Greener Pastures

I was born and raised in The Bronx.  I’ve lived here for over 3 decades of my life.  Everything in my life is practically synonymous with this borough, from the early days of hip-hop to the Yankees.  I had met Peter Gunz and DJ Kool Herc in the same summer just walking around my neighborhood.  I loved the fact that I was walking distance from Yankee Stadium, both the “House That Ruth Built” and the “House That Jeter Built”.  Every movie and tv show that was ever filmed in my borough, I’d be able to tell you exactly where that filming location was. Sadly, I’m getting a feeling that it’s time to leave the place I’ve called home.

One major drawback of The Bronx is that it’s ripe territory for greedy real estate agents to plunder. More people have lost their apartments here in the past 5 to 7 years than in the past 2 decades. Apartments that used to be $900 a month are now $2,500 a month, unless you qualify for section 8. Homeless shelters are popping up left and right, and people just can’t afford to live here anymore, unless they work 3 jobs and only get 3 hours of sleep a night. Currently, I’m living with my parents, and it’s a frustrating feeling to be in your mid-30s and having to answer to them. The job I’ve managed to hold onto for 5 years is driving me up the wall, and even with the city increasing minimum wage, the cost of living doesn’t get any easier, as the price for anything from groceries to entertainment just keeps rising.  I finally understand why so many of my friends who grew up here and raised their kids here have moved away.

A friend of mine had been trying to get me to move to Philadelphia for some time.  While living in the city of brotherly love has always been tempting, it wasn’t until now that it has become a necessary option. Living in The Bronx would mean that I’m stuck living with my dad and stepmother, and moving out to Long Island’s Suffolk County would mean living with my mother, as expensive as things have become out there. And as much as I love my mother, I can’t afford to have her doting over my life like Marie Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s a frustrating feeling when your folks keep asking when you’ll get a new girlfriend, yet quote Bible scripture about premarital sex and start fear mongering with images of hellfire and eternal damnation if you don’t do what they say.

To be honest, living with a friend rather than a parent or relative may just what I need right now, and living outside of New York may just be what my bank account needs.  As much as I love New York, I can’t keep up with things. And make no mistake, I love New York.  I love being about to take a bus into Harlem and walk 125th Street, whether it’s for DVD shopping or going to the Magic Johnson Theater. I love being able to take a train down into midtown or lower Manhattan, visiting comic stores, book stores, and pizzerias. I love being able to go down to Chinatown and visit every restaurant on Mott Street, even the back alley 4-for-$1 dumpling spot that no tourist has ever been to. I love being able to go arcade hopping, from Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade by NYU to the Barcade on St. Mark’s Place.  There’s so much to love about New York.

Yet, at the same time, every other thing I love about this city is vanishing, because of greedy real estate practices.  My favorite comic book store, St. Mark’s Comics, was forced to close after 35 years of business. My favorite retail store in Harlem, Kiss Electronics, was forced to close after decades of business. So many music stores, including my favorite record store, Second Hand Rose’s, had gone out of business. Even the landmark Katz’s Deli had been forced to shut down. Legacies that had shaped New York into the stuff movies and sitcoms were made of, forced to go out of business because, “The rent is too damn high.”  And politicians like Mayor Bill de Blasio, and his predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could care less. It was under Bloomberg that the city became so unaffordable, and when New Yorkers expected de Blasio to turn things around for the people, all we were left with was higher costs of living, and our only options being to stay in the city and become homeless, or leave the city for a more affordable quality of life.

Of all the places I’ve considered moving to, Philadelphia might be the most feasible. Of the times I’ve visited Philly, I’ve never really gotten to do what most people do down there. I’ve never gotten to see the Rocky statue from Rocky III, or run up the “Rocky Steps”.  I’ve never had a Philly cheesesteak made in Philly.  I’ve never even been to a Wawa’s! Even my late Uncle Lenny would tell me about the times he’d visit Philly just to see the Penn State Relays. My friend’s sister-in-law ran the Relays, and I never even got to see her win.  But most importantly, my best friend lives there, and has invited me down there with open arms. He had mapped out in his mind ever scenario to get me to move down there, and now, I’m doing the same.  While he’s offered me a place to stay, I’m still eyeing apartments down there as a plan B, so I have a contingency just in case. I’m researching what kinds of jobs I’d qualify for, in case my writing endeavors take longer to come to fruition. And if worse comes to worse, I’d be only 2 hours away from NYC, and 3 hours away from my mom’s home in Suffolk.

Change is hard, especially when you’re leaving the place you’ve called home all your life.  But if you’re to truly grow, change is necessary. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in the same self-destructive cycle you’ve been in. So, I’m making a change.  I’m going to miss The Bronx when I’m finally gone, and I’m going to miss NYC, but I’ll have a friend waiting on the other end for me.