There is none.
Before I moved here, while I was just visiting for interviews, I met my friend Hailee for Thai food in Brooklyn. The restaurant had about eight seats and a B rating, which Hailee assured me was not due to their cleanliness but rather the fact that the storage closet that housed the place could not POSSIBLY be up to fire code.
“You’ll get used to this here,” she said. “Nobody has any space – not the businesses, not the restaurants, not the shops, not the apartments.” (Nobody, apparently, but Memorial Sloan Kettering, whose kingly chemotherapy suites I get to visit again on Monday.)
It’s true that space is basically impossible to come by here. Coffee shops and restaurants seat about six to twenty people, max, although forty or more are often crammed into them (again, does NO ONE care about the fire code?!). The subway stations and cars are packed to overflowing during rush hours, but I walk to work unless it’s hotter than the surface of the sun like it is today, and at least they don’t hire people to literally stuff you into the trains with giant poles like they do in Tokyo, so there’s that.
Speaking of Tokyo, somebody recently asked me if I had heard about the 250 square-foot apartments in Japan that are apparently all the rage there these days, and then I thought about it for a second, and I realized I think my apartment is probably about 250 square feet. I mean, my roommate and I each have our own rooms, which are about the same size – 10×7, or 70 square feet – so that’s 140 square feet there. The living room, which is also the kitchen because one wall of it has a fridge, a range and a couple of cabinets (and by a couple of cabinets I literally mean a couple, as in two, TWO CABINETS, for all of our food, dishes, etc.), isn’t much larger – it couldn’t be more than 10×10, and I doubt it’s even that big. And then there’s the bathroom, which isn’t even large enough for a bathtub (we have one of those tiny showers you can barely turn around in, and I bet it’s really hard to shave your legs in it, but I wouldn’t know since I’m STILL hairless), and I think we’re somewhere between 250 and 275 square feet when all is said and done.
Don’t mistake this for complaining, though. I actually love my apartment. The small space is cozy, even if I did have to sell my flatscreen because I literally couldn’t fit it anywhere, and even if the oven sets off the whole building’s fire alarm every time I turn it on (seems safe, right? But I mean, this is NYC, so who the f uses an oven anyway?). My bedroom fits everything I need and has AIR CONDITIONING so next to that I’d sacrifice basically anything else.
A couple of weekends ago I was in Boston visiting Gordie, and we attended a charity party his company was throwing at a local bar. The place seemed ENORMOUS. I was like, What is this cavernous nonsense? The people aren’t crammed wall-to-wall elbowing each other for alcohol dominance like a weird Discovery Channel documentary where they all fight to the death to see who can stay in the bar longest. WHAT IS THIS TOMFOOLERY? Like a housecat who finds itself in the backyard accidentally for the first time, I was honestly confused by the sheer amount of space and freedom.
I don’t ride the subway a lot because I walk to work, but when I do take it, it is invariably weird. There’s something I love, though, about being surrounded by people who express themselves without regard for what other people might think. Cheers to the girl I saw with bright green hair, the guys and gals covered in tattoos, the women with buzzed haircuts (ESPECIALLY women with buzzed haircuts, y’all are an inspiration), the people of ambiguous gender, the guys wearing women’s clothing – everyone of you awesome people, KEEP ON KEEPING ON. I wish I were as brave as you, and could walk around with my weird, bald scalp on display instead of sweating to death under this itchy wig. Some day, perhaps.
By the way, taxis – both the mere idea of them (on-demand personal drivers!) and the actual implementation of them in this city (literally 10+ of them in view at any second) – are amazing. Gordie came for a weekend and needed to get to the bus station at 6 in the morning. “Should I call a cab for an hour that weird?” he asked.
“Um, call one? Duh, no,” I scoffed, like an authority even though I’d literally been here 11 days at that point. “Just walk outside and hail one. Doesn’t matter if it’s 4am or 4pm, you won’t have any trouble.” And I was right, he hailed one literally immediately, which is good for me or I would have looked pretty dumb.
So far, three – THREE! – people have stopped me in the subway and asked me for directions. HOLY CRAP, YOU GUYS! Not only did those people think I was a NEW YORKER, they thought that out of EVERYONE in that subway station, I looked LEAST LIKELY to be a murderer. I wish they had a plaque for that sort of thing. I’d hang it on my wall. If I had the space.
Sometimes I get legitimately depressed because I can’t possibly eat at every single restaurant, diner, deli, take-out counter, coffee shop and bar in New York City.
But damned if I’m not trying to.
It is my mission to eat a different place every single time I go out for food. So far, I’m doing pretty well. Okay, there’s this one falafel place I really like and there’s an awesome sandwich place near my office and WHY FIX WHAT AIN’T BROKE YOU GUYS so I’ve been there a few times, but overall I keep on seeking out new culinary adventures every chance I get.
The best thing about New York is how weird/niche the food gets. I passed a place the other day that advertised “Mexican sushi and Japanese tacos.” There’s a bar-ish establishment near my apartment called Murray’s Cheese Bar and it’s a BAR THAT SERVES ARTISANAL CHEESES so I think I’m going to just live in it because what else does a person need?
I love the variety of food experiences here, too. Yeah, you can find vegan eateries with the pathetic calorie count listed next to their soy cheese and lettuce wrap, but walk out the door and you’ll see a dirty-water hog dog stand staffed by a woman in a burqa asking if you want a 1,000-calorie pretzel. So by turns I indulge myself with the most disgusting pizza slices and cream cheese-loaded bagels and then atone for it by ordering a quinoa salad at a place whose sign advertises their commitment to the locavore movement.
Nothing makes me sound more touristy than talking about all the “culture” in NYC, but whatever. I guess what I mean by “culture” is a certain amount of authenticity – a variety of places and experiences that are wholly and totally unique to New York, from street performers to Central Park to jogging on the Brooklyn bridge to shops and stores that have only ONE location, and it’s here, in New York City.
One of the things I like the most about life here is how well the mom-and-pop shop is doing. Things in our society are becoming increasingly homogenous and commoditized; a Walmart in Kansas is about the same as a Walmart in Vermont is about the same as a Walmart in Shanghai, China. And in some ways that can be nice, because the experience is consistent, and I know what I’m gonna get when I walk into Walmart, even if I’m 2,000 miles from home. But NYC is the only place where I can go to the only existing location of a place called Garrett’s Hardware and have a hasidic Jew with payots show me where the nails are.
So am I going to stay in New York? For a little while, at least. I mean, it’ll be three years before my 401k is fully vested so I guess I’ll try to tough it out at least that long. But in spite of the hot garbage smell and the air conditioner rain and the crowds, there’s something I just love about life here. I guess what I’m saying is, I can think of worse fates that living life post-cancer in what is rightly termed the greatest city in the world.