Tag Archives: New York City

Leaving NYC

MarcyAve

The Subway stop I’ve waited at the most. Photo by Arikia Millikan

I moved to New York when I was 21 with two suitcases and a credit card. I had zero savings, zero checking, and didn’t know very many people in the city. I had a job lined up writing copy for exhibitions at the New York Hall of Science, but they called me the day before my flight to tell me that they’d just been notified they’d had a half million dollars of funding cut by the NY state government and couldn’t hire me after all. I had two choices: to get on the plane and figure it out, or stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan and figure it out.

In retrospect, there was only ever one option. I came here, clueless, nervous, broke, scared, but with a lust for life so great it propelled me past all the inhibitory emotions. I told myself from the very beginning that I would stay for five years. It was a seemingly arbitrary goal, but one that has never stopped making sense to me. Only after living here for five years, I told myself, could I say that I “made it” in New York City. But upon reaching five years, I would go, so as to not become jaded by the city. I didn’t have any ideas about how this would happen, but I had an image in my mind of the stereotypical New York spinster woman, hardened by success and embittered by all she’s seen. I decided this wouldn’t be me.

My first apartment was a second story walk-up on S. 4th street in Williamsburg with my very own fire escape outside of my bedroom window. Late at night, I would sit out there and smoke cigarettes while watching musicians move their instruments in and out of the practice space across the street. I wondered if I would ever be cool enough to hang out with them.

"I can't pay my rent but I'm fucking gorgeous." -Justin Tranter, Semi Precious Weapons. Photo by Arikia Millikan.

“I can’t pay my rent but I’m fucking gorgeous.” -Justin Tranter, Semi Precious Weapons. Photo by Arikia Millikan.

I had no idea what I was going to do for money or work, so I just began exploring. The guy I sublet the room from recommended a temp agency, so I decided to apply, but first I needed to make a copy of my passport. I was told I could do at a place called The Internet Garage.

For the first month I lived in NYC, I had no idea where I was going. I didn’t have a smartphone then (it was 2008 but I was poor), so I would look up my destination on Google Maps on my computer (a 4-year old Adveratec which needed to be kept on life support with an external keyboard, hard drive, and cooling pad) and write it down on paper or just try to remember the directions. When I would walk out of my apartment, sometimes I would walk the wrong way wind up making three more turns in that same direction so as to not get completely lost and go home, defeated. The first time I tried to find The Internet Garage, I went to South 5th instead of North 5th and wound up in a slightly sketchy area thinking maybe I wasn’t cut out for New York.

Me in the public gardens on S. 2nd Street, my first month in NYC. Photo by Jamie Killen

Me in the public gardens on S. 2nd Street, my first month in NYC. Photo by Jamie Killen

The next day I tried again, with my hand-written map, and I found the Internet Garage, right off of Bedford Avenue. I suddenly understood what Williamsburg was all about. It was a bunch of creative misfits fitting in amongst their peers for the first time in their lives. I asked the tattooed guy wearing a Yankees hat who helped me scan my passport behind the desk if I could work there. I told him I’d gone to school for engineering and was a fast learner. He arched an eyebrow at me and said most people who have worked there probably couldn’t do high school math, but if I really wanted to work there he’d think about it.

I applied with the temp agency and got hired at the world’s largest stock holding company, as a secretary. They told me I was to be an envelope-stuffing office monkey from 9-5 every day and must abide by their dress code by wearing corporate attire. I shuddered to think. The night before I was to go in for fingerprinting and processing in the financial district at 9am, I went out with my pseudonymous blog stalker and wound up getting wasted and staying up until 7am making out on a rooftop overlooking Manhattan.

My Hope Street roof in Williamsburg, before the luxury condos obscured the view.

My Hope Street roof in Williamsburg, before the luxury condos obscured the view.

I just looked up the actual email I sent to the agency when I woke up and realized I’d slept through the meeting, and it is pretty hilariously Arikia-ish:

Dear Camille,

I just woke up and realized that I missed my meeting. I don’t really know how it happened – I remember setting my alarm last night before I went to bed – but I have some idea as to why it happened. I don’t think I want to work at DTCC, and my subconscious mind made that happen. Actually, I don’t want to work at any corporation. I’m a writer and I want to write. I ‘m done doing meaningless work just because someone said so. That’s what a lot of college was, and I graduated.

So, please relay my apologies onto Michael and Jamie over at DTCC that I’m sorry for wasting their time. I suppose I’m sorry for wasting your time as well.

Best of luck to you,

Arikia

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my real-life “Devil’s Advocate” scenario, and my decision set me on the trajectory that would fulfill all of my New York dreams.

The next day after my hangover subsided, I went to retrieve my passport, which I had forgotten in the scanner at the Internet Garage, and lo and behold, they hired me. For $8/hr, I got to blog my little heart out while I helped people use the Internet Garage’s ridiculously ’90s machines to get online. And I was happy. Some of my fondest New York memories were made in that place, and it provided all the fodder I needed to find my footing in the online media world.

Me in front of the Internet Garage.

Me in front of the Internet Garage.

With the Internet Garage as my base of operations, I became a fixture among the creative misfits, quickly becoming part of the barter system that propped up the struggling artist class in Williamsburg. If someone identified themselves as a Bedford Avenue vendor, I would give them prints and internet usage with a wink and a smile. To repay me, people invited me into their slivers of Williamsburg, and I got to experience it all. One night, some musicians I met at a bar invited me back to drink beers at the practice space across from my old apartment. I stayed up all night learning how to play piano.

In those days, I would sit on the rooftop of my Hope Street sublet and stare out at the Manhattan skyline for hours, wondering what paths I would take to make my way to the top of one of those skyscrapers. Last year, I would stare for hours out of the window of my office on the 19th floor of 4 Times Square, thinking about how I had managed to achieve my lifelong dream of working at Wired so soon, scared shitless about what that meant for the rest of my life. Had I peaked at 25?

My old office at Wired.

My old office at Wired.

Thinking about my five year quota now, with the deadline approaching July 8, it makes more sense to me than ever to leave. I won New York City. I did, I beat it. I came here with nothing, and I survived. I’m not any richer than I was when I came here, which to some, might not constitute winning. Before I started writing this blog post, I was being kind of mopey about just that — about the fact that five years later I am still struggling to pay my bills every month just like I did when I first moved here. But after reflecting on everything, I realized that what I gained in the past five years is impossible to buy: I made a name for myself.

Now, it’s time to leave. I am tired. The old rooftop where I used to perch is sealed off with fences and motion detectors, and the view is obscured by luxury condos anyways. The Internet Garage moved, and it will never be what it used to be. The way this city chews people up and spits them out is almost vulgar, and I am tired of watching it. I am tired of struggling to stay on top. I can feel my shell beginning to harden, and it’s not a good look for me. Plus the fact that I’ve sustained for so long makes me think I could be tossed into any environment and somehow figure stuff out and be OK. So, I’m going to try that, and hopefully find the same inspiration in new places that I once got from New York. I’m going to take my show on the road and keep looking for the things I didn’t find in New York: love, inner peace, financial success. I know that life may not ever be easy for me, I think I would die of boredom if it was, but right now I need to find environments that will nurture the skills I’ve been developing. I need room to breathe, as anyone who’s ever lived in New York knows, there’s not a whole lot of space here.

So, New Yorkers, you have three months and some change to squeeze the last of the New York hustle out of me, and I do intend to hustle. And then off into the world I will go, testing Frank Sinatra’s theory that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. It’s been real.

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Cismetropolitan

I’ve been reading Transmetropolitan again. It’s about a cynical bastard named Spider Jerusalem who also happens to be an a cutthroat gonzo journalist. He tried to retreat into hermitage in the mountains but the city keeps drawing him back. He loathes it, but he loves to loathe it. It is the seething hatred for all that is fucked up with America that inspires him. The way it’s on display here, ungracefully strewn about the city streets and exposed for all to step around on their daily commutes fuels his pursuits — that and the loads of futuristic uppers he inhales.

SpiderJerusalem

On Friday I had drinks underneath Grand Central with a man who is something of a real life Spider Jerusalem. He collects knives and has the best fake “go fuck yourself” smile I have ever seen — a necessary adaptation for people who are acutely sensitized to bullshit. We sat amongst the oyster-sucking white-collar commuters, talking about fear, throwing back martinis and refilling them with the sidecars. He told me he was glad I’ve been taking on the fear that used to hold me back from writing. “It’s like Oz,” he said, “you had the power all along, my dear. You could have gone home whenever you wanted.” He warned me though, that I need to keep chipping away at the fear every day, lest I become one of the could’ve-beens. There are not many people who could tell me that without me telling them to go fuck themselves, but coming from him I appreciated it.

I thought about this all night, mourning all the could’ve-beens I know, and woke up this morning with my brow furrowed. It’s been that way ever since, save a few hours of solace I found at the Met this evening. I wrote in my head all day long, formulating the phrases that I would later find the time to transcribe, trying to sear them into my mind. I was being beckoned in three different directions but I went to see Side Effects by myself instead. Twenty minutes into the feature, a man stood up and vomited in the aisle right next to me, repeatedly. I moved up a few rows, thinking that there would have to be something in the movie to top the everyday crazy I witness in New York, but the vomiting was the highlight of the movie.

Afterward, I ducked into the subway at Union Square looking forward to waiting for the L train since I had Transmetropolitan with me to read. On the platform, a man was standing in one of the typical performance art spaces with his back against the stairwell. He had two balloons, a pink one above his head and a purple one between his knees, and was slowly releasing the air out of them both, along with two high-pitched squeals.

“Is this guy seriously doing this?” a plain-looking guy said near me to no one in particular.

“You must be new here,” I said back in his general direction.

I leaned against a pillar and watched this performance art. He looked about my age, and was skinny enough that you could see the outline of his ribcage through his grey shirt. Beside him there was a cardboard sign with “fuck the police” scrawled over and over in black marker and a box with various dirty objects sticking out. I wondered if he was crazy or just an artist, then reminded myself there’s really no difference and instead tried to tell if he was on drugs or suffering. When the balloons ran out of air, he placed a harmonica in his mouth and began breathing through it in a repetitive tune. He placed a mask over his head that made him look like a neon pink fly, and removed various baby doll parts. The head rolled out into the middle of the platform, and he dove onto the filthy floor to get it, crawling like an alien or the little girl from The Ring as she climbs out of the well.

Then, obviously, he crawled over to me. For a split second I thought he might be an alien because his hand looked twisted in an inhuman way, but I realized he just had a baby doll foot stuck akimbo on his thumb. He was at my feet, crawling his dirty baby doll hand towards my shoe. The woman next to me ran away, but I didn’t move. It was then I noticed his hands were rubbed raw at some parts, bright pink inner layers of skin exposed. I considered the possibility that perhaps this was his first and last act of performance art, and that he his goal was actually to select one lucky observer to hurl onto the subway tracks a few feet behind me. He touched the top of my shoe, and I stepped back. He looked at me through his fly eyes. Spider Jerusalem would have kicked him in the face. I just shook my head to indicate there was no consent on my behalf. He did a back somersault across the dirty platform, baby head in ragged hand. He rolled around to other people that way for a while. When the train came, I wanted to give him a dollar for disturbing me more than anyone else on the subway ever has, but I didn’t have one, so I got on the train and resumed reading Transmetropolitan.