"Please tell me you’re not moving to Brooklyn,” she said.
“No, no, no,” I said. “Never.”
“Why would you think such a thought?”
“Something about the way you said . . . Brooklyn . . . like you’d gotten comfortable with it.”
“No,” I said, “it’s just that I’ve had to say it a lot lately because that’s all anyone ever talks about. Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn. I hate Brooklyn.” I’ve been having some version of this conversation—the dreaded Brooklyn Conversation—a lot lately. This particular version was with a woman I met in 1988, the year I moved to New York. We’ve been friends ever since—Manhattan friends. We bump into each other in mutual acquaintances’ apartments or noisy downtown parties and occasionally wind up having dinner alone together, lingering over wine and cigarettes. This sort of relationship—genuine but entirely spontaneous—happens more often in Manhattan because, when you take away the nail salons, office buildings, and Central Park, the island really isn’t all that big. Living here is like unrolling your sleeping bag in the world’s largest commune, a year-round camp for similarly neurotic, vain, lonely, ambitious grown-ups. On any given night I could, without making a single phone call, walk out my door and go to a party/bar/restaurant where I’d probably run into someone I know. Or so it seems.
But my Manhattan friend had begun exhibiting all the telltale signs of susceptibility to Brooklyn brainwashing: mid-thirties, recently married, with a new baby. She lowered her voice and sheepishly admitted that, because she and her husband can no longer afford downtown, they recently looked at a couple of places in Park Slope. For a moment I thought, NO! Not her too! It was as if she had been spirited away in the middle of the night and turned into a robot—a Brooklyn Wife, if you will. But then, this: “To be honest, it was my husband’s parents who snapped us out of it. When they found out we were looking in Brooklyn, they threw a fit: We spent a lifetime trying to get out of the boroughs and you want to take us back?! We searched our souls for about two minutes. Now we’re buying a place on 94th, between Park and Madison.” She paused for a moment and then all but shouted, “I’d rather live on the friggin’ anodyne Upper East Side than live in Brooklyn!”
Phew. She had taken sides. My side.
The first time I felt my hackles go up about Brooklyn was last summer at a backyard barbecue in Carroll Gardens. “Oh my God, I can’t believe you still live in Manhattan,” said a new friend, a political consultant who joined the Brooklyn team a few years ago and quickly became one of its most boisterous cheerleaders. With eyes glazed over, I had endured people extolling the virtues of Brooklyn countless times—the party chatter about “how much better” it is and all the fun they’re supposedly having, as if they all spend every Sunday together having brunch at the same “surprisingly good” restaurant. (If it has to be insisted upon constantly, it can’t possibly be true.) But never before had it been suggested that I was a moron for staying in Manhattan. That was it. What was once merely disinterest in that giant expanse of low-slung buildings across the river morphed into disdain and then congealed into bitterness. That was the moment I decided I was a Manhattanite to the core.
Like most people who live in Manhattan, I came here in my mid-twenties because my heart was scalded by some crazy ambition I did not entirely understand. Growing up in South Jersey, I dreamed of Manhattan, that Neverland of glamour, culture, skyscrapers, and reinvention—the place you go to escape from your dreary outer-borough-ness. (And let’s face it: New Jersey is pretty much just a huge Staten Island.) I never once thought of moving to Brooklyn—it was another place people were trying to escape from. This I knew from watching Welcome Back, Kotter as a kid. As the credits rolled over footage of ugly mid-seventies New York, including a big green highway sign that read WELCOME TO BROOKLYN: THE 4TH LARGEST CITY IN AMERICA, the opening line of the theme song by John Sebastian said it all: “Your dreams were your ticket out . . .” of Brooklyn! I had to be in Manhattan. I’ve always felt a little like Tess McGill in Working Girl. The Staten Island secretary would do anything—lie, cheat, abandon perfectly good friends (she had no choice!)—to find her rightful place in the only part of New York that mattered. My eyes still go moist when I hear “Let the River Run,” the theme song by Carly Simon.