embarrassed by my past self.
The Time I Moved to New York City
Ever since I was 13, I knew I was going to move to New York City. At the time N.Y.U. seemed like the appropriate school for me, because it was in the fabled Greenwich Village and I wanted to be an actress/director/artist. Up until that point, my only interaction with the city had been Times Square,and a few museums or Broadway shows. I didn’t know about life below 34th Street. Thankfully, the internet was no longer a brand new thing and by the time I was in eighth grade I could read about Washington Square Park and The Hotel Chelsea, beatniks and Sid Vicious, drags queens, drugs, graffiti…I was obsessed.
I was one of those kids who was never content with where they were. Throughout high school I counted the years, the days until I graduated. The Manhattan skyline was my finish line, and I raced to reach it, even going as far as inquiring about Arts focused high schools in the city, only to be discouraged by my favorite teacher that I’d be better off with a “well rounded education.” Know how many times I’ve used Algebra in the past ten years? What is Algebra?
While in high school, I got to experience both the West and East Villages a bit. Tower Records, the flea market in the vacant lot next to it, shopping in Soho (before I knew how annoying it was). On St. Mark’s Place I saw a man getting his make-up done, I think at Trash & Vaudeville. A REAL LIFE DRAG QUEEN! Just like the one I had done a report on in my Sociology class (Yes, I did a report on drag queens, where I also learned about Wigstock. Why is there no more Wigstock?!) On another trip there I was taken by my friend’s lesbian aunts to Rubyfruit’s (another thing that no longer exists!) We were 15, and trying to stomach a rum and coke (shared amongst three of us.) This was New York!
I took a portfolio prep class at Pratt my senior year of high school and learned of the existence of Urban Outfitters. Owning a few things from there made me feel infinitely cooler amongst my peers. Remember, ten years ago, Urban Outfitters wasn’t as available as it is now. During those weekly Sunday classes, I also got to see New York in the Fall, arguably the best season in the city. I had class the day after Halloween and saw so many people still in costume from the night before. I wanted to be walking home in shame before I even knew what a walk of shame was!
The aforementioned favorite teacher always liked to retell the story of my first day in Freshman Art. I don’t recall what prompted this, but I told her, “When I graduate I’m going to move to New York City and go to N.Y.U.” She was amazed how confident I was in my decision, and followed up my statement with the question, “And you’re willing to work as a waitress to make ends meet?” I responded with a resounding, “Yes,” while thinking, “I’ll never wait tables.” Oh how adorably naive little 14 year old Dana was! Even after 9/11, my teacher asked if I was afraid to move to the city. I figured less people might apply to colleges, increasing my odds of getting in. I also told her if I’m meant to die in a subway explosion, so be it. BOLD. Nowadays, I can’t even stand to be in the “empty” subway car with the decaying-yet-alive homeless person in it. I was so much harder in high school. I wore bandanas instead of headbands.
Throughout high school, my mind continuously changed over what career path I would follow. Along with actress, director, and artist, fashion designer was briefly considered and it wasn’t until I learned about the tuition costs of N.Y.U. and the fact that I wasn’t a genius or Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, I’d have to settle on a different school. That, combined with the realization that I was good at drawing, painting, and making collages while looking sad and was kind of obsessed with cartoons (particularly kid cartoons with adult innuendo, i.e. Spongebob, Fairly Oddparents) meant I should go to art school for Animation. I applied to the School of Visual Arts, Pratt Institute, and, just because, The University of the Arts (Philadelphia. No.). Well I got into all three, so my dream was now a reality- I was getting the fuck out of New Jersey.
S.V.A. was my first choice, so that’s where I was going. Towards the end of the summer, my then boyfriend and I decided to go into the city in hopes of checking out the dorms. During our walk down 23rd street we witnessed cops covering up a body of a guy who must have just jumped from his building. Two blocks away from my school. So that was cool. We also couldn’t get into any of the buildings (why we thought we could I’m not sure), so I went completely sight unseen to both my school and my dorm aside from knowing where they were located. I had seen Sex and the City though, so I knew what was up.
In the first week of living in New York, maybe into the second, I encountered a few strange things. While walking down to what must have been 1st Ave. with a friend we came to a basketball court where a group of guys were standing around a gray haired man laying on the court. No one was giving him C.P.R. They were just staring at him, (basket)balls in hand. Upon hearing my friend and I contemplate whether we were supposed to do something a man watching from our side of the gated court told us, “He’s been like that for ten minutes.” Almost immediately after an ambulance arrived. Within one month I saw two dead people. Great.
Another day, while walking across a 2nd Ave. crosswalk a man in a tan suit was walking in the opposite direction as me. When he reached the middle of the crosswalk he fell to his knees, threw his arms in the air and yelled out a prolonged, “FUCK!!!!!!” Then he got up and kept walking like he didn’t just do something weird. I had passed him right when he did that and I remember jumping at his expletive because I automatically assume everyone has a gun.
Completing the WHYfecta of strange occurrences, while I was once again walking down 23rd I saw an elderly white lady, and a slightly obese black lady arguing. Over what, I’m not sure, because instead of using words, they were making animals noises. The old lady was “Moo-ing” repeatedly at the heavier woman. And right now I can’t seem to remember what the other lady did in response. I want to say she was, “Baa-ing” like a sheep. Actually, I don’t remember which one was making what sound. I know I wrote a “Deadjournal” post about it at the time. Regardless, WEIRD.
Maybe Gramercy has some bad juju going on? Maybe the universe was trying to warn me to get the hell out of there before it was too late? Maybe over the years the same crap would happen but I’d learned to ignore it. When I walk in the city, I get in a zone. People will say “Hi” to me and I’ll accidentally ignore them because I don’t see or hear them. Maybe I accidentally on purpose learned to ignore all the crazy that goes on. Who knows.
The rest of my first year in the city pretty much went as it started. I hated animating drawings. I learned I enjoyed writing scripts more than illustrating them. I learned the easiest way to make friends in a dorm is to smoke. Which I didn’t. And most importantly, I learned that having really high hopes for anything is a terrible idea, because there’s a very good chance you’ll be let down. Kind of like how I was with my first year in New York (well, until I discovered Avalon). And looking back through it all, I say it’s probably a 50/50 of how many times I was disappointed with my life there to how many times I felt like New York was the most magical amazing place we all constantly tell ourselves it is.
Fresh out of high school. All wide eyed and sober.
I’m so proud of myself now that I didn’t quote some pop-punk band from the early 2000’s.
When I decided to transfer, I immediately thought about how my hand-print brick was now nothing but a lie.
The same thought occurred when I moved out of New York.