This is an excerpt of a piece I wrote about New York this semester, about why I moved here. I really like this one part so I thought I’d share.
When I was a kid, New York was NYPD Blue, the title sequence with fireworks and the Chinese dragon and percussive subways. Andy Sipowicz’s violent bluntness and Donna Abondando’s flattened vowels.
New York was gardens in fire escapes and trees growing in Brooklyn.
New York was Broadway musicals like Cats. Bright lights and businesses open 24 hours. Where I grew up, the only thing open 24 hours was the grocery store and the gas station.
New York was where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lived. Spider-Man, Batman, the Gargoyles. The X-Men live up the road in Westchester. “11th and Bleecker? (sniff, sniff)…Nope, this is only 9th St! Get it?” (I didn’t get it, but I loved it.) Everybody (except maybe Batman) made use of the sewers and the subways. Before I knew about the actual homeless people who live down there, there were the Morlocks, unsightly mutants in the X-Men universe who live in the sewers because they’ll be lynched if they venture aboveground.
A little bit later, as a teenager, New York was punk. Cigarette smoke and graffiti. Mutilated subway cars. Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.
New York was black and white photos of skinny, shaggy-haired men in sunglasses looking unimpressed. Rock rock, Rockaway Beach. Rock rock, Rockaway Beach.
The Wetlands had all-ages punk and ska matinees every week. I didn’t know “Take the A Train,” but “Underground Town” by the Toasters was in pretty constant rotation. Nervous nun with a heavy bag shakes her head at the man in drag, in the underground town, riding on the subway in New York City.
Maybe England gave punk its fashion sense, but New York gave it a soul. Six years ago, a very hot summer night. Avenue A, with my friends, hanging tight…The air was tense, muggy as fuck, Lower East Side, running amok!
The Bouncing Souls are actually from New Jersey, but I didn’t discriminate. Punkers should be pale and pasty. The pizza here is fierce and tasty. East Coast! Fuck you! (“Fuck you” here said in a self-congratulatory way, as in, “I dismiss everywhere that is not the northeastern seaboard”.)
New York was about making your own rules and carving out your own space. New York was self-sufficiency and exploration, where only the resourceful survive.
What I didn’t see then was that with self-sufficiency comes loneliness. And while stories get written about people who have survived, who’ve become legendary, below them are layers and layers of people who came here with dreams bright in their hearts and who left with nothing but ashes. Or who didn’t escape at all.
You never read stories about them.