I have lived in New York City for 11 years now and in New York State my whole life. I grew up in southern Westchester, just a stone’s throw north of the Bronx. My family did not live in a small town, it was technically a little city encircled by suburbs. And both of my parents were New York City kids, which affected how we lived our suburban life: in suspicion of pretty much everyone and their squirrels. My parents spent many years cultivating a well-worn indifference to the majority of our neighbors. So, I never experienced the suffocation and acute yearning caused by growing up in a true one-horse town. It was that one lost year I spent in upstate New York that I felt the first miserable tickle of these creepy crawly town-averse tendencies. This Christmas we went to an Inn in New Hampshire. We spent two days there. It snowed and it was really very traditionally lovely, but that awful sensation welled up again:
It began with coffee that has that halo of watery weakness along the top rim, then came the ugly New England sweaters, turtle-necks, beer guts and typical pleasantries. It all makes me irrationally sick. Even two days of the same chubby judgemental Innkeeper knowing when I swish open and closed the Inn door irritates the shit out of me. Is it too much to ask that you ignore me? I don’t like it that someone is cleaning our room who is probably a cousin of the owner, who now knows we didn’t make the bed or that we have a bottle of Drambuie and an expensive camera in our room. I imagine the townspeople looking me up and down because my coat and boots are different—then I think that I must be going crazy—and then I see them do it.
I want a label for my disorder so I can officially hide behind it. Manhattanitis is too snobby, and I admit that what I have is a neurosis and not a sophistication. Its more like urban itch or a creeping crawling or a shortness of breath. I can really only stay one night at an adorable Inn. And Bed and Breakfast’s are completely out due to the high level of intimacy with chatty strangers at breakfast.
I—like Groucho and then like Woody—have a problem being part of any club that would have me as a member. I am not a joiner. This city is the only place that I can gracefully belong by not belonging. Sure its nice to live near Central Park and Carnegie Hall, but its the gritty anonymity that I need. I need my ipod and my coat and to walk a million blocks all bundled up and unavailable while being continually bombarded by all that is magnificent and horrifying in the world.
I am sure part of my discomfort comes from just being away from the comforts of a home anywhere, which is provincial and high-maintenance and all the things I try hard to resist, but its also true. I admit, I am philopatric, or “home-loving” in Greek.
Now, in spite of my discomfort, if you can believe it, we did actually have fun. We went out in the blizzard and cross country skied in the forest, which was dramatic and beautiful and my left toe turned lavender. But I will tell you about that another time.
Incidentally, since Harry was elderly, I think what he meant was that if you had a sudden health emergency in the country that it would take ages for someone to reach you. But I like to think that Harry also meant that the country could be a danger to that kooky urban freedom.