1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-One: New York

I’m actually writing this in New York; I’m currently loitering at a hotel near Penn Station, in room that looks like the nicest dorm suite at NYU and can hear the street noise rising up to my windows. It’s surprisingly nice white noise, although history reminds me that sometimes it’s just noise, and loud. It’s New York. Whaddya gonna do.

I picked New York as a subject for this series not just because I happen to be in it today but also because in many ways it’s an emblematic town for me, one that especially in the last twenty years is tied intimately to my professional life. When I was a freelancer a lot of my gigs came from a marketing company rather pointedly located on Madison Avenue; now as a novelist Tor books is currently located at the iconic Flatiron building, although not for much longer, alas. I come here regularly on tour and to do events like Book Expo America and New York Comic Con. I have a ton of friends here, as well as compatriots in publishing. More than any other major city in the US — even LA, in whose suburbs I grew up, or Chicago, where I went to college — this town has a direct influence on my day to day life.

Also, weirdly, it’s still a town that doesn’t feel completely real to me. Unlike LA or Chicago, I’ve never lived in New York; I’ve spent at most three or four days in it at a time. That’s enough time in aggregate to start to get a feel for a place but not enough time for it to become a place that feels grounded. I’ve never had a daily life here — I’ve never had to pay bills or do grocery shopping or deal with plumbing here. For those reasons (and others like it) New York still feels like a special, different, place to me. Magical? I don’t know about magical. Too much vague urine smell for magical. But as they say, there’s no place like it.

It’s also the city people think of when they think of writers; for good reason, since most of big-league publishing is here and I suspect roughly half of Brooklyn lists “writer” as their profession on their tax forms, and another quarter are probably editors, agents and other citizens of the publishing world. When I visit I feel like I’m visiting the home office, as it were. A place where if you say you’re a writer you get a look that says “well, obviously you are, we all are” instead of “how do you manage to eat?” or just a polite blank stare that suggests the person never considered it a profession at all.

I’m not sure that means I would ever want to actually move here, however. I kind of like having NYC be a special “sometimes” place for me, a place to visit and be familiar with, but never bored of or irritated at. A place where it’s still exciting to come out of Penn Station, look down 34th street and see the Empire State Building and go, oh, hey, it’s actually a thing that exists in the world. I’ll let my friends who live in NYC be blase about it. I’m happy to go the other direction. And I’m happy to still be happy to be in town.

(That said: New York style pizza? Eh. It’s okay, I guess. There, the requisite fighting words have been said. We can move on to other things now.)

22 Comments on “1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-One: New York”

  1. I don’t really have a dog in the pizza race. I like pizza with Canadian bacon and pineapple, deep-dish pizza, thin-crust, BBQ chicken, just about any pizza made with decent ingredients. I guess I’m just a big-tent pizza kinda guy.

  2. I feel the same way about NYC (“too busy, too craaaaazy”). It never quite seems real, no matter how many times I take the subway or wander through Central Park. I keep expecting to find Jerry Orbach examining a body, or notice Cary Grant waiting anxiously at the Empire State Building. No other American City has that iconic feel – and I live in Chicago! So you know whose side I’m on in the pizza battle. Uno for the win.

    By the way, the flying cats header photo is the BEST.

  3. Pizza is pizza. I mean, a friend of mine told me they had “enchiladas” that were made with BROWN GRAVY as the sauce! Show me anyone making pizza with GRAVY and I’ll swing in with mu torch and pitchfork.

  4. It always drives my wife crazy that when people (including friends of ours) coming to New York, most of the time they stay in Midtown Manhattan, which is NOT the New York natives (or incomers) live in, for the most part, It’s noisier, it’s dirtier, there are a lot more begging homeless people, and it is a LOT more expensive. Trust me. Come to the far ends of Brooklyn and no you will not mistake it for rural Ohio, but it is a whole other city, much closer to the suburbs so many are used to than the concrete canyons of Midtown. We have trees! And free parking (granted, yes, alternate side still too)! And parks! And restaurants you don’t need a second mortgage for, not to mention a reservation months in advance. I am NOT talking Williamsburg here, but real, below the line Brooklyn. I can’t speak as much for the other outer boroughs (I last lived in Queens when I was 9), but I’m sure the same holds for at least a part of each of them, even The Bronx.

  5. I grew up in Manhattan, and spent a few years across the street from a hospital and 2 blocks from a fire station, above a major avenue. When I reached my 20s and lived someplace where I needed a driver’s license, I discovered that it’s all white noise to me – including sirens! I had a few incidents of fire trucks practically climbing over my car before I learned to turn on my “siren-hearing” when I get in my car.

    Enjoy your stay in my home town.

  6. My grandmother made *the* _best_ deep dish pizza so I’ll always be partial to it. But I prefer to make my pizza at home. It always comes out better than anything you can buy.

  7. So here I am recommending your books to my 8-year-old son, who is starting to love reading science fiction, and you have to go and throw down the gauntlet to him about pizza. I will endeavour to assure him that one’s taste in pizza is not indicative of one’s worth and quality as a writer. (I am a Virginian originally, so I am rather agnostic on this particular theological debate — ham, slaw, and barbecue, on the other hand. . .)

  8. As a native New Yorker (the state, not the city), there was a time when thems woulda been fightin’ words. But then I lived in St. Louis, where the pizza is decidedly NOT “pizza” and the war between deep-dish vs NY thin-crust is like an argument between best friends while St Louis is like East Germany back in the day. (Seriously… that’s a cracker, not pizza dough; they invented Provel for the express purpose of getting rid of the stringiness of Mozarella (!!); and what’s this with cutting it in SQUARES?!?!?!)

  9. I lived in Brooklyn for almost a decade, bookended by living in San Francisco and a brief stay in the ancestral homeland (Ohio, about an hour from our host’s digs).

    I am a city person, and NYC rarely felt overwhelming. But it managed to, sometimes, something no other city I’ve been to seems to be able to do to me. I love the place, but probably because I moved to SF after college, it became home, and I came back and decided this moving cross-country every decade thing was maybe a habit I should break.

    It is funny going back to visit – the feel, the architecture, even some of the people are the same. And yet so much changes – one of the neighborhoods I used to live in is all but unrecognizable now. It really is that consistent vitality that is somehow like nowhere else.

    And Grimaldi’s is the best pizza in Brooklyn, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  10. I prefer thin-crust to deep-dish pizza, but YMMV. No big deal here.

    I’m not in the publishing industry, and I have only been to NYC half a dozen times in my life. I don’t feel I know the place, and in particular I find the subway system baffling. Tracks whose signs say Uptown prove to have trains running downtown, and vice versa.

    I’m far more familiar with, comfortable in, and know my way around, better in London than NYC, despite my being an American.

  11. From June 1968 to June 1969 I lived in New York while at my first job out of college. I lived in a fifth (5th) floor rent controlled ($72/month) walk up that to get in required I climb over what we now call homeless street people, but then just called drunks and through a urine filled hallway. This was on Columbus Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets. For you non New Yorkers, this meant I lived in the Upper West Side and less then a block over from Central Park. About 3 blocks way there was (and still is) a building called “The Dakota” on 72nd Street at the corner of Central Park West. These apartments were another world altogether housing people such as Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Rudolph Nureyev, and Judy Garland. There was another young guy who lived in the Dakota a few years later – John Lennon. I know it’s different now, but there was a time when all kinds of people lived in proximity and you never knew who you would see on the street.

  12. The thing I always hated about New York is that you’re never alone. I was always surrounded by endless crowds.
    The thing that made me roll my eyes about New Yorkers was that they considered New Jersey a wilderness and nothing west of there was real until you got to LA.

  13. Incidentally, I have been known to make a pizza with brown gravy. We sometimes make a poutine pizza as a special treat for the kids. Partially pre-bake the crust, add bacon, tater tots, brown gravy and cheese curds and finish baking. Yum!

  14. We sometimes make a poutine pizza as a special treat for the kids. Partially pre-bake the crust, add bacon, tater tots, brown gravy and cheese curds and finish baking. Yum!

    In the immortal words of Emo Philips: Die, heretic!

  15. I’m an editor, but I’ve only once worked for a company with offices in New York (since relocated to Hoboken), and I was only there on business a handful of times, but boy, I really felt like I was In Publishing (capitalization intentional) when I did it. I think you can get much of the same feel in Philly, or Boston, or Chicago, but New York is the mother ship.

  16. Ah, the most wonderful thing about leaving Penn Station: No longer being in Penn Station.

    I’ve been doing some work in the Berkshires and, over the summer, Amtrak’s Empire Service ran into Grand Central because of track work. I nearly cried when they switched back.

    ps: It’s Grand Central *Terminal*. GC Station is the post office!

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