“Listen, I’m not looking for a relationship.”
“What would you do if one found you?”
I like to think that I’m reasonably well-traveled, but I’ve never been to Rome. This is probably a failing, since so many people have called it the Eternal City that perhaps I ought to be able to afford it a fragment of this lifetime. I have, however, been to London and Paris several times. Fortunately I have enough life in me to satisfy Dr. Johnson and love his city, and enough tolerance of garlic and grandes écoles to make repeat visits to the French capital. Now – almost by accident and certainly without much planning – I live in New York, a place where people don’t seem to spell properly, where (as I found out this evening) capricious plumbing and roaches can be a big part of your existence, and it’s sometimes easy to spend your days in a four block radius near Grand Central and forget that you’re not so far away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Statue of Liberty.
New York’s great advantage in the popular consciousness is that it’s been the place to be in the age of movies and television. We now have YouTube, so in theory nothing on TV need ever be lost (including an interview with a man who was present at Abraham Lincoln’s assassination). This has been an odd few weeks for the city I now call home. This past month has seen a hurricane, and a power outage, and an election. But the quotidian concerns fortunately carry on. The cinemas are open. (Skyfall is good, but not great. Argo is better, but still not action-packed. I’m looking forward to Lincoln and Anna Karenina.) The playhouses – which Lincoln apparently attended 100 times in a year – are open, too. More pertinently, the sense of possibility that this place embraces remains alive, in so many ways. Dogs in Central Park demand their constitutional runs in the middle of quasi-hurricanes. Jon Stewart is able to see his own failings in a US general’s peccadilloes, and be worshipped all the more for it. It seems to be a good time to be here, and to be young (or something approximating it) here.
If you’re at all like me – and read biographies and have a basic understanding of arithmetic – you come to the realisation that you will not always be young. Far-flung friends are starting families, getting married, turning 30. So much of what was always going to be ahead seems like it might now be in the past. But then – on a Saturday evening when you escape the office for a couple of hours and feel like a walk twenty blocks up 2nd Avenue – you might watch a movie like The Sessions, and think about how much better you might have it than some. You might then think about Helen Hunt’s (New York-bred) form and watch an early, brilliant, episode of Mad About You (when things were funny and light and before it all become complicated about fertility and stuff that you didn’t really understand at 14) – the one that recounts how it all began (part 1; part 2) – and realise that there are things that are eternal about existence, but also peculiar to New York. In “Met Someone”, Paul and Jamie make the daily universal, but with a certain Empire State tinge.
“You’re very well brought-up,” she tells him. “I was born and raised in New York,” he responds, and we still laugh (even if Giuliani has cleaned the place up slightly). Paul has some real live-wires in his family – his sisters both went to college out-of-state. We are in a large city but on a small island, and probably still don’t know all that many of the people who live here with us. (Salman Rushdie, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart: if you’re reading this, please let me know. I’ll email you details of my Downton Abbey watching parties.) And in a harbinger of what’s to come for those who are in their late 20s 20 years later, she has his details faxed over not long after meeting him. (New York may be the only place I’ve been where my compulsive Google habit has not been labeled stalking.) But there’s more than this to this episode, too – the idea of accidental perfection, the notion of not looking for something, but finding it.
There’s a reason why I’m chirpily maudlin and not as misanthropic as I might be in pondering this episode, and the broader sense that I’m growing up and old. To get a bit more personal, today I spoke with my bank. It looks as though – despite a profligate lifestyle that’s involved bottle service, private clubs, business class travel, and far too many overcoats that looked like they would last a lifetime but wound up disintegrating in a year – I may be able to buy a flat here. For someone who has trouble committing to a book to take on holiday, this is a big deal. There are opportunities that will be foregone as a result, and perhaps doors that shut as I prise this one so very firmly open, but there’s a charm about this place that engulfs you when you least expect it, when you try to resist it the most. It feels terribly grown-up, but at the same time, sort of right. And it may be as close as I get to commitment in this life.
I didn’t come here looking for a place to hang my hat or rest my shingle or whatever other tired cliché you might want. I think it might have found me.
(This post might be out of character. Curmudgeonly and more topical chat will resume soon. Not everything here will be a paean to New York.)