Tuesday, September 6, 2011

If These Streets Could Talk

This is a letter I recently sent to a dear friend, one of the only people I've met who loves great cities the way I do.

I think a transplant's zeal for a place like Brooklyn at a time like this is a tough thing for a native New Yorker to embrace (and tougher for one with reason to look suspiciously upon the heaps of privilege that have done so much to make the place what it now is). I suppose some kid from Des Moines who drops anchor in Pilsen and after a year starts "repping" the South Side... well, that might piss me off, too.

But try to embrace the good side of the mania that overtakes a newcomer to that incredible place (Brooklyn and all the rest of it)--and grasp that, like most good things, its full self emerges with maturity, despite the fact that its nascent stage makes even the most patient among us cringe and disavow a place that rightly stains our lungs and spleen just a bit because it tears up our hearts like it does.

Let me tell you something about being young and moving to a place and getting knocked on your ass for love of it, and then getting kicked into the dirt of the familiar soil and gum stains and pot holes of your old home. (And no, I'm not talking about how I couldn't afford to stay in New York right now; I'm talking about living there for half a summer at age 21 and then having to move back to the drab old Midwest.) The thing is, it grabs you, that New Place, and it shakes you and it screams in your face, sometimes in open defiance of prudence and some of your own desires:

"This is your home now."

And maybe you should listen to it.

Shit, I did.

But for those of us who can love a city at least as much as any one person and it may be fair to say more, part of the pain of loving and losing, is a perceived loss of the old love, the old city--yours, with its lopsided oddities and its grided symetries and its boarded-up squats and its eight and one half million takers of the human pulse.

Coming back after you've breathed new air, smelled new funk, walked at a different pace, can take everything that once irked about your long-time home, and make it ache.

I know, because I've been exactly there. About 800 miles west of exactly there.

But those young souls who scream Brooklyn from the rooftops... they're you and me and every kid who's had their world spun in circles by getting lost on gorgeous new streets and marching to a different drum. Most of them sped up. You slowed down when you made your Pilgrimage to New Orleans. But you're them and they're you and nobody keeps the perfect time til they've practiced the dance for a while.

Cities don't care as much as the people in them may, about promiscuity. You can have two. (Shit, I think you can probably have five or six that are close to your heart... and I aim to, one day.) But it takes time to set that up. It takes some physical travel back and forth. For me, it took some healing from the shock of the first burn of head-over-heels and the yank back to the grind of day-to-day in the land of thicker pizza and a big lake instead of an ocean, before I felt right again. And you need to feel right again with both places to be able to love either the way you should.

It'll happen.

And let me say this, too: I know this is about more than two collections of buildings and intersections and sidewalks and bridges. I know there are individual people and I know there is love. And I know that's as important to these cities as trash on the sidewalk and rats on the subway tracks and po' boys and open front doors leaking dueling notes and chords.

All that interpersonal stuff, though, you'll navigate all that just fine. I can't speak to all that right now.

I don't feel it's my place.

I love you.