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Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Rat Race

I went to a long, fancy wedding last night with my friend James. It was in Jersey City, with a panoramic view of lower Manhattan. The city looked like a glimmering oasis, full of promise and possibility. It was the perfect backdrop for a wedding banquet.

James and I were seated along with another friend of the bride and several cousins of the groom. We groped for conversation, yelling out questions over the ten-piece band. So you do you live in New York? You worked with the bride for how long? What does she do again?

The one thing that sparked conversation was the fact that we were both from Brooklyn. ‘So when you moved to Brooklyn, did you stop coming into the city on weekends?’

‘I kept waiting for this huge life change’, I said. ‘But there wasn’t any. It’s the same. I just get on a different train.’ They nodded, but looked worried. They lived on the Upper East Side, were newly married and looked like a young power couple.

I know the feeling. You spend so much energy trying to get a foothold here that it’s hard to let go. There’s the feeling that there are 10 people waiting for you to leave, whether it be your place on line, your job or your apartment. It’s like going to the Barney's sale, noticing that someone has noticed the $300 shirt in your hand and not wanting to put it down, even though it’s a size too small.

James saw an acquaintance, who immediately confessed that she can never leave her rent stabilized apartment on 21st Street. She’s been there for ten years. ‘We might buy a place, but we’d still use the apartment. My husband could have his office there.’

‘Oh yeah, keep sending your mail there and all,’ I said. Discussing fraud with a stranger did not seem odd.

‘I’m moving to Jersey tomorrow,’ James said, pointing to a vague area out the window. ‘My apartment was a dump.’

I turned to look out at the city, and thought how the landlord must have someone lined up for the place already. Maybe it’d be her first time in New York. Maybe she’ll talk about it soon at a party - how she’s moved in, how it’s so amazing to live there, how excited she was. Then I wondered how long she’d hang on, before fighting with herself to leave.