Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Teenage Investment Bankers and a Starbucks on Every Corner: Welcome to the New East Village (or So Long and Thanks For All the Sushi)

I complain a lot about being broke, I know. But that's because being broke takes up so much brainspace. It's hard to think of anything else when your credit card is maxxed out and your landlord can't wait another week to get the rent. I've literally had to choose between buying shampoo and contact solution as recently as last month, because I couldn't afford both (answer: contact solution--this is why I keep the shampoo from every hotel I ever stay in). I do a lot of math in my head and I worry all the time. I worry so much that various people who love me have suggested at various times that maybe it would do me good to invest in some Xanax. But I've realized recently that it's not me that needs to change. There's absolutely nothing wrong with my brain chemistry. The problem is New York.

Fair New York, where citizens wallow in filth and stink and maggots and blackouts and murder and poverty. And that's just the well-educated, white collar luckies like me!

Of course, I don't even live in New York. I live in Jersey City, the sixth borough. But I work in New York and I have lived in New York and Jersey City is becoming just as expensive as New York, so let's agree to do away with the semantics.

I've never really been able to afford my very humble studio apartment. There have always been options, I realize. I could move farther out in Jersey City, where hoards of teenage boys have been shooting, robbing and generally terrorizing people all summer. Or I could go the other way, and get a place in Queens or outer Brooklyn (even dirty Billyburg is too expenso for me now). But I don't know a soul in Queens or outer Brooklyn. I only see my friends who live in inner Brooklyn every few months as it is. And pardon me for not wanting to double my commute again this year. I could look on Craigslist and move in with some strangers and hope that all the horror stories I hear about people who look on Craigslist and move in with strangers don't happen to me. Forget about Manhattan entirely. Artists and musicians and writers are fleeing the East Village like its on fire. The only people who can afford to move into the neighborhood where I first lived when I came to the city are freshly graduated investment bankers accompanied by all the behavioral stereotypes they seem happy to reinforce.

I read a good article recently about the housing crisis in New York. A square foot of apartment space in NYC costs $1100. Approximately ten $100 bills take up one square foot of floor. Literally in New York, you can spread your money out across the floor of an apartment, and if you can still see the floor, you can't afford the place.

(I include Hoboken and Jersey City in this equation, since, like the outer boroughs, their rents are relative to the Manhattan market. But that doesn't really matter anyway: New Jersey real estate is the most expensive in the country.)

So a change of venue seems out of the question. What I really need is to make more money. Having recently taken on two part-time jobs on top of my full-timer, I'm nearly at the point where I can both pay rent AND live acceptably each month, but of course I've given up my writing time. Hence the scant blog entries since June. And my fiction? Forget about it.

This is the thing: there are ways to live in or near New York, but only at a great sacrifice to my quality of life. I already spend half my existence on the train so I don't have to spend half my paycheck on my apartment (except that I do spend half my paycheck on my apartment anyway, and of everyone I know, my rent is the lowest).

This used to be okay, this sacrifice. Used to be that you sacrificed some amenities, some comforts, for the privilege of living in the epicenter of culture, art and invention that is New York City. But now the artists are leaving, unable to afford the rents even in the outer bouroughs, which aren't as friendly to them anyway. They're moving to college towns and smaller cities where their work is still valued, and they can afford apartments with separate rooms, fresh air, electricity and (dare to dream) maybe even a dishwasher. And it's sad to think that the artists who stay might be forced out of art altogether to pursue the kind of employment that pays, but demands so much of their time and attention they have nothing left at the end of the day. Used to be everyone in New York had their day job and the thing they did for their souls--their novel, their comic book, their movie script, their acting career. More and more I feel like the day jobs are taking over. And I have no idea how freelancers afford this place. That seems an impossibility anymore.

(What's really dumb is I say "used to" like I've lived here forever. I've only lived in or near NYC for a total of 6 years. That I can say "used to" just attests to the fact that things seem to be going downhill quickly.)

It's sad that this housing crisis--which has been getting steadily worse since I graduated from college in 1999, despite a brief uptick after 9/11--could be the death of New York as we know it. With all the chain stores and Starbucks and high-rise apartment buildings going up in formerly-affordable, even rundown neighborhoods, where liveth the people that make New York diverse and interesting and something more than an overgrown Hartford, Connecticut? More and more, they live in Section 8 housing. What a consolation prize.

And so it's time to do the inevitable and leave NYC. Fuck surviving, it's time to live.

I know I sound bitter in this post, but all I feel now that I've made the decision to move is relief. I know none of my complaints are new or novel. But it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to. At some point, it ceases to be charming to be the house salad girl, and I have hit that point. I'm 29, staring down the barrel of 30. I'd like to be able to afford an entree before I turn 40.

I'll be applying to PhD programs this fall and moving to Iowa City in December where I will work part time and write full time till I hear back from schools and decide on the next big move. I can't wait. It's going to be fictiontastic. Also, the lovely Brad will be moving with me to work on his own art in one of our two bedrooms in our future apartment! My little mind quivers with anticipation.

I am excited, but still a little sad about leaving New York. For every five things I won't miss (excessive horn honking, crowded sidewalks, rats, roaches, black mold) there is one thing I will miss (cheap flowers). (Human feces in the subway, electrified sidewalk grates, grocery extortion, hipsters, filth) (fabulous sushi).


Blogger steve said...

Right on. IC is a great place for artists of any nature. And btw, I went to Takanami while I was there over the 4th for Caryn's wedding and had better sushi than most of the places I go to in San Francisco. I'm not making that up either. Victoria was scrutinizing the place in case we decided to do something similar, and she piled on the accolades of not just the sushi, but the city in general. Have fun there and I'll look forward to seeing you over Christmas...

9:48 AM  
Blogger The Count Del Monte said...

I'll likely see you in December as well. It should be cold then. I can take cold for, like, one month. Maybe two. Then it just pisses me off. What was my point....oh yeah. Iowa City. December. So, I'll probably see ya there. I don't have a job yet, or a place to live that isn't Iowa City. I was considering NYC but now you've put me off it. I hate investment bankers. They are worse than lawyers. As morally bankrupt, but less complex, less interesting. I don't actually know any investment bankers. Still. Nothing gives me the impression I want to be surrounded by them. Not when there are drunk kids from Geneseo to laugh at in IC.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

i support this decision. spending money your don't have (either visa's or this elusive mr. stafford's, in my case) is not a fun way to live. and i was the same way...even in the best of months, i always thought about all the stuff i couldn't buy.

anyway, ic is a fun place to live, and you aren't the only big-city person who has chosen to move back there in the recent past. pros about iowa city besides afforable living and an artisan culture:

1) pancheros (now open until 3:00 AM)

2) cheap, albeit average, live music

3) people visit you inadvertently by coming home

4) getting places without mass transit

5) scores of hot, vapid, scantily clad college chicks (may not be applicable)

6) lord willing, a national championship-caliber football team

anyway, you'll have hansel to drink obscure beer and talk about abstract art with soon enough.

12:09 PM  
Blogger thatkidinthecorner said...

Right, so I pulled the exitNYC move a year ago. C@L is a lovely place, and it was good for me to change it up a bit (and continues to be good). Still, as much as I enjoy my airy, spacious and cheap apartment (with big windows from which I can see water), dooooooooooooooood, it just ain't the same.

I guess I'm a little ADD and whatnot, but the thing that I missed the most was just the pace of stimuli. "Venturing outside" here, while very lovely and green, is kind of boring. No people to check out, no cars whizzing by, no tabloid headlines to read across the subway car, and no saturation of advertising (I had no idea I'd miss the advertising, but I do).

All that said, NYC might be the Capital of the Known Universe, but that doesn't mean you have to live there forever. You should look forward to being SHOCKED by how easy life is when you're not in the city.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Trouble said...

It's like a whirlpool, and it never ends.

6:47 AM  

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