I think she’s losing her mind. I’m tired of being made to feel guilty because I have no desire to live in the city…”
by michael estabrook
“When the kids move out I’d like to move to the city. What do you think? Wouldn’t you love to live in the city?”
I look over my coffee mug, squint my eyes and swallow. “No, no I wouldn’t. What are you talking about?”
We’re visiting our good friends of twenty years, who recently moved into crowded New York City from New Jersey, the Garden State. They bought a loft in Greenwich Village. It’s a beautiful place.
“I’d like to live in the city.”
“What?” I can’t believe she’s beginning such a silly conversation. “Oh, really? And how do you know you’d like to live in the city? You’ve never lived in a city anywhere near the size of New York. What are you talking about?”
This discussion is exasperating me already, and we’ve barely begun. Why do people always think it’s better, somehow, more pure or fulfilling somehow, to live in the damn city. What’s wrong with the country? What’s wrong with fresh air and sunshine? What’s wrong with seeing the sky and feeling the earth beneath your feet? I don’t get it.
“But I still know I’d love it,” she continues, all smily and looking pretty this morning. “Wouldn’t it be great, so much to do, everything right there at your fingertips.”
I put my mug down on the thick-glass table between us. I look around our friends’ loft. It’s a nice loft, spacious, airy, tall ceilings, hard polished dark brown wooden floors. It only cost them half a million dollars, and they got a deal. We still have two kids to get through college, and I’m the only one with a full-time job.
We’re visiting for the weekend, and it’s Sunday morning. Yesterday we took an extensive tour of The Village, saw where all the famous folks lived over the years – John Barrymore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bob Dylan, Edgar Alan Poe, some painters I never heard of, and an assortment of politicians. And we went into countless art galleries, too. I don’t have any money to buy art, but it was fun looking anyway.
“No,” I shake my head again, “it wouldn’t be great.” We live in a suburb a half hour outside of Boston, close enough certainly, to enjoy all the city has to offer. My wife is just exuberant right now, I think, about being in New York. That’s why she’s talking about living here. We love New York, it is a wonderful place, but a place to visit, in my opinion, not a place to live, for me at least.
“What would you do here all the time? Why would you want to live here? What are you talking about?”
“It’s convenient, so convenient. Art galleries close by, magazine stores, theaters, banks, pizza parlors, all kinds of restaurants, everything’s here, so close-by, within walking distance. Isn’t that great, everything so convenient? I mean, if you need,” she shrugs, “a loaf of bread at three in the morning you just walk down to the corner store and get it.”
I laugh, “That’s ridiculous! That’s not justification for living in the city. Who the hell needs a loaf of bread at three in the morning? Jesus, what are you talking about?” This is funny, really it is.
“Well, OK, but look at last night. We just walked down the block and saw a great play.” We saw Gross Indecency, all about the three trials of Oscar Wilde, the first famous gay person, I suppose, to come out of the closet, publicly.
“Yes, that was wonderful, no doubt about that. But why do you have to live here to go to a play?”
“Because then we could do it all the time.”
“Oh, OK,” I say, but I think she’s losing her mind. I’m tired of being made to feel guilty because I have no desire to live in the city. It’s as if city living is what we should all be aspiring to and if you don’t there’s something wrong with you. You need to be explaining yourself or defending your choice of not living in the city. It’s all so stupid, such a stupid conflict, like preferring the winter over the summer or liking red more than blue.
“You know, I love visiting the city and would like to do it more, but I can’t see myself living here, all the time.”
Lynn comes out from the nether end of the loft and joins us for a coffee. “Did you two sleep all right?” she asks.
“Yes, fine, it was great,” says Pat.
I nod and continue, “I simply cannot envision myself living in the city, can’t see myself looking out at the street every day, stepping out onto the sidewalk every day. I’m not saying it’s bad, not making a judgment here of any kind. I’m only saying that it doesn’t seem right for me.”
“I understand,” says Lynn, “it’s not for everybody.”
“Right, exactly. See Pat, it’s not for everybody.”
“Yeah, but I would like to try it. I could live here the rest of my life.”
I shake my head again, “Why? You’ve never lived in a big city, what are you talking about? It would be a big change to how you’ve lived your whole life.”
Yesterday we walked over and sat on a bench in the St. Luke’s Parish Garden. It was so calm and peaceful in there. People were relieved to be around bushes and trees, to actually walk on the earth.
“There’s no land around you to speak of, no trees or bushes or lakes or mountains.”
I glance over at Lynn. I don’t want to offend her, she’s a city person now. But she’s not offended. She’s nodding and petting the cat. She recognizes, I suppose, that there’s the city and there’s the country. There needn’t be a conflict of any kind really. Some people like chocolate ice cream and others like vanilla.
“But why are you so against it?” my wife presses on. My wife is always pressing on.
“I’ve mentioned a lot of reasons.”
“But what’s the real reason?”
I sigh. See, I think, there’s something wrong with me because I don’t want to live in the city. The city is what I should be aspiring to. I’m sorry, but I think that’s backwards. Who the hell wants to be so damned busy all the time? The city never sleeps, yes I know, but that’s the problem. The city should get some sleep, Jesus.
“The real reason,” I say slowly, “is that I don’t want to know there are millions of people essentially within walking distance all around me every single minute of every single day. I don’t want to have to walk all the time on asphalt and concrete. I like walking on dirt and on grass, I like seeing the trees and the birds in our backyard. I don’t like this city living perhaps because it is too convenient, and too busy. I think that’s it. It’s too busy.”
“Yes, too busy. I find myself getting more contemplative the older I get. I don’t want to be busy and productive” I make quotation marks in the air with my fingers around the word productive “every damn minute of every damn day. It’s nice being closer to nature, it’s calmer than here.”
She pauses, “I admit I miss seeing the sky. I mean, you can’t see the blue of the sky through all the tall buildings.”
“My point exactly, Ha! It’s unnatural, living in the city. You never step on the earth. You can’t see the sky. It’s like living on a concrete and metallic spaceship hurtling headlong through the cold void and endless emptiness of space.”
I glance at Lynn again. She’s smiling. Good old Lynn, she’s not getting into this one.
It’s now my wife’s turn to shake her head. “I wouldn’t go that far. I’d still like to live here. If we had the money and could do it right, I’d live here.”
“OK, no need to argue about this any longer. Different people like different things, that’s the beauty of the human experience. And you’re still a young and attractive woman. I would hate for you not to live your dream because of me. There’s still plenty of time for you to find a man who you can live with in the city.” And I have a smirky look on my face.
But she doesn’t smirk back, or make a little laugh like she normally would. Instead, she sips her coffee and gazes longingly though the window into the busy street.
“Seems I’ve been writing poetry for so long that Methuselah should be taking notice, but in reality, time is simply doing its thing streaking ahead blithely pulling all of us along for the wild ride whether we like it or not; reminds me, I’ve published 15 chapbooks over the years, the last one being “when Patti would fall asleep” by Liquid Paper Press in 2003, guess it’s time to work on another one.” — Michael Estabrook.
More from Michael Estabrook can be found in the Vault of Smoke.