A couple of nights ago at the dinner table I asked my wife to tell me the one thing she missed most about living in New York City. She told me what it was, then she asked me the same question. We chatted a bit about how our life had changed in the two years since we moved to the suburbs. Then we got up and cleared the table.
A day or two passed and I was thinking about our conversation when I realized that I couldn’t recall what it was she’d told me was the one thing she missed the most about living in the city. I thought and thought but it just wouldn’t come back to me. I was stumped.
Worse, I couldn’t remember what I had said was the thing I missed the most, either.
Concerned that maybe I was losing my short-term memory, or that we’d been married so long that our relationship was blurring into one, long, impossible-to-recall conversation, I re-asked her the question. I may have made a mistake by bringing it up right before we settled into bed because, although she dutifully told me, again, what the one thing was that she missed the most about living in the city, as I type this now I can’t remember what she said.
I have tried and tried to relive the conversation, to place myself in that mental moment in hopes that the memory would reveal itself. But I got nothing.
What does that mean? Could it be that I wasn’t really interested in the answer? Or that what she said was not nearly as compelling as I expected it would be? If it was really a great and exciting thing—cocktails with the Seinfelds at Eleven Madison Park—it would have stuck with me, right?
Ah, yes, how could I forget my first Momofuku vinegar pickle. Wasn’t that the night we saw Lou Reed spill Raisinettes in the lobby of the Angelika? I miss that life.
If you live for a long time in a place, especially a place as full of food and movies and politics and people and the arts as New York City, you’re supposed to be capable of fulminating about at least one uniquely New York thing that you’d give your left arm to have again in your life—but usually in your mouth: a particular slice of pizza, an H&H bagel, catfish and grits at Red Rooster. Ex-New Yorkers in Los Angeles and Miami are forever going on about how much they miss strolling the High Line or shopping at Barney’s.
But I got nothing.
I am pleased to report that I did ultimately remember, after several days of rumination, what it was I’d said was the thing I missed the most about living in the city. “The ability to walk to work,” is what I said. That was what I missed most about living in the city.
Now, walking to work is a fine thing, walking anywhere is a fine thing, but is it really what a sane person would say they missed most about living on the island of Manhattan, the most vibrant, pulsating, culturally robust, visually stimulating, and desired patch on the planet earth? Walking to work? We lived there for 10 years. Surely there is something else.
I didn’t even walk to work that often. And when I did, I’m sure I complained about it.
In truth, there were a billion little things that I really loved about living in New York City. Subtle treats: the way the afternoon sun settles between the buildings on the West Side during certain parts of the year; the exhilaration of sitting in the back of a taxi at night, watching the bright lights fly by as you careen up an avenue; sushi at 1 a.m; running in Central Park…
(…wait a minute. That’s it! Running in Central Park! That’s what she said was the one thing she missed the most about living in New York City. Phew!)
In the end, however, those billion little things that we loved about living in the city, no matter how glorious they maybe were, no matter how inspiring and enticing they must have been, didn’t outweigh the one big thing that led us to leave: the city is no place to raise a family.
I know many people who would disagree with that. These are the die-hard-never-gonna-leave-what-is-there-to-do-in-Jersey types. Some of them have money. Some of them don’t. Some of them are impossibly hip. Some of them are just regular dingbats like me. Some of them, quite frankly, are trapped, either by financial circumstances or a lack of imagination about the alternatives. They fear that raising their kids in the suburbs will result in a string of debilitating lacrosse accidents.
My guess, though, is that absolutely none of these devoted urbanists have any idea how raising their kids in the city is actually going to work out. Their kids could end up like the Hilton sisters, or Lady Gaga, running around at night from club to club and bar to bar and smoking $25 packs of cigarettes with tall skinny boys from the Lycee Francaise. Or they could end up like Franny and Zooey, turning moldy in a room full of tattered books and stacks of yellowed newspapers, waiting for snow to melt so they can mush to the grocery store for a package of Rice Krispies and some marshmallows.
Unless you got bucks—BIG BUCK$—the city is a tough place to keep young kids entertained. We couldn’t justify forcing three of them to share a room while suffering bad schools, bad air, and bad manners. Our last apartment sat virtually on top of the Second Avenue subway construction project. This ever-expanding underground monstrosity, which continues to hurl bricks through front windows along what I then called “the crater’s edge,” gobbled everything in its path and inspired a plague of creepy crawlies to invade our apartment, giving my wife literal fits and figurative palpitations.
Come to think of it, that’s maybe why she spent so much time running in Central Park.
The long and short of it is that I wouldn’t move back the city now even if we could afford it. The kids live a far healthier and fulfilling existence in the allegedly soul-deadening suburbs than we could ever have dreamed of providing for them in the big, bustling city. Probably the reason why I couldn’t come up with anything terribly noteworthy to miss about living there, and why I couldn’t find a way to remember my wife’s affection for running in the park, is that life is so much better for us now.
I know we’re supposed to miss it, but we don’t. We really don’t.