Every time I think about the “idea” of summer in New York I hear an Eagles song. I’m thinking of the summer I spent living in Los Angeles, wishing I lived in New York. Okay, it was only a summer by school schedule standards; my alma mater Pepperdine University ends classes in late April, so I spent May and June and some of July daydreaming of the great glamorous East, where I would come into my own as an accidental bohemian genius (Pre-planned accidents are my specialty).
In the way that only Joe Walsh can, the song meanders while still feeling completely desperate, bleak and yet totally full of glorious, celebratory vigor. It is the epitome of summer, and, weirdly, it was written for the ultimate New York escapist movie, The Warriors (If you haven’t watched it, you must.) “In The City” originally appeared on that soundtrack in 1979 way before it was on any of their albums or a staple at Eagles concerts. This all serves to reaffirm my life-long assertion that Joe Walsh is the best Eagle–but I digress.
Now hitting the milestone of my fifth year as a New Yorker, I find myself dreaming of the beach in Los Angeles that I disdained for that long lonesome summer. Because the thing about summer is it’s a very lonely time, that’s why we so often fling ourselves into summer loves, search for trips to fill the long, hot void, or assume an alternate version of ourselves to occupy the humid space of those three months. We’re looking for a way out and summer reminds us just how very in we are–in our bodies, in these spaces and cities we’ve chosen to call home, in lockstep with the rest of the human race, who are also trying to catch a cool breeze, get a tan, and sip on something cold.
There is a certain wildness about summer that pushes us outward, back into the physical world and far away from, well, as Joe Walsh puts it, the neon sky. The season reminds us–summer is the real daydream, not the city you’re in. It reminds us that above all we are creatures of this planet and we are here to enjoy it. So here are five meditations on the way summer slithers in and out of our bodies and memories, how we build ritual into this golden period that always feels a bit like freedom and a bit like a prison. Specifically, these are love letters to spending summer in the city, in New York, where nothing grows and life ain’t very pretty. Because no matter how many times we threaten to leave, most of us will probably be here until hell freezes over.
“I’m from the South. I’m supposed to embrace sweat, bear it with pride. Let it trickle down my back in recognition of my humanity, remembering red clay and harvest home where we rocked in chairs on porches, drank mint juleps and let seersucker wick away our perspiration. But mint juleps are overrated and seersucker too often abused. Give me the joys of summer without the thick humid and human reality of it. While “Hotlanta” isn’t a nickname for nothing, no matter how much natives hate it, Atlanta never expects you to suffer the heat for long. If you’re sweating, it’s your own fault, a choice you made. There’s always relief. But New York knows air conditioning is a lie. This false idol of cool keeps you from knowing your own body, knowing how it works. Heat can be purifying and tests your limits. The city celebrates sweat and a New York summer is a crucible.”
“It’s odd that I don’t remember, because I know we instantly pair-bonded in the way that only happens when someone is truly awful for you, or maybe when it’s 90 degrees out in May and you’ve lost your mind, or both. Heatwave madness, I said to my friends later. The whole city like a ripe fruit. How could anyone think straight? After that first, lost date he was always around–picking me up from work, spending the night at my apartment, texting me all day, sending me screencaps of the things he instant messaged his friends about me: ‘I met a girl. I actually really like her.'”
“There I stood, shiftless in Los Angeles, sussing out how to rework my footing, soaking up all that might have been back in ebullient summer Brooklyn. Which to me, gut-socked and city-sick, beamed like a steel oasis in the mirage of social media. How easy it was to picture my ghost runner lingering on, in the Instagrams of rooftop sunsets and sandwich board snark and Prospect Park leg tangles and boundless summer Fridays. It sure is the rainbow in the oil, I know, what we show, what we share, in the best-foot-forwardness of our digital presence. But when you’re removed from the good-looking package your friends have chosen to present, it looks even better. It’s the highlights, of course, without any of the lows the city floats atop. It creates a mosaic of hyper representation, sans any NYC reality of swamp-assing the R platform and inhaling electric piss just to get to the rooftop party where everyone, seemingly, is upset about something. Oh, to have all that wiped away, it’s a dream. My ghost runner with someone beautiful, maybe in Crown Heights, supine, naked, AC growling, Caribbean music bouncing off the brick below, satisfied and anchored.”
“And then I determined I was going be a real writer. I decided I was going back to school, and I applied, and late this spring, I got in. I celebrated for twenty-five minutes with a beer and one third of the movie You’ve Got Mail on my Mom’s Amazon Prime account, finished a piece I had been working on for months about the Civil War, and then I cried for two weeks straight for reasons I couldn’t explain. When I came out of it, I decided I was cutting back on working for one last and final ‘free summer.'”
“There was the first summer I moved to New York. We’d found a three-bedroom in a strange wasteland of a place called Long Island City. We said it was perfect cause every bedroom had a closet and enough space for a mattress. Moving in was easy cause we didn’t own anything. Filling our days was tough. I spent hours reading in parks and watching movies on friends’ couches (friends who had AC). I ate a lot of popcorn and popsicles and binge-watched Degrassi on a channel Nick Cannon said he owned. Someone taught me the joy of sneaking a tallboy into the movies. On weekends, we drank in the backyards of people who’d found jobs. Then in the bars next to their apartments. Then on the rooftops of friends of friends who’d just moved to Hell’s Kitchen. Or to Astoria. Or wherever people move when they first get here. Every conversation included, “I’m looking to get into…” Nobody got into anything, not even each other’s pants. Some people moved to LA.”