City Girl [ 2003-10-20, 1:41 a.m. ]

Kent and I went out Saturday night for dinner at our favorite restaurant. Itís a small, intimate restaurant in Brooklyn Heights with a killer wine list and great service. Eating there, no matter the season or the mood, just makes me happy. Itís always crowded, always full of chatter and laughter and warmth. Itís like being in a Woody Allen movie, where you are your wittiest self, and the very act of being in New York is totally and completely fulfilling. Saturday night Kent and I settled in and ordered a bottle of wine, happy to be back in the tiny dining room. The heat of the open kitchen was on my back and my knees were pressed against Kentís under the small table. It was, in short, perfect.

We chatted over our dinner, and I thought to myself, ďI could never leave this.Ē The restaurant, the neighborhood, the feeling I had were suddenly essential to me. Iíve always assumed that at some point in our lives, Kent and I would leave New York. There are people who live in New York for a while, and then there are those other people Ė the ones who live in New York forever. I hadnít imagined myself in the second category, but suddenly, leaving it seemed like a horrible idea. Why leave when everything we needed was within walking distance. But those people who stayÖtheyíre different. They buy tiny Christmas trees that sit on coffee tables and go out for dim sum and donít have driversí licenses. They have doormen and kids who call adults by their first names. Theyíre different, right? Thatís not me.

Iíve lived in New York for almost seven years, and up until now would never describe myself as a ďNew Yorker.Ē Iím from California. Iím a Californian. I root for the 49ers and the Giants, I hate humidity and I think the sun should set over the ocean, leaving a deep indigo glow over the horizon. As a Californian I would also never consider myself a ďcityĒ person. I grew up in the land of suburbs and highways, of backyards with swimming pools and 3-car families. But if Iím honest with myself, I have to admit that after more than six years, I really can't call myself a newcomer to New York. The last time I actually lived in a free-standing house was 1992, before I left for college. And this spring my California driverís license officially expired and was turned in for a New York Stateís license.

So Iím realizing that I might be a New Yorker after all.

Iím trying to figure out what that means; although Iíve lived here for several years, I would never identify myself with the Brooklynese-speaking ďNoo YawkersĒ I meet in my neighborhood. And I donít think I have that sharp, chic, urban manner with which born-and-bred Manhattanites carry themselves. I generally still feel like the 21-year old California girl who arrived here in 1997 with 2 bags of clothes and no idea where Midtown was. Iím no city personÖnot me.

But once I am taken out of my urban environment, I realize Ė much as I hate to admit it - that my life here is fundamentally different from that of my non-New York friends. For one thing, I feel like I am frozen in an amusement park of perpetual adolescence Ė living in New York is like co-existing with 8 million 22-year olds. Men act like boys and girls act like mature women. Kids grow up fast and adults are allowed to misbehave like children. The constant stimuli (food, drink, women, men, music, streets, grit and glam) keep you moving, keep you looking and comparing and measuring yourself against your 2 million neighbors. To settle down in New York is an oxymoron. Itís a game here Ė all of it. Whether one is scaling the corporate ladder or the Broadway stage, itís all a game Ė whoís got the best apartment or the best job or the best clothes, whoís thinnest or most well-read or been to the best restaurants. Even in my funky, friendly Brooklyn neighborhood, I see the competition to be the most artfully disheveled, to have discovered the newest bar, to be more creative than the novelist/poet/decorator/chef next to you on the F train.

Itís a game, with winners and losers, and when I say Ďperpetual adolescence,í I mean that we as New Yorkers are allowed to shirk certain adult responsibilities, apparently in exchange for living in this hyper-competitive, hyper-active environment. We are allowed to forgo driving for being driven, cooking for being waited on, home improvements for full-service buildings that will see to it your dry-cleaning is picked up on time. For all its sophistication, New York really makes it quite easy to act like a child indefinitely.

And, God help me, I love it.

When I visit friends with actual houses, including actual driveways and actual children and actual pets, I am shocked by how ill-prepared I am to handle ďreal-lifeĒ situations. I donít know anything about home maintenance, or how much a gallon of gas costs. I had to stop and think about when the last time I even drove a car was (In February. Before that, who knows). I donít know how to grocery shop for a week Ė I stop at 2 or 3 different shops on my way home from work, getting what I need only for the night. Iíve never been inside a Home Depot. Here, out with my friends I feel smart and savvy and normal, whereas when Iím with my husbandís friends in Ohio, I feel mildly handicapped by my lack of practical knowledge. Iím awed by their home and car ownership, and they just blink at me like I have two headsÖbecause of course they have cars and homes. Everyone else does. Itís the normal, adult thing to do.

Iíve assumed that living in the city has made me extremely independent (although I sometimes wonder whatís so bad about depending on other people). But itís also made me realize that independence comes easily when you can order anything you need over the phone and have it delivered almost immediately. I donít know how well my independence would serve me if left alone in a house in the country. Independence among countless people and shops and movie theaters is a bit easier than independently buying a house or raising children, I suspect.

Not that Iím trying to diminish the experience of living in New York Ė absolutely not. Itís not for everyone, and sometimes, it feels like itís not for me. But this weekend, for the first time, I started to put myself in that nutty, eccentric, exhausting category Ė a New Yorker. I like the idea of a house of my own as much as anyone, but trading Bergdorf and Barneys for backyards and barbeques just doesnít seem like an even trade to me.

I suppose, like any true love affair, living in New York makes for a love-hate relationship. But that's half the fun. Go rent Manhattan and watch the opening montage. Listen to that Gershwin playing over the black and whites and I dare you not to fall in love with this city.

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