every white person has a Cherokee grandma
& a dream catcher dangling like a promise
from the rear-view mirror of their Forester
they never look back because
someone might be losing everything
we grow up learning to love hot cocoa
from the box, the name with the funny accent
over the final e — & it certainly is final, nailing
the coffin lid shut as the last drop of water
disappears beneath a tight plastic cap
we let them have what they want
because we cannot face who we’ve become
or who we had to kill to get here
Nikes squishing through the mud
made by mixing blood & dirt
tie your lips shut so capitalism doesn’t slip out
stay in the protective circle or the Bogey Man (TM)
will come for you
do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
do you remember where you were when it was too late?
Chris & Jeff at the bar (aka the sages of Temperanceville)
Jeff leans over to Chris like a conspirator:
“They’re tryin’ to turn everything into fuckin’ ‘right to work.’”
He looks up at the TV news, snorts air through his nose.
On the screen: West Virginia teachers on strike.
“They wanna take everythin’ away from ’em,” Jeff growls.
Chris nods, on his fourth phone call in 10 minutes.
“How many I got left, hon?” Jeff asks the bartender.
(She’s flying past, cradling a basket of bread
like a newborn babe.) “You’ve got one, Jeff.”
“I’ll take it, then, and give Chris one more, too.”
Next story: the baseball players union is suing the league.
“Good for them. Give it to ’em!”
Welcome to Pittsburgh. Eat your hoagie.
/ / /
27 February 2018 The Village Tavern
in Pittsburgh’s West End
(formerly Temperanceville, PA)
Something unexpected happened to me today, just over three years after I moved out of Brooklyn. I said goodbye to New York.
It’s been happening slowly over the past three years. Little by little, the pieces of my heart that I left there have been traveling around North America trying to find me. First they followed me up and down the continent during my I’m-Homeless-But-I’m-Calling-It-Something-Else Tour in 2012. Then they lurked around Auburn, Alabama in 2013. And for the past year and a half, those heart fragments have been reassembling themselves during their slow march to this most unlikely of places — State College, Pennsylvania.
I finally realized it today while listening to Benjamin Walker’s excellent three-part series on post-gentrification New York City, “New York After Rent.” As I listened to the stories of people pushed further and further into Brooklyn by gentrification and its rapidly increasing rents, I could feel in my stomach and chest that tightening I’ve now begun to associate with living in New York City. A physical sensation that means, “Nope.”
Certainly a big part of this feeling is that I’ve never lived in New York as anything other than a poor person. The first time I lived there, I worked for a Japanese news agency. The second time, I was a combination of unemployed and running a podcast, which are essentially the same thing.
That meant that living in New York was a constant struggle to pay rent, buy food, have enough for the train, keep the lights on, and on and on. Now don’t get me wrong, I make even less here in State College than I made at least part of the time in New York. But it’s easier to be poor here, even with the inflated rents of this wealthy college town.
Another big difference: I live alone. In New York, I had between one and four other roommates. Even when some of these people were people I loved, it still left me with no private space. Nowhere I could go and be truly by myself. That’s very important to my mental health, and if I were living in New York now, I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford to have my own place. I doubt I could even find a job.
For several years I used to say that “New York is where I understand how I work. Where I feel like I fit in.” And yes, there’s some truth to that. I love the big city and all its crazy adventures. But mostly it’s a slog when you’re poor, and it’s not a particularly healthy place to live if you have mental health issues but no money. Or even if you have no mental health issues but no money.
Maybe I’m starting to figure out how I work, period. Regardless of place. Maybe I’m aging and don’t have the energy for the million-miles-an-hour pace of New York life. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve crossed a threshhold to a place where I no longer feel an ache for a city I once couldn’t imagine leaving. It’s a nice place to visit, but, at least for now, I wouldn’t want to live there.