Max Fish by Susan Sermoneta (Flickr Creative Commons)

To Ludlow, With Love (Or Something Like It)

Like so many great love stories, this one has a sad ending.

Preface: A New Yorker’s relationship with their neighborhood is never casual. Whether you stay together year after year or only as long as your lease isn’t of much import; those precious few square blocks will come to define you, and you will define them. Leaving a neighborhood you love is one of the most insufferable kinds of heartbreak. Trust me. I would know.

New York and I got back together in March of 2015. We’d broken up in the summer of 2009, but if I’m being honest, New York broke up with me. I rebounded with Paris for a couple of years and then spent the next four with Los Angeles. I thought of New York often and fondly. Sure, I felt betrayed at first. New York had been a dominant and selfish lover, forcing me to grow and adapt to its ridiculous demands yet never yielding an inch towards mine. I took the abuse willingly– proudly, even. That is until it spat me out just as quickly as it had taken in me in. New York would never love me, but I, like so many other suckers, came to understand that I would always love New York.

I lay my better judgment to rest on Sunset Boulevard, packed an extra suitcase, and that was that

My decision to move back to Manhattan happened more or less overnight. I had booked an Airbnb on the Lower East for 2 weeks, as I often did when I came to the city to do stand up. But the night before I left Los Angeles, I decided it would be the last one I spent on the west coast for the foreseeable future. I knew that if I let myself think about it any longer, I’d lose my nerve. Was it impulsive? You bet. Stupid? Entirely. Nevertheless, I lay my better judgment to rest on Sunset Boulevard, packed an extra suitcase, and that was that.

My Airbnb was located on Ludlow Street– home to a Jewish ghetto in the 1920s, a heroin den in the 80s, and my cocaine overdose in 2007. The third-floor, walkup studio measured a mere 325-square-feet on a good day, but its exposed brick and tasteful renovations charmed the pants right off me. It was the best make-up sex ever. New York and I were back together, but before we could make it official, I had to find an apartment of my own.

Finding a place to live in NYC is a lot like getting forcibly fucked up the butt

If you’ve read my piece on apartment-hunting in New York, you already know that finding a place to live in NYC is a lot like getting forcibly fucked up the butt. The only choice you may have in the matter is whether you want to get fucked up the butt with direct sunlight or in a building with an elevator. But then the most magical thing happened. Just as I bent over and readied myself for the abuse that was to come, the same exact unit two floors below my Airbnb went on the market. It was $600 more a month than I wanted to spend, but it felt like New York had finally texted me back after all these years, and I wasn’t about to ignore her. You can’t put a price on true love, anyway.

It was the world’s shortest move. A couple flights of stairs and one traumatic trip to Ikea later, and I was settled. The honeymoon phase quickly set in. I fell hard and fast for my teensy weensy studio and the Lower East Side. Who needs cable when you can stare longingly at an exposed brick wall? No closet? No problem. It was nothing a couple of hours on Pinterest and a quick trip to Home Depot couldn’t fix. And despite the obvious fact that the neighborhood was quickly succumbing to the less savory aspects of gentrification, it still had character. Save for the McDonald’s and Starbucks on Delancey and the Whole Foods on Bowery, there wasn’t a national mega-chain in sight. For every coffee shop serving up $6 lattés, there was a grimey laundromat or dollar-pizza joint to keep things in check. It was this sort of give-and-take that seemed to exert a sort of equilibrium on the neighborhood, preventing it from becoming sterilized by its newfound wealth.

I got sick of living in my closet and using my filing cabinet cum nightstand as a dining table

Two years later, the charming “quirks” of my new home lost their novel patina. I got sick of living in my closet and using my filing cabinet cum nightstand as a dining table. Braving the line of bros and B&T thots outside No Fun on a Friday night became my least favorite version of real-life Frogger. Mr. Purple opened on the rooftop of the Indigo Hotel, sending a steady reverberation of shitty top 40 tunes that could be both felt and heard in my bathroom at all hours of the day and night. Then, one morning I awoke to discover a Drybar on the ground floor of the building next to mine, it’s saccharine yellow signage warning me like the proverbial canary in the coal mine… warning me to get the fuck out of the Lower East Side.

It wasn’t just the neighborhood that was changing, I was too. We were drifting apart. I wanted things like laundry in my building and a view of something other than the shuttered window of another tenement building, and I knew I couldn’t get that from the Lower East Side. I shouldn’t be able to get that from the Lower East Side. It was people trying to impose their living standards on the neighborhood who were ruining it– women who favored $30 blowouts over cheap whiskey and Wall Street manchildren who can’t live outside a one-block radius of an Equinox. There was only thing I could do to separate myself from them and do right by the neighborhood I adored: leave.

I left the Lower East Side because I couldn’t bare to be complicit in or witness to its inevitable demise

So I did the unthinkable. I moved to Midtown. As someone who had never lived above 4th street, let alone 14th, the change still doesn’t feel quite right. (Doing my laundry in my own apartment feels great, mind you). I’ve been in my new apartment since March, and I still find myself absent-mindedly boarding a downtown 6 train to my former life south of Houston. But I regret nothing. I left the Lower East Side because I love it and I couldn’t bare to be complicit in or witness to its inevitable demise. The only thing that keeps me up at night is the gnawing hunch that one day I might have to do the same thing to New York.

Cover Pictures by Susan Sermoneta (Flickr Creative Commons)

Julia Reiss is a Los Angeles-born writer and humorist alive and mostly well in New York City.

    love!!!! write about Mykonos and Paris