So eleven years ago today, I moved to New York. Less than a month previously I was fully ensconced in my life in Seattle, and other than auditioning for some out of town and out of state theaters, I had no plans for leaving. When the opportunity to go showed up (aided by the promise of a little money), I was tickled with the adventure of it, so I did it. I arrived in Newark Airport mere hours ahead of the big blizzard of '96. My friend and former college roommate Peter was waiting for me, having said he'd pick me up in any airport, by which I think he meant either LaGuardia or Kennedy, since he was taking me back to his apartment in Astoria, but he was gracious and friendly about the whole thing. I had ten days to find an apartment, since that was when I was starting school at the National Shakespeare Conservatory on the 16th. Then the snow hit, and the next morning, everything was buried under snow. The cars were indistinguishable white mounds. Few if any of the brokers offices were open that day, or indeed for most of the week, which was a welcome excuse for me to assume the fetal position in Peter's and Marilyn's apartment and wonder what the hell I was doing. School would provide a structure, sure, but why the hell was I looking for a place to live? I had a really great place in Seattle; true my roommate at the time had been slowly, inexplicably turning into a raving asshole, but the rent was cheap, I had my own room, there were trees right outside both sides of the apartment, oh yeah, there was a front AND a back door, I had friends all around me, and theatres that knew me, even if I didn't think they respected me all that much... I had things to do there. I may not have been crazy about it, but I had a life there.
I did manage to get into Manhattan during that week; previously I had spent less than 24 hours there during my senior year in college during the concert choir/chamber musicians tour of '87. That had been just long enough for me to learn that the frantic energy of the place caused me to rush around even when I didn't have be anywhere. I was sight-seeing with my friend Auburn, my soon-to-be boyfriend David, and his poor unwitting admirer Chantal. Auburn loved the fact that she could stop on any street corner, scream at the top of her lungs (and she was a trained-singer) and no one would notice, let alone stop.
I didn't care for the place. Too many people, too frenzied, no trees, greenery of any kind. I swore I'd never live here, despite knowing I would be pursuing acting. I also swore I'd never wait tables. So far I've kept that promise, for the good of diners everywhere.
Anyway. Here I was, having decided more or less on the spur of the moment to move to the area and go to school in Manhattan. So I was looking at things with a very different eye this time, not to mention that I was nearly ten years older, and had gotten quite comfortable in the relative urban setting of Seattle. My first impressions of Manhattan was snow muffled silence. There were hardly any people out. There were almost no cars at all. It was easier to walk in the street because most of them had been at least partially plowed, and no one else was using them. It seemed very peaceful, serene even. Times Square, the East Village, Soho, all of it quiet.
It took me a month to find a place to live, and that was after narrowly missing a chance to live with two of the most annoying members of my new class. We would have been a great trio, until I had to chop them both up and feed them to cats. Our first choice apartment turned us down, and our fast talking broker couldn't shake him out of it. Peter and Marilyn had guest room, so at least they didn't have me underfoot all the time, but their generosity made such a difference in my morale.
I ended up living for four months in Windsor Terrace with a lovely woman. No broker was involved, my friend Lisa found this woman's listing on the Brooklyn Co-op board where they both shopped. Brenda owned the apartment, but was in Connecticutt five days a week for her job. I was to learn this was not an unusual way for New Yorkers to live. During the next three years I was to move a total of twelve times, usually staying no more than three months in one place. That was usually just long enough to unpack, get settled, then pack up again. I lived in Brooklyn, Astoria (twice), the East Village, the Upper West Side (twice), and Jersey during that time; I bet I know the subway system and the Kennedy Boulevard buses better than most natives at this point. I've now lived in my Harlem apartment longer than the entire time I lived in Seattle. I've lived here longer than any other place except my childhood home. I'm not sure why, but that kind of freaks my shit out. I just signed on for another two year lease in this place. I don't feel locked in really; this apartment would be a breeze to sublet, but I do feel a bit odd. This place doesn't feel like home, but it's not as if anyplace else does either. I'm still ambivalent about New York, even as my ability to navigate its rapids improves. Maybe I'm just feeling a bit overwhelmed by the fact of eleven years. More than a decade. My seven years in Seattle seemed jam-packed compared to my time here. Maybe that's just due to the fact that I spent my twenties there, and my thirties here. Life just is more dramatic when you're in your twenties, I think.
Anyway... happy anniversary, New York.