New York Without The Stuff

Anyone who has spent a certain amount of time of time in my presence will eventually find out my dark secret: I fucking hate Toronto. Yup that Toronto, the one in Canada, where I spent two long years of my life and where apparently everyone is supposed to be like really, really nice. Ha! More like passive aggressive, amirite! Sorry. I don’t want to go too deep into it, since we’re all trying to stay positive here, but I did mention the T word for a reason. I once saw a fabulous bumper sticker at the iconic and now defunct Toronto department store Honest Ed’s (one less good thing about the city!) that really summed up my feelings about the place. It said:

“Toronto: Just Like New York, But Without The Stuff!”

Honestly I will take the one to my grave, it just really tickled me and is SO TRUE.

Anyway, the joke’s on me now since I’m living in New York in the time of Coronavirus and guess what folks: right now New York feels like New York but without the stuff.

This is a multifaceted tragedy; medically, economically, mentally, and culturally. We’re in it now so we have no idea what it is gonna look like with the benefit of time. All of those memes and posts about the planet finally getting a break from our rampant consumerism and mindless environmental damage, about taking an opportunity to stop and smell the flowers, feel a little off / trite / smug in light of how many people are openly suffering at this time and the fact that it is all still unfolding. I don’t disagree that things needed shaking up – OBVIOUSLY – but I feel like now is the time to get through this damn thing and be there for each other. From a safe distance of course.

However all these hours of day drinking – I mean, introspection – have really made me examine WHY I live in New York. Not just me, I mean why anyone lives in New York, why anyone lives in cities.

More work opportunities is a reason, yes, and obviously some people are born here. But someone like myself who is very lucky to have choices, many of which are far more comfortable, clean, stable and sensible choices, chooses to live here because of what it give me access to. I’m a culture junky.  Living in a place with such energy and history is part of it, but more importantly it’s the cultural life. It’s the music, the food, the art, and the fact that most people here value cultural life.

Take last couple of weeks: my last culturally active weeks for the foreseeable future. I was crushingly busy with a deadline and my full time job (that I used to have), but I also managed to fit in:

  • Watching Dry Cleaning perform at Union Pool, who struck me as somewhere between The Fall and Pulp and White Denim, and just so damned good.
  • A soul enriching visit to Quimby’s, weirdo independent bookstore and zine haven.
  • A trip way across town just to try the famous vegan soba dish at Cocoron – so great.
  • A quick stop in for happy hour at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels to try a really weird Australian orange wine (help me I’m a natural wine asshole!!).
  • A book launch at the Murmrr theatre around the corner from my house, where I got to hear Rebecca Solnit speak soothing, poetic and hopeful words in conversation with Leslie Jamison.
  • My last gig for awhile, The Murder Capital, who crushed it at a Knitting Factory that was only half full of bodies despite being sold out, but overflowing with emotion.

To live in a New York City without any music or nightlife or art or food is to live…somewhere else. It’s early days in the quarantine, but something I hope to think about is what else the city has to offer. Mind you, I am practising social distancing so a lot of this will will be an imaginative or online exercise. I have still been able to visit Prospect Park daily, which I never took for granted and now I literally worship. Spring has sprung, the blossoms are blooming, and it is a balm to everything else going on right now.

I put air in my bicycle tires and took a long bike ride today, my first in NYC. Weirdly, today is one of the days I have most appreciated New York. Although I am obviously stressed about being jobless and how to pay my rent like most people, I also have had time this week to sleep, read, cook and clean. I had time to take a long bike ride and really SEE the city, without my brain being distracted by a long to-do list.

I cycled past a sculpture park at the Columbia St Waterfront District, was happily surprised to see a house covered in mosaics in Cobble Hill, stopped to admire some abandoned classic cars in Red Hook, and turned a corner to find myself staring right across the water at the Statue of Liberty herself. It felt poignant, I’m not sure why. There’s so much I don’t love about the USA but I still choose NYC, for now. I realised it is a beautiful place, and not just because of the stuff.


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