Well, I seem to be onto a little mini-series as of late. Here’s another snippet about last year when I traded city streets for country roads and chaos for solitude.
On Leaving New York
As I walked onto Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport, my boots clanking with their new soles that I just got from a repair shop a few blocks away, I felt as if I were walking down giant plank towards the water’s edge. Clickety-clack clickety-clack went my boots taking on a rhythm of their own, as if their new soles actually had some soul–something I felt I was sorely lacking those days. I had recently accepted the inevitable. I couldn’t afford to renew the lease on my apartment that I had previously paid for with graduate student loans. I would be leaving the city to live back upstate for who knows how long.
At the end of the pier finally I reached the railing and looked over, feeling a bit like Rose DeWitt Bukater on the Titanic with no Jack Dawson to save me from impending doom. But in all seriousness, I did feel that day as if I were a woman on the verge, on the verge of something I couldn’t quite discern. I dreaded going back to the town I grew up in, walking into my uncle’s bar and having ten different people ask me the same question I had no answer for, “so what are you up to now?”
My thoughts wandered to how odd it was that older versions of those ships docked next to me would’ve had a plank, like a small portion of the wooden pier I was standing on. Walking the plank. I imagine Captain Kidd, supposedly having lived on nearby Pearl Street, might have directed men to walk to plank toward their impending doom. It occurred to me, then, how the planks of legendary pirate ships resembled our diving boards of today’s swimming pools. Joyous laughter of children and an enthusiastic, acrobatic leap into the water is quite different than what I was feeling. Why is it that so many things from the past that represented something so disdainful have been reworked into something we consider enjoyable and harmless? From planks to diving boards. It’s like candy cigarettes. I’m not sure whether to call it an absurd coincidence or simply grotesque.
Maybe this is true of the city, too. Critics of modern urban spaces have likened places like New York to a theme park. For me, in a way, it has been a sort of giant playground. But I don’t think we have to settle with just one idea of the city in this way or any other. New York has an uncanny way of becoming like a character in your life. I will soon be boxing my books and packing my clothes and leaving this place behind for a while, but I won’t be without the memories of it. I’ve got the stamp of New York City on the passport of my persona. As Conor Oberst sang, “some wander the wilderness, some drink cosmopolitans.” Well, I endeavor to do both.