The Place That Forgets You
by JOSH MILBERG
Moving to New York in winter makes for bad timing but allowing this ongoing fantasy first impressions in autumn gives its staging and extras unfair advantage. It's September and October when the city comports itself a little more gently, when boots and cuffs are still unsalted and the counterfeit-wealthy and bonafide rich walk Manhattan's Broadway and Brooklyn's Bedford a touch overdressed, eager to wear coats that look new for a moment and age inevitably like the Empire State Building, fading day after day like a concrete dildo that convinces the anxious to sublimate headfirst through the top and out through the smog. And, though the decline in environment may have started in autumn, it's too slow and insidious to be seen by the newbies. The air is brisk, the dogs are happy, and there are still straggling subleasers willing to learn and return home sexual sherpas with extravagant chi.
It's September and October that establish for daydreamers, optimists, and even those cynics who make piece with life's shittiness, that the flight down from Cloud 9 or 8 or even 3, ends with a softer landing on a longer runway, when the trip to summer is longest and heat and sunlight slowly invert themselves against mud and slush, when uncovered coughs test immune systems as though they stood any chance and the results could be charming. Within a few weeks the happiest and healthiest question, as they must, what it means to opt in here.
Oracles and wiseacres from Long Island and Jersey wield that phrase to the newly initiated, as one did to me, like a dare or weapon. They say you must opt in to this place because, without choice and intention, you'll make sense of your life under the weight of a train. They often leave out what is tacit and obvious and need not be said but arrives here for kicks and the naïve in the room: When ones banks on a dream, he had better outbid.
The mood in this place is conspiratorial. There are dollars here, sure, but also a sense that The Bear and The Bull play smashmouth with manna, that it must take decades to know who to blow, and that poetry is the price of that platform called Kickstarter. If only for phonies and the Ponzies they pull, the game always rigs against writers and artists. In the land of opinions and 1% vacancies, there's always some shorty here jocking your spot.
Like a 19 year-old who recently wrote for the City Room that, if you escape it, this place will forget you. No one cared that she was only 19, which is when such declarations should be made out loud and published nowhere but Facebook, a bathroom and, on occasion, through Tumblr. The confluence of pathology and truth is a convenient phenomenon and one I hope errs on my side more often than not but, before age 19, most of us, thankfully, are pretty forgettable, and I hope with a vitriol cushioned by coffee, bourbon, and the most heinous drop-sets known by that torture called bench-press, that she will be too. Here I am, a decade her senior, typing in one of the poorest zip codes in Brooklyn, and I know that, for me, it's already curtains.
It's just below freezing; water flies down in rain and snow and something called pellets, and the dogs, so I think, are very unhappy. Meteorologists and morons have ditched eschatology and now talk earnest with kindlier words. Armageddon and apocalypse give way to precipitation, polar vortices, and that injuctive, precaution. Their civility shows no weaker a sign than a locust-invasion or biblical pestilence that the world, as we've known it, is soon to be over. But worrying deprives the present its pleasure, so onto a myth and its place amidst seasons.
My second summer in Brooklyn I went to a party held twice a month at a place that served pizzas the size of a slice at five times the cost. Even my poorest and smartest friends (which at the time were one and the same) talked about eating the pizza like gluten and dairy were the culprits at Jonestown. In addition to fantastical pricing, the business made use of a rooftop garden, a once-naked waitress, and an army of youth barely aware, if at all, that their charm was the charm that exudes from a game show: token to wit, the dark/liberal arts, and the trappings of culture with the expression of none. And, while the restaurant was famous for pizza, the party was prone to half-decent disco, a little arrogant sufferering, and a dearth of facilities to serve masses' asses. So, unwilling to wait, I walked past the lines that led up to the bathrooms and made for a shack just slightly off base. As I got down to business, a 5-foot flyweight came up behind me, skipping, I'd guess, like an ingenue from Godard or a Midwestern newsletter. And though there were plenty to bust for open-air drugs, it was me she was after. She signaled two men, each a little bit taller and a little bit lighter than me and told them to kick me out. I looked at them while she called me motherfucker over and over and a voice in my head said, Knuck if you buck.
The party would improve the following year by moving to Queens where portapotties abound and locals can spot who's not to be fucked with. But that second summer I spent here in Brooklyn, before the restaurant had a cookbook and the party found Queens, I spent my time cavorting with friends happy to skip it. They took me to parties less hampered by parents, but also, to movies, dinner, and shows in the park. We danced, we got drunk, and Cupid unloaded like Rambo in Nam. Sooner or later I got sweet on a fine one and we'd run with her dog in the rain through the night, laughing at people still losing at love.
The September I moved here it was already chilly. It took seven months to make any friends and, because I wanted it to, I thought it had meaning; in the delay and despair of that wait before friendship, I wanted some truth that gave satisfaction, and I wonder if it would have been briefer had I timed my arrival somewhere near spring, when there are roses to smell and parties to crash. But I don't wonder too much. We're almost done with this winter. The city holds hundreds of gyms that don't ever close and, while the curb frosts, defrosts, and refrosts all over, I keep my game tight with knees tall off the treadmill. No matter the month, I stay sexy for summer, for when parties pack full, the music gets loud, and a wall is a bathroom awaiting your all.
I was recently asked when transplants transition and take stake in that title, the big one, New Yorker. I'm not there myself and I'm not all that sure, but were I 19 and smarter and a little bit lucky, here's what I'd say: The fall is seductive, the winter is shitty, and henchmen will follow wherever you go, but when you deliver your mark with what courses inside you, neither willing to wait nor happy to budge, that's when you know what it means to opt in here.
Josh Milberg is a contributor to This Recording. This is his first appearance in these pages. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. He writes Televised Atlas for Nowhere and you can find his twitter here.
"Seasons (Waiting On You)" - Future Islands (mp3)
"Doves" - Future Islands (mp3)