In the end, she is right about one thing. I hate Brooklyn. I blame Brooklyn because it has made me like Manhattan a little less. I detest Brooklyn because it has siphoned off so many that I once held so dear and scattered them to the winds in a borough so huge that it has no center, no beating urban heart that I’ve been able to find. (I know, I know. Smith Street, blah, blah, blah.)
Let’s take stock of the losses I’ve suffered thanks to stinky Brooklyn. The first two of my people to go, Diane and Eric, left for Cobble Hill seven years ago. Then they moved to Fort Greene, then to Carroll Gardens. At first, I thought that Brooklyn was just some silly little adventure they needed to get out of their systems, but I have since given up on them. Next, my friend Ricky decamped for Fort Greene. I have never been to his apartment. Let’s see. Who else? Sally fell in love with some cute girl and left a perfectly lovely rent-stabilized apartment in the East Village that she had lived in for seventeen years. I cry when I walk by her old street. Then it was like someone sliced open a vein and Manhattan began hemorrhaging interesting people so quickly I panicked, powerless to stanch the bleeding: Nelson and Liz, Melanie and Andrew, Liz and Ingrid, Dave and P.J., Nicole and Victoria, Cheryl, and, most recently, cute Joe, my handyman. (He’s from Philadelphia; naturally, he loathes Brooklyn.) Even my dear Hilton, a man born and raised in Brooklyn, whom I can only picture smoking a cigarette and drinking a vodka in some smart little aerie in downtown Manhattan, looked at an apartment in Brooklyn Heights recently. “At least the river air was bracing,” he said with a sigh.
I do have a few friends who moved to Brooklyn and, to my great delight, came back. Rebecca took off for Prospect Heights a couple years ago but was back in six weeks because she felt “uncomfortable in big-sky country.” Another friend got a fancy job, married her boyfriend, and bought a townhouse in Boerum Hill; she recently separated from her husband and came roaring back to Manhattan by moving into the Mercer Hotel. Now, that’s a change of heart.
But it’s my friend Ellen who scores the most points. She has never considered—not for one lousy second—moving to Brooklyn. Indeed, she’s threatened to get T-shirts printed up that say BROOKLYN IS FOR LOSERS. As she told me the other night, “I won’t go there! You can’t make me! Los Angeles is my outer borough!”
A couple months ago, The New Yorker caused the tiniest of dustups with a cover illustration that featured two terrified and helpless fortysomethings being banished from Eden, except that Eden was represented by Manhattan and their means of egress was the Brooklyn Bridge. The first thought I had was: I still have not walked across that thing. My second thought: The sparkly eighties Manhattan fantasy of my dreams is dead. And I have to admit that it’s not all Brooklyn’s fault.
For the past few years I have felt myself tuned into some new, barely perceptible frequency. Only recently have I realized that it is the constant hum of a low-grade sadness. The postwar Manhattan experience that I’ve heard described by folks much older than I, and that I’ve read about in books and magazines, and that I myself have experienced in my own time, is coming rapidly to a close. Of course, we’re all acquainted with the romantic and ultimately futile yearning for a place to stay just as we perceived it when we first arrived. But I believe my ache to be the result of something more than that. The parts of Manhattan I have loved—the dirty, decrepit, marginal zones where anything goes—are going the way of the meatpacking district. Which is to say they are being developed into detestable orgies of luxury condos, boutique hotels, stores that sell four things, and curiously uninteresting “hot spots.” In a Manhattan where there was once a nightclub called Paradise Garage, which was exactly what it sounds like, there is now Bungalow 8, also exactly what the name suggests. Exclusivity has become so exclusive that Paris Hilton may soon be the only person who goes out, dancing on a table in a nightclub-for-one, like a plastic ballerina spinning inside a cheap jewelry box.
I recently moved back to Great Jones, into a loft directly across the street from the one I lived in fifteen years ago. The squat building next door to my old place, once Jean-Michel Basquiat’s studio, is now an expensive Japanese restaurant. There’s a new spa up the block featuring a VIP room, a three-story indoor waterfall, and massages that cost $200. From my friend’s apartment across the hall, I can see directly into my old loft, which, but for the furniture, remains almost exactly as I left it. Who lives there? How much is their rent? Are they having as much fun as I did? Doubtful. I was 27 when I moved in with my actress roommate, who was then starring in an Off Broadway hit. We were just young, successful, and stupid enough to be able to really make the most of the square footage. Oh, the parties! I find it almost unbearable to peer into that cavernous old place, like I’m trying to see back through space-time. (Note to everyone: Never move back to your old block fifteen years later.) Ding-dong, Manhattan is dead!
And as for Brooklyn? My boyfriend and I have been talking about moving to B . . . B . . . Bucks County! Ha! You thought I was going to concede, didn’t you? Don’t count on it. Despite all of Manhattan’s recent letdowns—the unbearable expense, the ruination of great neighborhoods, the disappearance of favorite bars and friends—I keep choosing the First Borough again and again not merely out of habit, but because giving up on Manhattan would be giving up on the dream. Manhattan will always be the Promised Land; Brooklyn will never be able to replace it in the popular imagination.
Recently, though, something curious happened. We got in our car one Saturday night and drove to Queens to spend an evening out with friends who live in Brooklyn. We parked under the elevated 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue and 71st Street, and I was astonished by how alive, how thrumming with activity and people and variety the streets were. There must have been 30 countries represented on that one block alone. It’s noisy. It’s crowded. There are traffic jams. It takes forever to park. Fun! We drank in an Irish pub where real Irish bartenders treated us like regulars and played the Cure and Beyoncé on the sound system. Then we went to an Argentine steakhouse and were received like the reverse bridge-and-tunnel clowns that we were. I was convinced that the waiter was trying to give us the gringo price on our bottles of wine, but no matter. I had the time of my life. And I will say it here first: I love Queens!