A Child Trashes My City

Oh, I’m sure from the title of this blog, you think this will be all about one of my kids, or one of my friends’ kids. But it isn’t. It’s about a 26 year old who gave up on New York after one year and then published a blog listing 40 reasons why you shouldn’t move here.

Trashing New York is click-bait. And also lists! Make a list and it’s click bait. But if the internet has taught me anything it’s that Point-Counterpoint online is impossible, so I’m not going to refute his list of infantile complaints that include the kind of assumptions that nobody I know, not even those who no longer live in New York, would make.

I’m just gonna tell you about my month.

My son started second grade in a public school with 1400 students. It’s been a harder adjustment for him than first grade or kindergarten and he missed the friends he left behind. He still misses them. He misses Dua and Gulam, Labeeb and Christopher, Vincent and Hutch and Monsour. He misses the kids who’s names are currently underlined by wordpress because they seem to be misspelled.

Since he was struggling, we called the school. The operator transferred me to the principal. The first time this happened I was shocked, now I take it for granted that when a parent calls, the principal comes to the nearest phone and talks to them.

Three weeks later, he was named Student of the Week. After our call, his teachers had worked out a better system for inspiring him, and he lit up like a Christmas Tree.

I once told him that letting him grow up in New York was one of the greatest gifts I could give him. We go to MOMA in LIC. We go to children’s theater at divey 99-seat theaters. His friends are white, black, east-indian, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Christian… even Jewish (which is how he self-identifies). The world, the whole world, is being given to him.

But what about me? I was just playing one of the leads in Candida by George Bernard Shaw and we closed on Sunday. On our nights off, I saw three other plays – not as many as I usually do over a four week span but I *was* doing another show.

One play, “Something, Something Uber Alles” was directed by the reviewer David Cote. Because a theater reviewer with a national reputation still has to show his shit in New York to maintain our respect. And MYGOD the show was an utter tight-rope of brilliance.

The other two were new shows. In one show, “Lickspittles, Buttonholers and Damned Pernicious Go Betweens”, I was friends with every single member of the 10 person cast and the playwright, and am very *good* friends with the producer and director. I am that guy, because I live here, because I stayed, because it was worth it to me. And it was gorgeous, breath-taking, an absolute masterpiece.

The other show was also a new show, called “Why We Left Brooklyn”. I didn’t know every single person in the cast, only five of the 9 person cast (and the writer, and the director) would I call good friends. It’s the story of a couple who can’t live in New York any more. They’re in their mid-30s. It was written by a guy who hasn’t left, produced by a company that isn’t leaving, featuring nine actors who aren’t gonna go. I loved it. I missed huge stretches because I was laughing so hard. And the playwright and I talked afterwards about the ideas – and about how neither of us was tempted to leave, but it’s fun to talk about.

The apartments in my neighborhood are about $2500 for a two bedroom. It’s expensive, if that’s your metric. But we do live next to subsidized housing, our school is roughly 55% kids who are eligible for free lunch, and I’m not surprised when I walk down the street and hear Not English.

Because of course there’s Not English. This is America, nobody speaks English when they get here, and getting here is all anybody does. And when they came, it was through Ellis Island, like Barnaby’s great-great grandfather on one side, or JFK, like his grandfather on the other. Maybe there are small towns all over America where English isn’t expected, where Spanish or Hindi or Swahili are perfectly acceptable languages, but it doesn’t *seem* like it. Of course, I’m not there – and Not Being There means I really oughtn’t make assumptions.

I was walking down the street in Astoria and the gay guy behind me was genuinely frustrated as he half-hollered into his phone, “I swear to God, if I don’t find a more straight way of talking, I’m gonna be stuck playing best friends and moustache-twirling bad guys for the rest of my *life*.”

The gay guys here worry about type casting. What do they worry about in your idyllic southern small town?

If you think you know New York then let me tell you about Avonte Oquendo. A young autistic boy – non-verbal and just over 5 feet tall – ran out the front door of his school on October 4th. We haven’t found him yet, it’s been eleven days and we haven’t found him. He doesn’t know how to say he’s hungry or cold, and we don’t know where he’s sleeping or how he’s surviving.

But every telephone pole has his picture on it. Hundreds and hundreds of volunteers have been combing the streets looking for him. They shut down the MTA to scour the tunnels because his mom said he loves trains. He’s somewhere in the city and we’re not gonna give up until we find him.  And when we talk about him, he’s ours.

I saw a woman faint out in front of a grocery store once and she didn’t hit the ground, two men caught her. Then a cab took her home for free.

So, when you say you saw a homeless man get hit by a car and nobody cared, I don’t buy it. 270 pedestrians died last year in car accidents, out of a city of 8.4 million. Maybe you saw it, I can’t prove that you didn’t, but you’d be far more likely to see it in Los Angeles – and if you did, there’s a 48% chance it would be a hit-and-run (compared to the 11% in NYC).

When you complain about sprawl, that people often have to go to Brooklyn! or Queens!, you reveal yourself to be utterly ignorant of the way the city works. If only because you fail to understand that all five buroughs are part of NYC.

When you say Breakfast costs you $38… then I don’t know what to say. If you literally CANNOT FIND a place to get breakfast with a friend for $15, then I suppose I would suggest you hook up the selfsame computer you used to peck out your article and try The Google. Or ask a friend. Or live here long enough to have friends to ask.

See, there’s a new story being written about New York, and it’s being written by my friends. There’s a playwright in Astoria who not only writes her own theater pieces and produces them in living rooms, but who’s baby was placed for open adoption (with a gay couple, who get to live and adopt openly here in New York), an action beyond my comprehension of bravery.

There’s a woman who rented a loft space on the fifth floor of a building in LIC so that theater companies could build, store and rehearse in the same space. She might lose her shirt, but more than likely…not. She’ll make a new kind of New York.

There’s a woman who started a storytelling series where people get ten minutes to tell a story inspired by songs from their past. There’s a guy working at Fractured Atlas who spends all his time at poetry jams. There’s a guy who makes art out of discarded piano keys.

If you couldn’t find it during your one year here, I don’t know what to tell you.

But I will say this – the internet has made it hard for us to swallow our immaturity and ignorance. Some day, you’ll be thirty. Sometime after that, you’ll be thirty-five. And then forty and then forty-seven and so on. And more than likely, you’ll look back on an utterly vapid piece you wrote and cringe.

But… your piece was fun. It was fun for people to post on Facebook and fun for people who don’t want to spend the time to invest in this city, who would give so much back to you if you just try. And *this* post will most likely be read by a couple hundred people (because it’s not a list, because it doesn’t actually make any kind of sweeping general argument and because it’s not trashing anything). I guess I’ll just have to suffer through another year of living this life and hope that folks with a strong constitution keep looking for the things that my city offers.