When I was little, I would daydream about living in New York City. I knew that I would live in Harlem and that I would live alone. I also knew that I would have an unconventional creative life. I didn’t know what I would do to make money exactly, but I imagined that I would wear gowns for a living. I didn’t know if I would ever get married and have children but I knew that I would have lifelong friends, and that we would have grand adventures. I would eat things like lobster thermidor and collect bakelite jewelry – and although my mother and father would be around, no one would ever tell me when to go to bed. While other girls were thinking about what their wedding day would be like, I was standing on a box in the bathroom, pretending to accept some award, wondering what I’d say, what I’d wear.
Somehow, every famous anybody that had a modicum of talent had a story to tell about what happened to them when they lived there and what they did and how they pulled it off and when they left or why they stayed. Because back in the day (and I think this still holds true), if you wanted to be an actor, you went to New York City and did theater and then you went to California.
The question remains: What is "my New York City story"? Maybe what I should ask is: Where is "my New York City" in the first place?
This place is not the Emerald City that I dreamed of. That was a fantasy. It’s not the toilet filled with human excrement that overwhelmed me in the early 90s when I got here, either. That was reality then. The city is basically becoming a Jersey strip mall, filled with long-term tourists and short-term students. Something in me wants to get it overwith, go to graduate school and leave when I’m done. But I live in a wonderful section of Harlem, one that most people have never heard of. (Thank God.) My neighborhood doesn’t seem to be going down as quickly as the rest of the city. Things are getting pricey up here, though. Everyone is already running for the Bronx.
I want to leave but where would I go? How do you leave New York City? Once you’ve spent a certain amount of time here, I’m not sure that it’s entirely possible. I like Harlem, though. It's easy to understand why it was (and to some, it still is) the cultural capital of Black America.
Everything here is easier to stomach when you have a cool place to live. The reason why living alone in a Harlem apartment is such a luxury is because most of them have everything that a proper home should, besides a room to sleep in: a living room, a dining room, a foyer. A kitchen to sit and eat in. Closet space. Space, period. No small wonder – it was created for people with money and class. You can see the opulent remnants everywhere. The way most of the buildings have elevators and marble lobbies and chandeliers. The beautiful parks. The wide walkways that let you stroll. The lower east side, on the other hand, was built for the steady stream of immigrants who lived like lemmings in walk-ups with everything in one room.
Someone had the genius idea to turn my place into a two bedroom set-up, so I’m basically sleeping in what was the dining room. I’m rearranging everything, cleaning everything, throwing things away. It's spring cleaning in December. It's also a New Year's Eve tradition but why wait until the last minute? Time to make those end-of-the-year tax write-off donations to charitable organizations like The Salvation Army and Furnish-A-Future.
My little bachelorette pad, filled with Super 8 equipment and art books and framed lobby cards and mah jong bakelite jewelry, is somewhere underneath it all.