The clock is ticking here in Busytown. In just a week, we're leaving Manhattan and moving north. Only one and a half hours up the line, but to a much smaller town where, instead of simply stepping out the front door and saying "Bring it on!", we'll have to learn to make our own entertainment again. Like we used to. I’m sure it will all come back to me.
Living here is its own entertainment. The city has a way of coming right up to meet you, and then some: trespassing on your borders until it’s in you as much as you’re in it. If there’s a soundtrack to life here, it’s not Frank bombastically spreading the news, but The Jam -- “In the city there’s a thousand things I wanna say to you” -- or the Blams, “Don’t Fight it Marsha, it’s Bigger than Both of Us,” or the Ramones cover of that old John Denver schmaltzfest, Annie’s Song: “You! Fill! Up! My! Senses! Comefillmeagain!” (this last one tragically never recorded, nor indeed, as far as I know, performed).
It’s really in your face. You don’t need a big red arrow on a map to tell you: You Are Here. And then you leave, and the space where you were closes over immediately -- or is filled by a fresh-faced new arrival whose delighted gaze will descend, over the course of a year or two, from the lovely heights of the buildings and their stately water towers, to the gritty street, just as their first weeks and months of epic roving travels across the five boroughs eventually diminishing to maybe ten blocks in each direction. Even in the city, we’re all villagers to the end.
And yet to be a villager here is to be a citizen of something other than the nation the city is ostensibly part of. You’re an inhabitant of an idea, an experiment in mass civility. For the duration, anyhow. The city is yours, but you were never its; leaving is a one-sided breakup where you move out with a suitcase and the lover keeps everything.
I’m anticipating a period of, shall we say, adjustment. Maybe a year or so.
There are lots of helpful books about moving to the city, but not so many about how to leave it (fiction seems to be the preferred medium, or memoirs about the newly discovered joys of rural life). I’ve been looking for house-moving books suitable for Busytot, and found one particularly galling one in which a little girl and her dog move from a perfect little Rockwell town to the dark satanic metropolis, which they eventually come to love. What-evah! Of course they do. What’s not to love?! We need the opposite book, but it doesn’t seem to exist, the presumed desirability of small towns not being in question.
In the end, I made do with a Berenstain Bears number, in which the bears move from a small dark cave (come to think of it, not unlike our first New York apartment -- where the sun only shone between March and November, a sliver of light on the wall, there and gone in half an hour) to a truly spectacular turreted treehouse with a special room for Small Bear. I hope our small bear is not disappointed when he sees that his new house is merely a common or garden gingerbread Victorian with dormer windows and a detached tree out the back.
But life is change, and change is good. We’re not so much losing a metropolis as gaining a back yard, proximity to the ocean, and a kitchen almost as large as our last apartment. In fair exchange for bucolia, neighbourliness and fresh air, Busytot will have to wait all week to see his beloved garbage truck. On the other hand, no longer will I look up from the keyboard at eleven each evening, hearken to the infernal graunching and smashing noises from the street below and say, as I do every evening, "Ooh, eleven o'clock garbage truck, time for bed.” Our own little Lullaby of Broadway (more catchy versions here)... It drives me crazy, and I’ll miss it so.
And anyway, we’ll be back, now and again. Last year I was lucky enough to catch a one-woman play by Susana Lei'ataua (perhaps best know as a star of The Strip). Susana, who moves between New York, New Zealand, and London, has a stellar stage presence, and her poetic, impressionistic semi-autobiographical narrative of a woman living in a small East Village apartment far from home was riveting. "The old will be new again on the return journey," went the refrain that opened and closed the performance, and as someone on a sort of open return ticket, I think I know what she meant.