For the past 10 years or so, I have lived in New York City.
When I first arrived here, in my mother's mini-van, I was too scared to leave the hotel room while my mom and best friend went out in search of food. When I hugged my mother after we had unpacked my stuff into the NYU dorm that would be my home for the duration of that semester, I cried and asked her, heartbreakingly, "You're just going to LEAVE ME here?"
I spent the first weeks terrified on the streets, even in midday, even in groups. I got lost constantly, even though New York, on a grid system, is a very easy city to navigate and I was traveling mainly from my dorm room to classes within 10 blocks. That much was the same at home -- my sense of direction is famously bad, worsened by years of reading on car trips instead of paying attention to where were going
In Oklahoma, to have made it to New York City means something. People in my family sometimes say, "You were determined to go," making that determination sound, if not like a bad thing, at least like an unusual thing. They suggest that I am made of funny stuff, to have deliberately and emphatically left where I am from.
Maybe it is a little weird. I can never remember a time when I intended to stick around, and by adolescence I was actively invested in getting the hell out of what felt like a hotbed of homophobia, misogyny and conservatism. That is, of course, one part of what exists in Oklahoma, but it was a huge part of my high-school experience, and I longed to escape it.
I applied to Columbia, NYU and Oberlin; I can't remember if I also applied to Oklahoma University, where I most likely would have received a substantial, if not full, scholarship. But if I did, it was a gesture. I never intended to stay.
I was lucky to have parents who supported my escape plan, who applied for student loans, who kept me off a seedier trajectory out of town. If I was leaving anyway, they gave me a fighting chance.
And although I desparately wanted out of Oklahoma, I didn't heart NY, not at first. Aside from the terror I felt on the streets, I didn't know a soul in New York City, while most of my classmates seemed to come from nearby states that funneled more consistently into the city.
I was flummoxed, also, by the amount of money everyone seemed to have. A nice living in Oklahoma is poverty-level in New York, and I resented my roommates who had money to drop on expensive home furnishings and whose educations were paid for outright.
I was going to class with kids who seemed to think that the isms and homophobia I had fled were a thing of the distant past. It became obvious that a lot of the other students had no idea there was a middle of the country, much less what went on there.
New York is also not an easy city to navigate, much less when you're obese. The walking, the subway stairs, then cramming myself into those seats with attached desk, all contributed to my unhappiness. And did I mention I moved to the city in late August, 2001? It was about to be a really weird year.
Of course, weirdness (of the non-tragic variety) is one of the things I grew to love about the city. Especially as my life grows more predictable and conventional with age and sobriety, I am a firm believer in KEEPING IT WEIRD where you can. It's what led me to try my hand at topless bartending, why some of my best friends are hookers, ex-junkies and assorted perverts. I am a freak lover, and New York City is the land of the freaks.
This is where I've seen some of the weirdest things I've ever seen in my life, like a guy in a business suit crouched between cars defecating in the bright sunlight, or a guy walking around Union Square with a live cat on his head. And the best part is, nobody even looks twice.
When I was home last week, we were driving down the street when we came across a guy in a gorilla suit creepily staring into cars and doing scary dances by the side of the road. He held a sign advertising something or other. As we watched, an old man walking down the street suddenly stopped and gave the gorilla dude a full-body frisk before continuing on his way. In Oklahoma, for some reason, this whole exchange was scary.
"Do you think he has a gun?" my family member asked, and it definitely seemed within the realm of possiblity. Against the suburban backdrop, gorilla dude seemed sinister as hell. In New York, I would barely have glanced his way.
Every year, New York Magazine does a list of "Reason to Love New York." This year's list includes the Occupy movement and the success of the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met. But for me, the opportunity to see really, really weird stuff happening around me on a daily basis will always top the list.
So that's what I love about NY. But I want to know the best reason to love where you live. Around February all us NYers start asking ourselves why we still live in this freezing, godforsaken box of cement, so I need somewhere to fantasize about moving.