My bedroom is silent except for my fan. Well, that and the awful cacophony endlessly clanking away in my skull. That shitty month of disappointing affairs, snapped longtime friendships, and general dishevelment is over. Its October. And on the morning of September 21 I boarded a plane and began my nine-day stint in New York City. This getting the hell out of dodge was well timed. My shoes desperately needed to trod on foreign soil, if only for the chance to regain my poise and grace.
I have a deep and passionate love for Tampa. This relationship began begrudgingly in 1998; but after exploring the citys nooks and crannies for over a decade, I've unearthed a lot of wonderful southern sorcery. At one point during this tenure, I was nearly certain I could spend the rest of my life here. The underground grass roots creative scene was alive with eccentric geniuses, trainwrecks, and pretty southern boys. The prospect of aging within this tight knit circle of deviants was doable.
Of late, my nighttimes arent filled with crazy art and warm 3 a.m. socialization. I find myself surrounded by a lot of silence. As I turned 35, my peer group began having families, shacking up in distant towns, or surrendering to the machinery of the nine to five. And somewhere along the way, my social life became centered around Starbucks. I find myself thankful that I have a long-term group of friends that I never run out of things to talk about with. But I cant seem to stop my fucking feet from twitching under the table. Goddamn restless wanderlust.
Ive learned to internalize my geographical struggles. The notion of uprooting and leaving the safety of a comfortable and easy life is terrifying and nausea-inducing. Dealing with the harsh defensiveness of family and friends only further amplifies the confusion. "The grass is always greener, People are the same everywhere, and Oh, youll just come back comments have driven me to silence on the subject entirely. I know my friends just dont want to lose me. The fact that I dont want to lose them kept me here about 12 years longer than I planned.
Contrary to all of the above over-used slogans, I know from experience that sometimes the grass is indeed greener on the other side. Had I listened to my friends in Buffalo back in 1998, I never would have come to Tampa and experienced the wonderful life Ive had here. I can say with certainty that if Tampa were a shirt, itll nearly always fit me just about right. It really pisses me off when people say bad things about Tampa. I can also say with certainty that I hope the people in Buffalo who said Id be back didnt hold their breath.
And then came New York City. Although I grew up in western New York I never set foot in the city until 2005. I hated the place at first. During my earliest trips to Brooklyn, I wasnt quite prepared for the rats and the huge mounds of cocaine. And after learning to love the relative newness of the South, the dilapidated and graffiti-ridden buildings of Brooklyn were an eyesore to me. Not to mention the fact that Ive known 8,000 trendy assholes who move to New York, post about it endlessly on their Facebook, and do little more with their lives than they did here in Tampa. Different bar, different city. The prospect of being person number 10,018 moving to New York is in direct conflict with the part of me that never wants to be a sheep.
But that damn fan in my room is taunting me. This silence is weighty. Its 3:10am and Im alone in a huge bedroom that I love. I feel the urge to be social, but my options are limited. There are two scary diners on the other side of town that Id never want to eat at alone. Or I could drive around the empty streets. Or I could watch TV. And as I sit here and write this I think of the pleasure I got out of riding the New York subway at five a.m. just to people watch and feel less alone within the context of an impersonal environment. And I think about how the only guy Id date in Tampa is a faux You Tube celebrity who has a thing for boring younger guys. I am neither younger, nor am I boring. I think about my close friends in New York and wonder how those friendships would play out on a more long-term scale. And the fans blows on.
The things Ive grown to love most about New York were the things I did alone. I loved people watching on the subway. I loved walking to the neighborhood pizza shop or bakery and getting to know the staff after being in town a week. I loved the fact that I felt somewhat attractive. I always feel like an ugly duckling in the midst of the Tampa glossy and vapid homos. While I have zero interest in trendy New York bands, Williamsburg douchiness, or wearing the neighborhood I live in like an accessory, the possibility of thousands of new streets to explore and people to meet is alluring. And I come to realize its not the ugly broken down buildings that draw people to New York City but what happens inside those buildings and the streets surrounding them. I struggle with deciphering whether I want to trade my established, reliable, and wonderful daily Tampa friends for that big and scary fucking question mark.
My most powerful New York moment came on the afternoon of my fifth day in town. I was walking down a ridiculously busy stretch of Broadway doing some shopping. After the thirtieth person banged into me and rudely ignored me, I was in a fury. It blew my mind to be in the midst of thousands of people all avoiding eye contact with each other. I am certain I said the words consumerist pig motherfuckers aloud. I vowed that I could not wait to get on a fucking plane and get back to Tampa where people were more genuine and sincere. With my cynicism at its max, I stomped to the subway and began the trip back to my friends apartment. On a whim I got off at Union Square. As I emerged from the subway station I heard the pounding 4/4 of a bass drum. Approaching Union Square I realized that an impromptu dance party was in full swing. A DJ had set up his gear while hundreds of people danced in a circle, oblivious to the tourists taking pictures of them. Within minutes I was in the middle of that circle, dancing alone with a bunch of strangers. The woes of Broadway were quickly forgotten and I came to understand the power of this moment. New York can go from disgustingly ugly to majestically gorgeous with the turn of a corner. Around every turn a horror or a heaven could potentially await. That is the magic. And that is the danger.
I dont think New York City is the best place in the world, but I think its great. I think Tampa is great, too. I know for certain I do not want to spend the rest of my life listening to a fan from one a.m. until I finally fall asleep at five. As my social peer group in Tampa continues to shrink from people growing up or moving away, I stand with uncertainty scratching my bald head. A part always wants to stay and a part always wants to go. What the fuck am I going to do?