Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where I'm From

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 7/9/09

When people ask Jim the simple question, "Where are you from?", he doesn't know how to answer. He was born in Pittsburgh, but lived there only a short time. His father's corporate job transferred him every few years, to Philadelphia, Cleveland, and then to the Los Angeles area, where Jim lived during his high school years. I met Jim at graduate school at the University of Michigan, and he lived in Ann Arbor longer than any other place up to then. He just isn't rooted enough in any place to feel that he's "from" there.

I know where I'm from. Even though I haven't lived there since 1971, and even though I was actually born across the Hudson River in New Jersey, I've always felt that I'm a New Yorker. It's interesting that I feel such a strong New York identity, because I lived there only 16 years, from ages 6 - 22. We lived in the Boston area longer than that, yet I don't feel "from" there.
Since 1971 I've been back to New York maybe once a year on average, usually for no longer than a week at a time. But still I feel like a New Yorker.

I thought I had escaped having a New York accent, until a few months ago when I was in the tiny town of Coupeville, WA, and a woman in a store asked me where I was from. I said "San Francisco", because when you're traveling, it usually makes sense to interpret the "from" question as "where do you live now?". She didn't buy it. She said, "Who are you kidding? You're from New York!". She herself had moved from New York to Coupeville a few years ago, and she recognized my accent.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had never left New York. I would have stayed closer to family and old friends. I probably would not have met Jim, but would I have met someone else? Would I have moved from job to job, as I did in real life, or would I have found a job to absorb me for a lifetime? I envy my brother Larry and my sister-in-law Mary Beth, who have lived pretty much their whole lives in New York, met there, and are now raising their son there.

Several years ago, when Jim and I started to think about retirement, I started realizing how much I miss New York. I wanted to think about moving back there. Jim, though, generally doesn't like cities, and would never consider living in New York. We decided on a compromise. We would visit New York for a couple of weeks a year, and I could pretend that I lived there. Since then we've done that 3 or 4 times, renting apartments in different neighborhoods in Manhattan -- TriBeCa, the Upper East Side, Midtown. I grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, but now I insist on staying in Manhattan. I love the excitement of being there, the idea that I can walk out of the apartment and find anything I want: great restaurants, Broadway shows, excellent coffee, real bagels, beads, yarn, anything.

And that's where we'll be for two weeks, starting next week. This time we're renting a studio apartment in the West Village, which should be a great neighborhood to live in. We'll be seeing family, reconnecting with some old friends, hosting a party (more about that later), doing a lot of walking. I'll get my New York "fix", and hopefully it will last another year.


alce said...

How fun! I love renting apartments and houses and living like a local, even for only a week or two.

Melody said...

Another very nice post, and we learn more about you and Jim. See you Saturday!

stormville said...

love you Fae!

Jamie Knits said...

What a wonderful idea! Once he retires, Joe thinks we should live for six months at a time (taking breaks to come back home) in our favorite cities. So far, New York City, Paris, and London are on the list. I think 1- 3 months at a time might work better, so I'd like to hear how 2 weeks works for you.

Next time we see each other, I'd love to learn where you have stayed in NYC (that you'd like to stay again).