The New World

I. I’m moving on Friday. Actually moving. After a year or two of wondering if maybe I’d go to Brooklyn or maybe just get out of this little studio up here on the sixth floor and go somewhere else nearby, I’m actually going. I haven’t even been here for three years, but I still feel like my whole adulthood has happened in this apartment. I turned 30 here. I stood in a particular place I’ve never stood before or since, over by the cable box, leaning on the high dresser, when I talked on the phone with my friend’s boyfriend, he telling me she was dead. I had a very few guys up here, but the ones I did mattered, in big and different ways. Pretty much everything I’ve written on here, on this dumb blog (are we still calling them blogs?) was written on this little brown couch, the one my sister bought, fleeing from a different apartment, before she left it all behind to go to L.A. (Only to come back again—she’s now in a nice place in Williamsburg.) This little hermitage, on 14th Street, central and small, has been the nexus of, well, me for long enough that it feels very strange and sad to be leaving. I haven’t packed at all, because I’m no good until the last minute, so it doesn’t feel over yet. But there’s tonight, and then Wednesday, and then Thursday, and then that’s it. All that! Just three more nights of all that. 

I don’t know how I’ll feel in the new place, deeper in the East Village, with one of my best friends. I’m sure I’ll miss living alone, but I hope I don’t. Living alone hasn’t been great for me—I’ve the Tumblr posts to prove it. I’ll miss the convenience, the ease and annoyance of Union Square being right there. I don’t know that we can really ever prepare for something new until it happens and then it’s not new. I had a drink with my future roommate tonight, who just started a teaching job at a tony prep school uptown, and she’d been so nervous all summer, nervous but also blank. She didn’t know what to feel. Because how could she know until she’d been there? And now she has, and it’s good, and it’s nice to have the question answered. I’m eager for that, to not live in that weird liminal spot where I am right now, all my books and Playbills and DVDs and whatever else seeming less like accumulated life than just a chore, things to be thrown in a box and carted off. I can’t wait to feel like myself again, my new self, anyway.

The NYU kids are coming back. I saw them yesterday, tromping down 14th Street with “Class of 2018” T-shirts. I like to joke every year that the freshmen look like children, actual children. Such babies! And they do, sometimes. But mostly they just look like people, albeit people with bright faces and sloppy gaits, as yet unburdened, un-muted and tightened in the way that too much time spent in Manhattan can do to you. The Class of 2018. It’s such a silly, enormous number that it doesn’t mean anything. The Class of 2014 was much, much scarier. 2018 is an imaginary number, one only the math geniuses, lugging their boxes into their new homes while their parents nervously inspect every vagrant dotting the block, can understand. I wish them luck! But me, I’m moving toward the river.

II. I joined a gym. I joined a gym and paid for 20 sessions with a personal trainer. An insane expense that I can’t afford, but they pressured me into it, there in the little downstairs office, the guy giving me his practiced spiel, frustratedly losing his way every time I interrupted him with a stammering question. I’m glad I was hoodwinked, though, even if my bank account isn’t. The sessions are tough and I dread them, have even last-minute canceled a few out of fear, but I’m starting to see the good in them, the focus they draw out of me in a way that sitting in front of a computer and letting my mind reel but my body fall apart does not. My trainer, Matthew, is a weird guy. He’s into Magic: The Gathering and talks about chess. He told me he was a literary agent once and I’m not sure I believe him. He said to me today, while I was struggling on some horrid machine, that he wants to get back to writing, “If only someone would let me do it.” All I could muster to say in return was, “Yeah, it’s a racket.” And he wasn’t sure what I meant by that, which is fair, because I didn’t know either. It just felt like all I could say, sweating there in that gym. I turn to the side in the mirror every night to see if there any results. Of course there aren’t yet, and never will be unless I do the other work required, like diet and cardio. But still. I’m going. And all that pull and push and dread eventually giving way to relief is worth something, it feels like. I hope I keep going once the gym isn’t an easy two doors down from my apartment.

III. I went to Fire Island. This strange trip, like a pilgrimage. When I was about two years old, my uncle Bobby died, he and his lover and pretty much all their friends wiped out by disease. But before that, there had been summers on Fire Island. He owned a house in the Pines, and I went there once, as a baby. I’ve seen the photos of my sister and me in the pool, have heard the dim, gauzily remembered stories about my toddler sister enamored of drag queens, grabbing at their sequins and feathers. Nearly thirty years later I went back, to meet some friends, to stay at a house in Cherry Grove and sit by the pool and go out at night, to be enamored of the drag queens myself. That place had loomed so large in my imagination that, my whole time there, I had to keep reminding myself that I was, in fact, there. I liked it, I think. That you can see the mainland, and yet are so hidden and tucked away, clapping around on little boardwalks, contained by the feverish, sad, horny spell of the place. 

The friends I was with were accommodating, knowing that I was nervous about the whole thing. The couples I didn’t know who were also staying at the house were great too, summer expats from Connecticut and Toronto who let some part of their year, every year, orbit around the island. We went out, we drank a lot, some of us smoked a lot. There were too many innuendo-y jokes for my taste, drag speak hurled around with abandon, but it was fun to try to forget myself for a few buggy nights.

At the grocery store in the Pines—the Pantry, excuse me—right by the checkout line, where impulse buys usually are, were the ultimate impulse buys. Condoms and lube and enema kits and laxatives and all those gnarly gay sex-related items that, I blushed to think, the checkout girls were so familiar with. Probably more familiar than I am, anyway. I felt like a stranger on Fire Island, but peering in, saying “Ohh, I see,” was its own kind of success. We stumbled home on the beach one night, from the Pines to Cherry Grove, and I stopped a few times to point up at the very visible stars, and though no one there on the beach with me was all that interested, I thought of my mom. Who, when we’re in Rhode Island, likes to rush my sister and me outside and point out some constellation, or a planet’s seasonal glow. My mom might have been on that beach once, with her brother. It was sad to think about. It felt, sometimes, like I was walking on bones. But as the ferry chugged away, back to Long Island, and I watched older gay men serenely waiting to get back to the city to pick up supplies and then return all over again, the island, and all its bitter and lovely history, seemed perfectly eternal. Tragedy and loss and time be damned, there are still sunny, choppy Tuesday afternoons in the summer. 

These are the two obvious metaphors about Fire Island: that it’s this spit of land just to the south of everything else, this tiny strip where people seek out each other. Where they can be together in their difference, there in the thin place between land and the deep, lonely oblivion of the ocean. And then, second metaphor, there are the deer. Who are afraid of nothing. We were walking through the Meat Rack (during the day, I’m not that brave yet) from Cherry Grove to the Pines and we stumbled across a doe and her two fawns, picking at the dry grass near the site of a fire. We hung back for a second, thinking that if we got too close to this mother’s young she might attack us. But we quickly realized that she was not fussed about us being there at all. Or about her being there. The deer on Fire Island are, more than any other creature on that silly line of scrub and sand, perfectly, wonderfully confident. Completely content with where they are. 

Isn’t that nice? I think so.  

“The Simpsons and My So-Called Life seemingly overlap very little on any sort of television Venn diagram. And yet, watching both this weekend, it was clear that they share some central spirit. Of course, both shows are about family, the reliable chaos of closely tethered people rattling around under one roof. Both series, in their own particular ways, are keen to the forever shifting resentments, allegiances, and power dynamics of familial life. And when confronting the outside world, the series are admirably, stunningly even, attentive to detail and texture, that certain essential spark of life. The Simpsons, in its heyday, was a cartoon populated by very few cartoons, while MSCL was the rare show about teenagers to not pit kids against a monolithic idea of adults, or vice versa. Smart and empathic and clever in an age when a lot of television wasn’t, these two shows were both, in their wildly different styles, beautiful and thorough depictions of American life.”
“Is it asking too much for a slower, more deliberative Y.A. fantasy? It might be. Though, with the wrecks of Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments, Ender’s Game, and (I’m predicting) future Divergent films dashed on the rocks below Twilight and The Hunger Games’s towering perch, you’d think that maybe, just maybe, some intrepid studio would go a different route, rather than ritualistically following the same old beats and hoping for different results somehow. (Is that the definition of Hollywood insanity?) Sadly, The Giver is not that daring film.”

Talkin’ about Instagram

“Besson clearly has had these themes rattling around in his head for a while and wanted to spill them all into a movie somehow. So here’s Lucy, a brief, furious burst of ideas and action and style that doesn’t quite congeal into a thoroughly realized, or even all that comprehensible, movie, but that earns our admiration, or mine anyway, for at least trying to do something with the well-worn superhero genre.”

Los Angeles

I like that in Los Angeles the phrase “magic hour” is a commonly used expression of time. Not just by people in showbiz. It’s just a generally expressed idea, about when the sun is setting, and the sky, light bouncing off the Pacific, is a starchy pink and a lonely ochre, a sad, searching orange, like the sky itself is wistful about the end of the day. It really is magic! I heard this phrase a few times in the past week, and it gave the city a specialness, as if some knowing, unseen cameras were pointed at us the whole time — this, in the land of movies, another movie. 

I know a lot of people who have moved to L.A., and people who have always lived there, whom I found through various strands of the Internet. And every time I visit, the question pops up, “When are you going to move out here?” In the past, I’ve always responded with a chuckle and a false “I wish!” Because so much of that city, spread out thin and brown and dismal as a dry floodplain, is so unappealing to me. And because the driving scared me, all that it implied about big distances and fast car rides. 

But I did some driving, enough driving, this time out, and saw friends with whom I’m closer now, and miss more because of it, and the fuzzy picture of an imagined me living in Los Angeles, started to look, well, a little less fuzzy. Maybe this could work! Maybe the driving—I even took the freeway!—isn’t quite as frightening as I’d imagined. Maybe the sleepier corners of a city that is troublingly unconcerned with limits can still be cozy and comforting, and even, somehow, exciting. 

I think the big realization of the past week, though, was how tiring and silly the binary thinking is. That it’s either New York or L.A., that you are one person or the other. I’d like to imagine that I’m a more nuanced thinker than that, but I easily, in my first years in New York, fell prey to the thinking that liking one city over the other—in defiance of the other, really—said something defining about who I am. Of course that’s dumb, and cliched. Places are just places. We can never leave our apartment wherever that apartment is. We can drink and smoke and eat wherever, provided we have the money. Hell, we can be found dead and still in a Ukrainian field, having had no more daring an idea than going on vacation. 

So I’m back in New York, and happy to be here. Because it’s where my stuff is, and where my bed is, and where I don’t feel that dull and uneasy discomfort of being someone’s houseguest. (That most homesick-inducing of feelings, the stress of a bed you have to be polite about sleeping in.) But I also felt, walking around Manhattan today, like maybe a little bit of me is reaching the end of the big New York chapter. I’m not going to Los Angeles. I certainly have no practical reason to go there right now. But it is nice, at least, to feel myself wriggling out of New York’s indifferent but insistent grasp. I can leave you, city. I have at least one idea where else I could go. And that feels quietly thrilling.

But then, of course, there is the simple reality of living. Standing in the Trader Joe’s line tonight, trying to look placid and sober after four beers in the sun, I had the sudden, watery feeling that I’d probably be much the same anywhere. The details would change, there would be gas and parking, or Euros and visas, and yet, always Sunday nights. All lonely and sorrowful, the sun setting no matter what. The cashiers at whatever store, wherever it is, waving me toward them with the same bored hands, me blinking at them slowly and saying, “I can just put that in my bag. I’m not going far.” 

Just a few days ago I was staring out the window of an airplane and marveling at the view. It had been a long time since I’d had a window seat, so until it got dark I ignored my book and watched as Chicagoland grew smaller and smaller, all its roads and cars and housing developments snaking around like Nazca Lines. I’m pretty scared of flying — usually saying prayers to myself as we take off, gripping the armrest tighter with each jolt of turbulence — so this was an unexpectedly pleasant, pensive portion of the flight. How amazing it is to be on an airplane! How wonderfully possible it makes the whole world seem.  I’m fascinated enough by air disasters, grand and terrifying as they are, that I often forget, during all my Wikipedia-ing of various doomed flights, how miraculous flying can be. 

But now, of course, that little memory, that sudden fondness for flight, seems silly, even cruel. I read that brutal thing in the Times describing the scene on the ground, about bodies and books and T-shirts and shoes, and a wave of sickness came over me, a reaction I’m not used to having to even the most gruesome things I read about on the Internet. But something about this particular horror — the awful arbitrariness of it; the bitter fact that they were quite literally just passing through; that it was both an accident and deliberate, a clumsy murder meant for someone else — has really grabbed me in some dark way. I can’t stop reading about it, or looking up passengers on Facebook (a particularly ghoulish habit of mine, and maybe yours), or searching for photos of wreckage and rubble. (And, yes, feeling a curdling guilt over a few months’ worth of missing plane jokes.) It’s all so horrifically scary.

And, of course, horribly sad. To think of someone up there, maybe the handsome young AIDS advocate who posted an update about his trip on Facebook less than a day ago, staring dreamily out the window and thinking the same things I did on Sunday. All of them up there, looking forward to a trip, or glad to be coming home, or just excited to be in that moment, racing through the air. Maybe some of them even forgetting, if only for just a second, all the troubled land that lay below. 

“Not much happens in Boyhood but there is, I think, a lot being said. About divorce, about childhood in America, about adolescence, about the beginnings of a creative life, about family. Mason’s childhood may not look like yours, or that of anyone you know. But there is something universal about Boyhood nonetheless. We all passed through time along with the actors in this film. We spun on the same planet, slept and dreamed and wished and breathed. Boyhood reminds us of that, our common humanity. It’s an act of communion, lovely and enriching and ultimately sublime.”
“There is an air of fantasy to the film—in its glittering idealization of a Manhattan full of magic, in showing a career spring into being with accidental ease—but there’s far less cheap sentimentality than one might expect. The film’s original title was Can a Song Save Your Life, and while I don’t think the film really answers that question, or even attempts to, it certainly says something about a song doing the soul some good during difficult days. And about music’s unique ability to imbue an otherwise mundane moment with a certain specialness and meaning. And I think that’s probably plenty good enough.”