Disappearing In New York City

New York City is claustrophobic. This is something we know to be true and has been touched on ad nauseam. What I find of interest though is not the hustle and bustle of the streets but rather the anonymity of the city. Make no mistake. If you want to get lost here, you can. You can lose yourself in cafes, in neighborhoods, in apartments, and never really be found if you don’t want to be.

When I first moved to New York, I used to do my homework at a Borders’ cafe on 32nd Street and 2nd Avenue. As a newcomer, I found my neighborhood, the East Village, to be too distracting so I went where I knew I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew, which was, of course, Murray Hill. To a lot of snobby New Yorkers (the ones who don’t go above 14th), Murray Hill may as well be in Australia. It is to be believed that no one, besides sorority chicks and financiers, steps foot into that hood. I, on the other hand, have a fondness for the neighborhood. Before I moved to New York, I used to visit during the summer and always stay at  this hotel on 34th between Lexington and 3rd Avenue.  A few years later, when I first moved to New York shortly after getting hit by a car, I chose to go to rehab at a place on 34th and 2nd Avenue because it was the only neighborhood I was familiar with. So as much as I want to, I can’t poke fun at Murray Hill. We’ve got history.

After about a year of Nancy Drew studying at Borders, I switched secret neighborhoods and migrated to Tribeca, which was a place frequented by rich mothers and their privileged progeny. I liked Tribeca because it had open space and was mostly quiet, save for the occasional baby. I felt completely foreign down there and imagined myself to be in a completely different country. I soon learned that in order for me to happy living in New York, I must have that secret neighborhood I can go to. One of the greatest gifts of the city is your ability to blend into the concrete.

That being said, your ability to disappear can also be a bad thing. Whether it’s running to Fort Greene to spend the weekend in the apartment of a toxic lover or isolating yourself in something as familiar as your own bedroom, you can disappear off the face of the earth and not be accountable for any of your actions. No one will know anyway. It’s New York. You’re invisible!

I used to spend a lot of time at this apartment in the south side of Williamsburg a few years ago. I never would tell anyone where I was, I would just go and visit my friend at her magical den of an apartment,  and we would drink white wine and maybe get stoned and talk all night. When I would take the L train into Brooklyn and walk down Bedford to her house, I would marvel at how anonymous I felt. I knew that this friend wasn’t good for me, I knew that there were only so many nights I could spend with her getting drunk and talking nonsense, but I liked having something that was mine. That apartment, that neighborhood, was my secret and mine to keep. At that point in my life, I guess I needed secrets, I guess I needed to, “DISAPPEAR HERE.”

I would imagine you could do this in ANY city but it feels more jarring in New York. The city that doesn’t give you any room to breathe can suddenly gift you with endless expanses of land. It can make you feel like a stranger in your own home, which may be something we all need at some point. I have since said goodbye to that apartment on the south side of Williamsburg but I still disappear from time to time. You have to. TC mark

image – Chad Davis

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


More From Thought Catalog

  • girllygirlgirl

    gchat i received yesterday:” i think you were kidnapped and someone is lying to me over gchat that you’re still around.” and i slept in fort greene last night…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    Have you read William Dean Howell’s A Hazard of New Fortunes? It discusses your idea of anonymity within NYC 

    • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

      Going to track down this book – praying it’s good.

      • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida


  • cait

    i love this. and feel the same way.

  • Mashka

    This is one of my favorite things about living in NYC actually. 

  • Jordan

    you can easily do this in London, too. very easily.

  • Melissa

    Fifth paragraph is brilliant…odd, how something so seemingly asinine can help you to escape the daily grind. I totally relate, though. 

    I should also note your Bret Easton Ellis reference…it may be an overused excerpt from a novel that too many claim to relate to, but this was the perfect place to use it. Really. 

  • Anonymous

    This is the least obnoxious article I have ever read about new york. 

    That being said, I like to hide on the UWS…they’ll never find me, they wont!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500654073 Kevin Kelly Kenkel

    you could do this in boston, but no one, not even yourself, would care.

  • http://www.centerofthecookie.com Christy


    This sentence is amazing:

    “One of the greatest gifts of the city is your ability to blend into the concrete.”

    You are amazing.

    Thank for all that you do!


  • Sophia

    This made me want, for the first time in my life, to move to New York.

  • Tea Cookies

    After living in NY for a summer, I felt the need to disappear A LOT. Too much actually. And that’s what made me realize that NYC wasn’t the place for me…when you actually want to escape and “breath” more than be present in your own life in NY, you know it’s not a right fit.
    That being said, I agree that the majority of urbanites feel the need to disappear and have a secret hideout spot. It’s the only way to survive living in a major city I think. I actually take it one step further and have secret/sacred friends that I purposely don’t let mix with my close circle of friends….I need that mental friendship escape as well.

  • noteswithnoparents
  • Sevensister

    you could never do this in Singapore. Thank God I moved out of there. 

    • http://twitter.com/nikisinsane STRANGERDANGER

      So true. Still looking for an exit ticket of Singapore. A wise choice you made to move out. =)

  • Assirammmmmm

    My secret spot is in a studio between hell’s kitchen and Chelsea with a model guy lolol. That is literally the only place I EVER shut my phone off. Needing to disappear is so necessary sometimes

blog comments powered by Disqus