Last week my wife and I moved to Jersey City (from Manhattan) for more space. It wasn’t because of CoVid — we’d planned to leave the city for over a year and only had to decide whether it would be in Brooklyn, Queens, or in… swallow… deep breath… New Jersey? CoVid didn’t help my case for either of the former — neither did the garden state being my wife’s native home — still I never thought I’d leave New York, regardless of how close it is on the Path.
I’ve lived in New York City for the past 24 years — the majority of my life. Logically the majority of my friends are there, the majority of my memories and experiences, and I often feel like I’ve set foot on every block in the borough — like I know its every nook and crevice and can attach a story for which there is some special memory, an emotional attachment to every place on the grid. I never lived more than 20 minutes on the train from my best friend, my brother, and although I’m now “only one stop from Manhattan,” we’re three times as far from him.
Instead, our home is also three times the size for only $400 more per month. There’s a gym, a doorman and a Goddamn pool (both temporarily closed), and there likely isn’t a millionaire in the world with a more beautiful view. For the first time in five years, just before moving, our old apartment grew infested with mice and roaches. Knock on wood, but here on the good old 21st floor I’m not sure mice can make it up so high; and if they could would the doorman even let them in?
It’s nice here — it’s quiet — whereas back on 86th St. it often sounded like the trucks were literally rolling horizontally end over end, briefly drowning out the sound of our filthy old air-conditioner that came with the place and probably had since the 90’s. Back on 86th St. management sucked ass. For the last two years that we lived there our sinks all leaked, our windows wouldn’t stay up when opened, and whenever we called them about it I’d have post-traumatic flashbacks of my comedy career, following up with agencies and bookers only to be disregarded and ignored. If we dared call the super directly I instead had flashbacks of my juvenile career of buying drugs in Washington Heights. He would yell at us in broken English and offer some vague time window that held little to no significance, consistently resentful of any request that he do his job. Much like my former dealers uptown he liked telling me how much he liked me personally, probably because I spoke Spanish, but also like my dealers I seemed to earn no special treatment for his affinity.
The MTA was a trashcan before CoVid, which left me terrified of what’s to become of it now. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the filth, garbage and funk that’s always littered its every square inch. I’m a native, plus a guy, with real life issues and concerns. I’m entirely unbothered by the increase in homelessness, smells of urine or sights of garbage at my feet, as these were always welcomed side effects of living in the greatest city in the world. Instead I’ve often been on the brink of losing my mind at train delays, interruptions and the whiney corporate excuses to match the shit attitude of most of its employees (with a few exceptions).
People in New Jersey are nicer. I swear to God, you get just on the other side of that river and the baristas don’t act like they’re being held hostage against their will. They don’t act like their personal bank accounts get automatically debited $5 for every smile or “you’re welcome” offered. It’s nice to not feel like an inconvenience to people while spending money in their establishment, then have some non-psychopath willingly hold the door for me for more than a full breath on my way out. I say “thank you.” He also says “you’re welcome.” We are civilized adults functioning in society.
Is New York dead? Is the bridge truly over? Did Giuliani eliminate the grit just enough for Bloomberg to stretch the class separation, just enough for CoVid to come in and make even said upper class undesirable? Will the crown finally be anointed elsewhere, to one of the many wannabe’s, one of those “great towns” that’s always played a distant second fiddle to the apple? Those of us now on the outs have our fingers crossed with FOMO: Did we bounce at the perfect time?
Don’t be ridiculous. New York’s best metaphor, gross as it may be, is its many gigantic cockroaches that somehow refuse to die even when stomped on once or twice by a beast 400x its weight and size. New York is too big, too crowded and cramped, oppressively so if it is not your cup of tea, but obsessively so if it is. Neighborhoods like Harlem and Bed-Stuy have been gentrifying for over 20 years, yet somehow you step out of the train there and they still feel like Harlem and Bed-Stuy. Locals still hang on the corners, Chinese and soul food still permeate the air along with the sounds of hip hop and sights of graffiti. They’ve endured everything capitalism, gentrification and international pandemics have throw at them and come out the other side with all legs and tentacles in tact. Son of a bitch.
Still, on my first day in Jersey City I looked out of all three of our apartment’s windows at our spectacular view of Tribeca all the way up to Columbus Circle and fell in love. I get to wake up to this every day? I went into my office, which is no longer my bedroom, and took advantage of personal space for the first time in years. I could get used to this.
On my second day in Jersey there was an E.Coli outbreak in the water. We got notice from our building: “Do not drink the water unless you boil it first.” We got stood up by our internet and cable guy and couldn’t get another appointment until the following week. No water? No connection to the outside world?! I know I’d always derided everywhere not NYC (or Paris) as comparatively backwards and red neck but I never actually thought third world conditions could come to fruition. We had to buy bottled water. The nearest super market was a Shop Rite and the only organic produce were apples. Apples aren’t even in season! That night we went out for dinner to the Grove — the place to be — “where all the restaurants are” — but I barely saw one menu that didn’t feature the words “jalapeno” and “cheese” in the appetizer column and they seemed to cater mostly to brunch, burgers and bro’s. Egg noodles and ketchup?
On my third day in Jersey I looked out those same windows at the same views and broke out into tears, openly weeping at the sight of where I wasn’t — also with whom I wasn’t. My brother and all of my friends, especially those who don’t live on the west side of town — our relationship is permanently different.
We can lie to ourselves — “you’re right there” — as my best friend, Yael had to when she moved to Westchester and I was still living in Harlem: “Look, she showed me on the GPS. I’m only 19 minutes from Harlem on the train,” and I nodded my head in pandering accord.
19 minutes on the train, sure, but I didn’t live in the train station. Harlem is huge and I lived completely on the other side of town; and she didn’t live at Westchester’s train station. She didn’t live even walking distance from the train station because nobody outside of New York lives walking distance from anything. You have to get an Uber or get picked up. You have to coordinate schedules, review the train schedule, be sure to leave on time and get a ticket. They don’t accept Metrocards, which means seeing Yael, my best friend, quickly became a special occasion — an occurrence we could count on our hands in visits per year, and was never a 19-minute experience in transit. When she moved she was gone. And when I cried that morning it was obviously out of fear: Am I gone too?
Time will tell. Maybe I’m not gone at all. After all, I still work in Manhattan. Maybe JC will only continue to grow in popularity and more friends will move out here. Maybe my experience will have all the positives of living in Queens or Brooklyn but with the benefits of living outside of the city. Cheaper taxes. More space. Better landlords. Kinder baristas. A car, as we get a free parking space in our building! Maybe I’ll get a better tan and start employing more hair gel and white clothing to my look. My muscles may grow overnight and I’ll befriend the guy at the local gas station. We’ll pretend like we go way back — like we went to high school together and now exchange homophobic insults in passing as he pumps my gas. The prices are great. Cheaper than New York. I’m saving so much money. I’m so scared.