New York City, You Are Enough for Me

Why I’m Staying in the Midst of a Mass Exodus

Photo: Andee Scarantino

“I’m not doing what I came here to do.”

That was what my friend said to me. He came to New York to pursue a career in music, but he wasn’t doing that. He was like a lot of people when he came to the city, young and ambitious, and chasing a dream. Years passed, and he hadn’t invested as much into his passions as he wanted to.

Then, in the middle of the pandemic, his landlord decided not to renew the lease, and he wondered if he should throw in the towel and move back “home,” like so many other people were doing, or if he should find a new place. The latter meant that he would be moving into a new living situation without a job, in a tough market to find one.

I’d been hearing this for weeks from people, regarding leaving the city. They “didn’t do what they came to do,” and “what’s the point of staying?” It was eating at me, but I wasn’t sure why. It was like every time someone said it, they were punching me in the gut.

It had nothing to do with the other people, really. I figured this out early. I wrote a thousand times on social media that the other people had nothing to do with my feelings, but everyone who decided to leave still took it that way. They read in my words that I thought less of them.

Their actions were a part of my feelings, but they, as individuals, were not. I was happy that they were doing what was best for them. I couldn’t describe my inner conflict.

There’s “no opportunity here now,” they would say. “Things won’t be good for a while.” “I don’t want to struggle.”

When they said these things, I just felt this pain, like I would for an ailing spouse or a crying partner. I felt a great loss for New York, and abandonment for a place I loved that was suffering.

See, all of us here live in a different “New York City.” Every person lives within their own microcosm. Someone once told me that New York City really is “the biggest small town.” I don’t remember who that was, so, I’m sorry about that.

Within the last few months, I saw most of what is my “New York” disappear. I lost my job, and even though they promise it will return, I do not believe it will.

The bar where I spent five nights a week throughout my 20’s will not reopen. It was the one place in the city where I could walk in and see someone I knew at any hour of the day, even after I stopped drinking. I was a regular there for over 11 years.

I visited there twice following their closure to see workers tear down what it took the owners a full year to build. I saw their lives’ work be piled into a few trucks; watched memories of my own coming of age be stripped from the walls with the light fixtures.

Many restaurants where I spent time with friends, laughing together, sharing joy, likely will be gone for good.

Talented performers who poured their souls into the arts for years are now stuck struggling, with no hope for renewed employment. Some wait tables outdoors on hot, city streets with rats periodically running near their feet over the floors of makeshift dining alcoves.

I experienced the sorrow as the owner of the Gem Spa watched workers tear down their iconic sign, the business her family owned for decades; It was on the corner of St. Mark’s and 2nd for nearly 100 years. I remember the day it happened. I took a few photos, almost feeling guilty to document the upset; A time capsule dismantled and the pieces headed for auction.

Photo: Andee Scarantino

I know why I came to New York. I originally wanted to work in television. After investing four years of my life moving toward that goal, I eventually realized television wasn’t for me. New York City was for me, though, so I moved here anyway.

New York became “home.” I created a life for myself with people that became my family. Places, where we spent time, became as comfortable as your living room would be.

Times Square, where I worked for almost 12 years, is part of my New York. I worked eight New Year’s Eve celebrations. I’ve experienced the confetti falling like rain on the crowds below at the stroke of midnight, watching tear-filled lovers kiss and hug one another under the glow of the glass orb.

The bodega on 2nd avenue, where I go to buy Hal’s seltzer water and ice cream is a part of my New York. I’ve been saying hello to the same kind man in that bodega for a decade.

There are so many reasons I love New York.

I love my morning run along the East River, and following, a fresh bagel with lox and onion…

I love the sound of the automated voice on the train saying “this is Tiiiimes Square, 42nd St. Transfer is available to — ”

I cherish my brilliant friends and the fact that they unapologetically say what they mean and mean what they say, just like everyone here.

What means the most to me, though, is that living in New York City is being a part of something greater than yourself. We’re fiercely individualistic, but we care about one another deeply, and the whole of our collective well-being. You don’t have to ask us to wear masks- we do it because we want to- because we want one another to be here in a year’s time.

Photo: Andee Scarantino

I figured out that what really was hurting me about the New York exodus was the fact that for so many people, New York City, a place I loved, just “wasn’t enough.”

These people didn’t hold the unconditional love for New York that I had. For me, just existing here was enough. I could be myself, intellectually, physically, sexually, emotionally…. I was more real and human in New York City than any place imaginable.

During the pandemic, when Americans in other places felt isolated from humanity and terrified by the assault from the news media, I walked through streets with messages of hope and expression; signs reminding me of our resilience as people.

Photo: Andee Scarantino

The voices of the other New Yorkers, even if they were only written on the sidewalk, reminded me that there was a reason to get through another day. At the beginning of the pandemic, one person in my neighborhood began drawing hearts on the sidewalk. They still do it, five months later.

New York is enough for me. New York is my home, and like so many other people in other parts of the country would not abandon their homes, I won’t abandon mine.

Photo: Andee Scarantino

“I just want to be clear,” I finally responded to my friend. “You don’t need a reason to live in New York other than you like living in New York. If New York makes you happy, then that is enough of a reason to stay here

You don’t need a special job to stay here. You don’t need to have “achieved something by a certain time.” You don’t need to have any criteria rattled off from an arbitrary list written by some influencer on social media whose rich father pays her rent.

All you need is unconditional love for this beautiful place.

I’m an unconventional thinker with quick wit. Coach. Sociologist. Mindset shift guru. Creator of and the Get The F*ck Off Podcast

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