Posted by: emjb | December 14, 2005

Welcome to our squalor, kid

Don’t get me wrong. New York has been great, in many ways, most of them documented here and at my old website. I will miss many things about it; the pretty people, the energy, the amusing food snobbery, the accents. My job, most of all…god, I will miss my job.

But. I never fell in love with this place, the way you have to to make it your home. The way you have to, especially in New York, to overlook all the ways it is essentially a giant pain in the ass to live here. Carlessness is a pain, owning a car and trying to park it somewhere, an equal pain. Never having any space. Almost never having any privacy outside your own apartment (something that comes home when you’re walking down the street and have a sudden urge to scratch somewhere unacceptable. There is no spot on the sidewalk where you will not be observed doing so by someone). No storage. No yard. Noise and dirt, the bleakness of graffiti’d walls in the poor sections, the cold snobbery of the nice parts of town. Finding a bathroom. Every store being tiny and crowded and understocked because it’s tiny.

I don’t include the cold and snow here because actually, that annoys me less than the rest. Nature I can adjust to; the claustrophobia of the city, I guess I can’t.

When I brought Nathan home from his Mamaw’s in Texas, it was the first time I’d been away for so long from our apartment. And it’s not a bad apartment, not a bad part of town, certainly not for the rent we pay. No roaches, no rats, fairly quiet neighbors. And yet as I walked in, I realized…it’s a sad little place. It’s dark. The linoleum floor is cracking. There are no plugs in one of the bedrooms, so extension cords run along the living room walls to the kitchen. The stove is ancient and probably dangerous. The cabinets are cheap and metal and sound like the gates of Hell when you open and close them (and one doesn’t really close). The light fixtures are cheap and either too bright or too dim, and the whole place lacks anything you could call personality. And like I said…here, it’s considered a very good deal, which is partly why our landlord has no incentive to make it nicer.

And I don’t want to whine, but, the last apartment I owned in Texas was tiny, and had ugly white walls also, but it also had a little balcony, a laundromat on site, a fireplace. A washer dryer hookup. A garbage disposal, wooden cabinets, wallpaper in the breakfast nook, appliances that were less than 40 years old. A parking lot for your car, and 24-hour grocery stores in driving distance. Yes it was Texas, the hated Red state; yes, I had some redneck neighbors and there could and should have been more stores in walking distance, and sidewalks to get there.

But I miss that apartment, though it would be too small for my family now. I miss that it was possible to keep it clean and have it feel clean. Do you know what I’m talking about? In buildings this old, which would be almost anywhere I could afford to live in New York, you never get anything truly clean; you can put up your clutter and wash and mop, but the old linoleum keeps its stains, the rooms stay dark and cramped, you can’t use the spaces around the radiators or heating pipes or a/c window units, and there is nowhere to put things away to. You must either learn to live in squalor or become a complete minimalist and own very little, and I find myself unable to do either.

I don’t love everything about Texas, but it does have lots of space, and space is what I need. Space, and quiet, and an occasional car ride so I can sing along to the radio. A yard, and probably when Nathan is older, a dog to go in it. A house that can be clean at least once in a while, that can store my old photos and out of season clothes and my books and leave me room for my own study, something I’ve never had but always wanted. A room for Nathan to close his door and be alone and dream or read or play or whatever he wants to do. These are not horrible or selfish things to want, I think. I do care about how much energy and resources we use here in America, but the answer is not for us to pack ourselves into efficient sardine-like conditions. We want our cars and our yards and our closet space, and we’re just going to have to find a way to have them without killing off the planet.

When I left Texas, I needed to leave it, and I needed to come here, and I’m glad that I did. I’m even glad Nathan was born here, because I think it’s kind of cool, and will always give him a conversation-prompter. And while I won’t miss living here, I will miss this place, if that makes any sense; I’ll miss the adventure of it. But I’ll enjoy being nostalgic about it while sitting comfortably in my dining room in Austin, drinking a cold Shiner Bock and watching Nathan chase the dog around the yard.

(didja notice I finally linked to my old website? Yep, up there on the right, if you want to read some really old crap of mine. Ignore the stuff about the notify list, I’ll delete that eventually, I’m not doing that anymore, because I am lazy.)



  1. I know what you mean about NYC. At this point I feel like I could never not live in a city, but I also never want to live in NYC. Too much muchness.
    Austin’s pretty cool, anyway.

  2. NYC is a nice place to visit, but Austin is a good place to call home.

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