Our trans monogamist columnist, Joshua Byron, is throwing a release party for their new book, “NB Carrie Bradshaw” tonight at Babycastles in Manhattan. The book is a collection of short essays about growing up, life, love in the big city, and much more — with lots of stuff about Bushwick you may identity with.
Below is an excerpt. We hope you like it as much as we do.
New York is a central whirlpool, the kind of place that feeds and consumes all that come near it. It also begins to feel insufferably small the longer you live here. The storefronts on 14th street begin to feel like the pedestrian Midwestern malls I grew up with. It’s remarkable only in how quickly it becomes your only reference point. The small towns of the South, Midwest, and country become quaintly small. You feel only the massiveness of buildings. Buildings, fashion, smells, subways.
This is altogether the same romance that artists crave from New York. To claim it as their own. To be a New Yorker, although the common verbiage or what I heard early on was that five years means you live in New York and ten means you are a New Yorker.
The Upper East Side becomes the part of town you never go to- the Lower East Side the land of the club kids and college kids. The neighborhoods of Brooklyn become the places everyone moved after graduation. Bushwick is hot this season, we say. Crown Heights. New York is a story of gentrification, money, history.
Whenever, wherever you are in New York, you will hear: It isn’t how it was…
You will learn what areas were what. New York stirs the 50s and 60s back into existence. There are swing halls, romances, monuments, public parks, demonstrations en masse, essayists, parties with champagne. But also- cocaine, large amounts of crime, death, wild alarmist crime reports, and all the dark stories you could ever want. Barbra Streisand is big here. Everyone remembers the 50s and 60s as the time theatre was grimy but holy.
The New York of the 90s is also here- the remnants of Seinfeld are everywhere. Soup shops, cinemas, the bakeries, hair-brained schemes, tamer thirty-year olds cynical of everything. The Sex and the City businessmen worth dating, club openings, rich women, they are here too. Only in Manhattan. Only above 34th.
But you also taste the disappointment of the twentysomethings- the ones who watched SATC and failed to gather enough social capital to become the cultural tourist they wanted to be. The ones who found men who wanted to make families in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Texas, Chicago, LA. The ones who are drunk every week, saying they’ll write something or paint next week. Or the ones who do, but feel ready to give up and move somewhere cheaper- Philly, Rochester, Buffalo. Most artists are leaving or saying they will soon. Almost everyone seems mad, bitter, sad. Like something was lost after gentrification drove up the Brooklyn rent to nearly unaffordable even for semi-mobile college graduates. Worse, they are now conscious of who they are displacing and feel awkward and guilty they cannot seemingly make structural change to what they are quickly becoming a part of. It is hard to tell if they actually care or must now put on masks of caring.
Coked out poets, sad momcore musicians, angry boys who write “serious fiction” about the end of the era of David Foster Wallace. Everyone here wants something and simultaneously thinks it is impossible to achieve anything. The best they can think is that something will go viral and give them a moment of pleasure. Every party is a moment to ask someone to put something up on their website or tweet their art. The folks who watched Girls are here now, but more fucked up, more conscious, sadder, and slightly more private with their private finstas, private twitters, and password protected tumblrs.
Freelancers are the other breed that is formed in the depths of North Brooklyn. They thrive on gentrified coffee chains and gourmet croissants. Bad daters, they are fiercely ready to tackle the overworked spirit of think-pieces, coding, and nebulous internet jobs like social media campaigner, optics managers, and for-hire website design.
You’re weepy or overworked. Afraid of the future and too well-read to write anything.
My block is a sleepy one. Tree-lined and full of brownstones. Latinx families and groups of white folks with roommates haunt the bodegas.
When you first get off the subway you see the pigeons gathering in what forms a sort of square. One corner is a large high-rise of apartments, the other where cars drop off subway-riders or police cars camp out. The organic bodega spouts tomatoes, avocados, and fresh produce galore- and cheap rolls for your own sandwiches. The guacamole is $5 and lasts only one night- but is certainly fresher than what you find at Key Foods.
As you go on you see the overpriced Chicken store, the rumblings of gentrification in a coffeeshop chain with ludicrously priced triple lattes ($7) that me and my friend Shelby have sworn off for its terrible influence. Something small we do to superficially feel better. The mailshop. A loud zealous church in a small storefront. Two less obnoxious coffee/bars where more locals hangout by candlelight and eat buffalo mac’n’cheese with jalapenos ($10). One of these is where I meet Shy almost weekly to drink coffee and demean the boys who date us.
Onward you find the barber and my bodega with an almost palling light and a healthy amount of men buying beer and talking in a calming rhythm about god knows what. I pet the cat whenever I see her. She licks my hand first to know that I am not going to play a joke. I doubt anyone plays a joke on her though, she is a goddess to the owners: Mice.
Then we are on my block. Families. Women, mostly. Cars. Washing to be done. The laundromat playing the Pope’s benedictions. The rumble of a dozen washers.
I’ve stopped wearing headphones every time I walk. I feel more at ease in New York even as most would assume the opposite. I feel more curious, more absorptive, more artistic. I am gathering the sights. I am balancing my life out. I am zen. I am open (mu) to everything. I am Nick Carraway watching everything unfold. Joan Didion crouching and listening, not smoking hash but still in the room. What’s this? What’s that? I want to be important. Or, I want to feel important.
I vacillate between wanting to be the cardboard in the rain and the model on the runway. The cellophane around cigarettes, so honest, and the cigarette itself, the sleekness of power and symbol.
Here, they are almost indistinguishable.
The neurotic persona is key to power, fame, influence. One must be radically open in the right way on the right timetable to achieve anything. L.A. is for the slick, New York is for the purely sick. We come here for a community of ragtag, highstrung, angry, sad weirdos and uptight pricks with impeccable taste. We want the same thing from our lovers as the city- twinkling lights of domination and masochism. The right kind of domination seems far-off though once we wade through the assholes who only accept obscure music or painting as art. Yet, we also don’t like the neurotic capitalists driving their money-shit onto us as we are barely making rent. The Williamsburg versus Bushwick debacle. The xx versus Brockhampton. The weird versus the truly weird.
New York is the story of everything you have ever wanted being two blocks away but being too tired to go, or you can’t afford it, but you feel oddly at ease. Or you don’t.
Either- you achieve the things you want and feel that you are being swept into a narrative or you feel that it is a dismal spot of assholes, cocaine, and fear.
One of the first people I met while in the City was Jaclyn, a Bennington-graduated nanny. She seemed so full of life at this party- the natural cynic. We got tequila and joked around about sex but when I saw her again after she’d avoided my calls for so long- she was talking of moving out.
“It’s too expensive, it’s so dirty, it’s unsafe… and I could just move in with my parents”
It’s the story of money. Not only are jobs dissolving and harder to climb to but we also don’t care. We don’t believe in any mythology, no endgame, no winning. We only believe in a slow decline. Either you believe it is because of capitalism or because of anti-capitalism. The Left or the Right are ruining America. Maybe America never was, the anti-capitalists say. Maybe America was gone before I was born, the right says. Then they hail cabs, walk by you, give in. Everyone sees the Inquisition and says it is out of their hands.
The escape from New York narrative arose around the time that I began seriously contemplating moving here. So much so that reviews of New York by St. Vincent found music bloggers reflecting on the thinkpieces spawned by the “trope of leaving New York”. Even Hannah Horvath left her overpriced Greenpoint apartment.
Thinkpieces warned me not to move here, that I would regret it and that it was a grimy place not for the faint of heart. My professor for video art that year had just left the City as well, because of catcalls. Yet I believed in the narrative of signs and felt that it was calling me even as the world seemed apocalyptic around me.
The night Trump was elected I was with one of my lesbian friends and thought I loved her, she wanted to dance, a woman called me famous, and I couldn’t drive the car up onto the highway. I thought I couldn’t get onto the curve- that we would fall off. Gravity wasn’t real. The unthinkable left me numb for weeks. I had panic attacks of police raids. And the police did eventually come to my house on a noise complaint due to a noise art show at my apartment.
I was dressed to the nines and scared for my life. My ex had texted me he was taking over the courthouse. Pence was promoted.
My parents were worried about terrorist attacks if I moved. And there have been. A car drove and killed many people. A failed bomb went off at Times Square.
I thought that it was the end of the world for a while in early 2017. But here we are. And my, how many times has the world ended now? At least five in my lifetime.
The fires in California are not the first. And not that things don’t progress, but the world has always been ending. We just may be closer along in the cycle.
All the gays are awful, says every gay. You are what is wrong with the gay community, the gays say.
I am good at finding people who are introverted and becoming their one friend. Then I make them into a vague community.
Everyone here is so cynical. Which I get. When I walked with Jordan and her friends down the way we bantered and it felt very Seinfeldian. I am Elaine. I am that privileged white girl with existential angst who needs to rid herself of vanity but struggles to do so. Who loves to talk to be heard.
Here it is easy to know that the center does not hold as Auden and Didion have said, that the end is near. LA may be the Hellmouth but here you can sense the languid melancholy. The idea that not you but everyone is special. I remember as a highschooler viciously arguing in English class with a Christian boy. He said we are all made special individually and I argued that meant no one was special. He kept chuckling as if I didn’t understand a dirty joke. I want to know the answer. If we are all begging to be the next Joan Didion, Carrie Bradshaw, Julia Child, Oprah, Issa Rae, and so on- then who are we? Are we only found in relation to those that found themselves? If we are all trying to speak for our generation then aren’t we a collective of disembodied voices all trying to talk over the others? Chaos has receded into vigorous discourse. There is only one aesthetic: millennial pink. Rose gold. Booming drums. Reverb. The likes, the shares. If we only share our own lives there is nothing to share. We are alone in the internet with our 12 twitter followers.
Transcendence is not fame. It is, perhaps, an audience.
I remember distinctly staring at the blue screen of a Norwegian documentary on Janis Joplin at midnight in high school. I want that.
I want that.