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.