“Goodbye to All That”: Why Is Everybody Talking About Leaving New York?

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Just when the rest of the world seems to be falling in love with New York Brooklyn, the unthinkable has begun to happen—New Yorkers are all talking about leaving New York. At first I thought it was just something happening with the people I know, too anecdotal and specific to my group of friends for me to turn it into any kind of larger generalization. But then suddenly, it seemed like everyone started talking about leaving New York. There was an article in Salon by Cari Luna, “Priced Out of New York,” wherein Luna even recalls that, before she moved to Portland, she “became envious of every friend who’d managed to escape.” There was a piece by Ann Friedman in New York, “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York at Age 24,”where she dismisses New York as being “the prom king,” and the guy who”knows he’s great, and he’s gonna make it really, really hard on you if you decide you want to love him.” And then there was an essay in BuzzFeed by Ruth Curry about how she left New York to live in New Zealand, putting all her belongings in storage and following her boyfriend to the other side of the world (although she did return here, later on, after a stint in San Fransisco). Curry’s essay is a part of a new book edited by Sari Botton titled Goodbye to All That, which is a collection of essays by writers who all loved New York, sure, but then left it. Left it! There was a time not so long ago that the idea of people willingly leaving New York would have been unfathomable, but now, when more and more people I know don’t just talk about leaving, but actually leave for LA or Berkeley or Portland or St. Louis, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that liking New York has become about as cool as saying the Yankees are your favorite baseball team. Which, fuck. That’s not cool at all.

And so, a note on that. The Yankees are my favorite baseball team. This is something I’ve needed to defend since I was a kid in the 80s and everyone I knew loved the Mets, whereas I would go to Shea and yell at Ron Darling because, man, did that guy ever piss me off. Which, I was only eight-years-old at the peak of my Darling-hate, and eight-year-olds are irrational and terrible, but still. He was the worst. But then came ’95, when the Yankees won the wild card, and ’96, when the team won the Series and then suddenly everyone loved the Yankees, and it was great but kind of annoying because they had been my team and I couldn’t stop loving something just because everyone else liked it, that’s not how love works. So it was kind of a relief when, around 2003, everyone hated the Yankees again because they were too good and spent too much money and it just wasn’t fair. But now liking the Yankees isn’t uncool the way it was in the 80s or early 90s, when they were a shitty team who, yes, had the awesome Don Mattingly, but also had the bloated boor (and criminal and friend to Richard Nixon, my Mets-loving father always pointed out) George Steinbrenner as an owner. Back then, liking the Yankees still gave you a certain kind of cred. Now? No. Now liking the Yankees is uncool in an entirely different, much worse way. Now, liking the Yankees is for people in Manhattan; it’s for bankers and lawyers and more bankers and for a certain kind of politician and for people who have no soul but lots of money. It’s for people who can afford to live in New York.

It’s been hard to escape the sense of nostalgia that has permeated the media lately. A lot of it has to do with Bloomberg leaving office, I think, and the natural inclination people have had (and will continue to have over the next few months) to look back on the New York of the last twelve years and try to figure out what has gotten better and worse, and what that means in terms of their ability to stay. Because staying in New York, even if it sometimes feels like a necessity, is always only a choice. There are always other places to go. Or, at least, that’s been what everyone I know who leaves or who wants to leave says. They say that New York is fine, New York is even sometimes great, but it’s also dirty and it’s expensive and even though sometimes the air smells like maple syrup most of the time it just smells like garbage or like those semen-trees in the spring. They say that living in New York distorts your view on everything else, that it’s impossible to lead a good life here because living here makes you forget what living even really is. Life here, they say, is life under the bell jar—it distorts you vision, and it’s suffocating, and you forget that you can lift up the glass, so you get trapped, breathing your own breath until you die. This is really what people say!

And so no wonder they want to leave. No wonder all those people who thought that New York would be different, who thought that New York would give so much to them, who thought that New York maybe owed them something, because they are creative people or because they are young and prepared to suffer (only suffer in a very particular kind of way, not the way they actually suffer here), all those people are preparing to leave. And while all their feelings for leaving New York are valid, I always can’t help but wonder a little bit how much they loved this city to begin with, how much living in New York really mattered to them, versus living in “New York.”