New York sneaks up on you like a black bear trawling outside your tent at sunrise. As the beast paws through food and ravages the site you staged with immaculate care, you realize that this wily indomitable creature has watched you and known you all along. It is an entity that can never be crushed because another will emerge in its place.
I have now lived in New York longer than any other city. Thirteen years and three months. Which beats my previous record of thirteen years in San Francisco. Not only did the time flit by faster than I ever could have anticipated, but I still very much love this great city and continue to discover so many unanticipated contours and scintillating subcultures. The possibilities and the conversations here remain lively and are rarely dull. There are all sorts of marvelous people stubbornly eking out their dreams and, no matter how many difficulties they face — rats, a rickety traffic grid, a preposterously pompous mayor, gentrification, small-time power grabbers, and assorted human parasites — they can’t be easily crushed. New Yorkers are some of the most resilient people on earth. You have to be tough in order to live here. Nearly everyone is only two paychecks away from sleeping on the streets. And you could be felled by any cosmic force at any time. This may account for why so many marriages are particularly fragile and wildly unstable despite the roseate thump of a New York Times wedding announcement etched in showy affluence and why being single here, much like Minneapolis, is often a steady stream of constantly rotating bodies so that everyone can find a quick fix to survive the natural elements. (Oh well. At least you get to hear a lot of interesting life stories just before you make the morning coffee.) A friend visiting from Europe recently asked me why I still felt some subconscious need to prove myself. I replied, “It’s New York, man. If you aren’t regularly leveling up here, you’re doing it wrong.” (In my friend’s defense, it wasn’t entirely New York. But you see my point.)
I’ll always hold a dear place for the San Francisco that I was lucky enough to live in. I was privileged to live there in the last days of the freaks, when you could actually pay $600 each month to rent your own apartment. I love that city with all my heart. But I’ve been back and it ain’t my town anymore. While it has retained its beauty, San Francisco has become an unaffordable monolithic playground for the rich, more so than even Manhattan. It has chewed up and spat out the weirdness that once made it a remarkable metropolis, surrendering to the lavish obscenity of vanilla techbro millionaires without a sense of history or an intuitive respect for everyday people. Still, I suspect now, with some hindsight, that San Francisco may not have been the right place for me. Or maybe it was a city that didn’t push me as much as I needed it to. If San Francisco helped kick me out of suburban complacency and demanded that I start writing and make radio, it was New York that said, “Buddy, you’d better get moving or I will eat you alive.” I probably needed a city to tell me this much earlier in my life, but, hey, better late than never. This city’s intractable edict, which it whispers into the ear of every New Yorker, helped me to climb out of a very dark and seemingly inescapable abyss and make something of myself. It forced me to find and honor my full and true self. It demanded that I take more chances in my life and my art. It aided me in making my audio drama. New York told me that my existence and ambitions, as crazy as these both were, needed to be pursued. It told me that I needed to look out for others and make sure they were living up. It still demands that I do more — for myself and others — and, of course, I’m constantly learning and I’m regularly humbled.
I’m tremendously grateful to know so many fascinating people, to work with so many talented actors, and to continue to have so many goofy and weird adventures when I’m not toiling long hours on various creative endeavors. It’s possible that I would have stumbled upon this life eventually, but cities often provide those vital murmurs that get you where you need to go. And one should never complain about late timing in life. It’s a churlish pastime that often has one absorbed into some nostalgic ambuscade. Besides, there are always cosmic variables outside your control. Nevertheless, thank you, New York. And thank you to all the kind New Yorkers who kept their faith in me and saw something positive in me and called me on my bullshit and busted my chops. Without them or this city, I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be who I am today.
© 2019, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.