“It kind of ticks me off when I come to Williamsburg after working hard all fucking day in the real world and I see all these stupid little daddy’s girls with their fucking bowler hats...and you come over and flirt and flirt and kiss and kiss and listen to my amazing tunes and drink my beautiful wine and then spill it on my gorgeous rug and laugh about it.”
Sometimes even the words of an asshole will stick with you. In this case, they were uttered by a venture capitalist trying to seduce two young women with booze and lame “mash-ups” at his classy Brooklyn high-rise late in season one of Girls. But why did they come back to this douchebag’s apartment? Was it really just to laugh at him?
Questions like this pile up as you work your way through the show's first season. Why does Adam masturbate in front of Hannah and deny her sexual pleasure? Why do Hannah’s bosses let her go without a note of sympathy or compassion? Why does Marnie stay with her boyfriend after repeatedly, dismissively mocking him behind his back? Why do the characters on the show casually and cruelly dig at each other about their weight and their jobs and their sexual inexperience so often?
Maybe this cruelty is a defense mechanism against the harsh realities of post-collegiate life. Maybe this level of cruelty truly is the experience of New York for some people. In the show’s pilot, Hannah is denied the chance to turn her year-long internship into a real job. The only reason she is given is that she doesn’t know Photoshop. This is the first in a series of career disappointments and missteps that hound these characters. This I can relate to. I feel Iike all of us, except for a lucky few New York transplants, have that experience time and time again, knocking hard on the door they’ve spent their entire young life trying to find, only to be left freezing, stuck outside in the cold. It makes sense that these people would be frustrated and angry.
But that's exactly why I don’t understand the relationships between the characters in Girls. My experience in New York has largely been that my friends and, and often my acquaintances, co-workers, and even bosses, are too exhausted to be mean to each other at the end of the day. After being screamed at by an Upper East Side trophy wife or some Wall Street hotshot for bringing them the wrong drink, the wrong size, the wrong whatever-it-is-you-peddle-at-your-day-job, all you want to do is sit around and not be mean to each other…and drink heavily, of course.
Almost anyone I know will say the same thing: The first six months you spend in New York City are the worst months of your life. For my part, I moved into a warehouse apartment next to a matzah ball shop in Williamsburg. I lived in a plywood closet with a platform on top where I kept my desk and a few books. The J roared two feet from my window all night, scaring the dirty fat orange cat who would fall through the handmade staircase, landing on me as I slept on my mite-ridden mattress. I don’t consider myself special for this experience. It just makes me part of the club. My “first months in New York” story probably only ranks 47th worst among my friends and acquaintances. I think these experiences make you the kind of person who will let someone crash at your place or borrow cab fare as much as they harden you.
Eventually you figure it out, at least a little bit. You figure out what neighborhoods you like, what job you can bear to do while trying to get the job you want, and who your friends are. And then your friends move away. That’s one thing they don’t tell you about before you move here. Some go back to grad school. Others move back home and start a family in the town where they grew up. Most of them move to Portland. Sometimes Austin. Sometimes Chicago. Sometimes Denver. But mostly Portland. They leave because everything is so expensive. They leave because they aren’t as good at trombone as they thought they were. They leave because they were searching for something here and it was actually back down the block from their parent’s house in the country. And every time, it really sucks.
New York has not been about cruelty for me. There have been terrible moments. I've gotten into shouting matches with cab drivers and I’ve been casually stood up for dates in strange parts of Brooklyn. I’ve taken the two-and-a-half hour late-night subway journey back to Queens. I’ve been abused by so-called “internships.” But these won’t be the things that I remember about New York City.
I will remember the quiet moments in bars with people from somewhere else, scraping together quarters for another Bud bottle. I will remember nights spent with friends from Pennsylvania, California, and Tennessee, just trying to come up with a pleasant word of encouragement for each other, begging each other not to move to Portland.
Written by Brenden Gallagher (@muddycreekU)