11 November 2007

Je t’aime, moi non plus

Give me your ... oh, just give me whatever you’ve got

I’m in New York these days. The city was my home for 21 years. I was just a boy when I came here, like so many another oppressed refugee, dragging a battered suitcase and a fabulous faux-Empire sofa. I was tired, poor, hungry, and so I gave myself to New York, because that’s what you do, that’s what you’re supposed to do. It says so, right at the base of the Statue of Liberty. “Give me,” she says, so I gave.

I would tell you that New York was my fickle mistress, and the metaphor would be original — and yet it’s a cliché, because everybody else who ever lived here has had exactly the same impression of the city. New York is beautiful and loving, harsh and indifferent, never quite attainable. Always, to everybody, forever. You got a problem with that?

The city is richer than it used to be, which only makes the New York mistress a bigger bitch than ever. She is overrun with tourists who don’t understand her but who pay her handsomely. It appears that, while I’ve been living abroad, everybody else was making pots of money. And I’m no longer sure where I belong in this town, or whether.

Walking around downtown with Randy Partain (making his virgin exploration of the world’s capital), I groused and swore like a grizzled veteran of the urban battle, lamenting the lost and fallen monuments and decrying the monstrosities that rose to take their sacred places. And then the nostalgia: here I danced, here I dined, here I loved. E.B. White once observed that history has been made on every inch of New York. Something has happened everywhere here. And at this point, there’s hardly an inch remaining where I haven’t made some part of my own history, as well.

It is as if I never left, Feldstein said. And yet I find myself straining to remember the names and locations of old haunts. I’ve been away for so long — three years. I am home and yet not home, here and yet not here. And as always, the city sails serenely above my longing and confusion.