Authors: Jane Borden
Even if that were not fundamentally impossible, when have you ever been able to keep cake around?
“Si ves algo, di algo.”
It’s time to go home.
To clear my head, I decided to jog. I felt excited, confident in my decision and also relieved to have made it. While changing into my running clothes, I laughed, thinking about the luncheon Aunt Jane would throw for my homecoming, and the idea of belonging to supper clubs, book clubs, country clubs. Grabbing my keys, I smiled to know that soon I would live among the boobies once again, where there are no natural predators, where one can wave like a lunatic to everyone she sees, and where no one has to scream just to hear herself think. When I walked down my stairwell, the red channel markers were on the right side of the waterway, and I was returning.
Then I walked outside and instantly remembered the spell this city holds on me. I ran past a group of college-age kids shooting a film on my block: “Action!” I crossed Fourth Avenue, while a man was walking into his front garden with a large plate of pasta salad, shouting behind him, “Bring the sausage and peppers!” I turned left on Fifth and almost collided with a child on a scooter in pink corduroys singing. Two teenagers in cornrows and white sneakers stood outside the Blockbuster, bitching loudly about boys—“but you
him”—with their cell phones in their hands.
I ran to Ninth Street, doubled back the other way. A guy in scrubs with a backpack headed home on his afternoon commute. A small Hispanic woman tugged a cart of laundry. A couple speaking Russian pushed a stroller; the toddler inside had a mohawk. Girls with tightly slicked back ponytails of crimped hair waited in line outside of Tony’s pizzeria, a car whizzed by blaring Spanish-language music, and I thought:
How can I leave this window-box life?
New Yorkers dip in and out of each other’s lives without shame or consequence. Nowhere else in the world grants such access. We
show ourselves and see one another. My friend Dusty once sat across the subway aisle from a kid who was reading the last few pages of
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
. It had been one of Dusty’s favorite books. While watching the child, he remembered how he’d felt when he’d finished it twenty years earlier. He watched the kid close the cover, put it in his lap, look up, sigh a little, smile, and then say to his mother, “I want to start the next one.”
New Yorkers participate in one another’s most intimate moments, and I want to share in them all. I, as it turns out, am “the urban equivalent of Peeping Toms.” My impediment is not an unwillingness to be home; it’s an inability to tear myself away from here, from the eight million people with whom I want to have coffee.
But, by definition, these relationships could never be more than snippets—how can I justify choosing strangers over my family? I shouldn’t “bother [my]self with what is hidden, especially not when the real prize is always in plain sight.” I now have three nephews and a niece who are growing up without me, know me as the aunt who flies in and out. Lou asks Borden, “Where’s Jane?” And he points his finger upward and says, “Choo-choo in the sky.”
It’s time to start “digging for something rather than the absence of something.” It’s time for me to become the Aunt Jane. I might not be able to help them with their table manners or wardrobe etiquette, but I do have advice to offer. I mean, someone’s got to warn them never to eat an entire pot cookie. Other things I’ve learned: Don’t judge a guy by his khaki pants. Always protect your groin, even when you don’t see a pole. The fake wallets are usually the ones with the “real leather” tags. Never pose alone for a Polaroid. And, finally, if a fat goombah ever calls you a “bitch,” you tell him your aunt Jane said he can suck it to high heaven.
I have wisdom to share, and I don’t want to do so over the phone
or through the mail. I know what I have to do. I’m just afraid to rip off the Band-Aid.
Then, at the corner of Fourth and Prospect avenues, my cynical, seen-it-all New York state of mind was positively blown. I fumbled with my iPhone, trying to pull up my voice-memo application in order to more precisely record the image walking toward me: a dude in a matching lime-green summer outfit, the bottom half of which closely resembled culottes. Just like the woman at my family’s Fourth of July picnic. Technically, his bottoms were neither linen nor true culottes; they were baggy, long shorts. And, actually, his T-shirt was neon. Also, his hair wasn’t frosted or shaped like a football helmet. But
I might not believe in fate or angels, but that doesn’t preclude them from sending me a message, which is this: My life in New York has been a picnic. It was really fun, yes, but it will end, and I don’t want to be around after the mayonnaise salads have gone bad. Fortunately, though, I’ve still got a bit of time. Because it’s not over until someone reads the Declaration of Independence.
“So I struck a deal with my new home.” I will leave, but not before I’ve had the opportunity “to script the perfect closing statement,” which is, of course, this book. And when it is published, my declaration, I will give it to New York, I will read this line out loud: I love you. “I love you!” I will shout it from bridges and the tops of buildings, and “litter countless squares of innocent sidewalk with furious mutterings”: I love you, I love you, I love you. But, in case the city can’t hear me, those lines will also be printed in indelible ink so that long after I’ve left, my smile will remain.
I know this is right. It has to be true. I must close the cover, sigh, smile, and ask to start another one.
Sloan Harris, thank you for your enthusiasm when you liked something, your candor when you didn’t, and your support regardless; thank you for reading, reading, reading, and making me feel worthy of being your client, whether or not that’s true. Boaty Boatwright, you should have your own Fifth Avenue parade. Big thanks also to Liz Farrell, Kristyn Keene, Josh Pearl, Kevin McEleney, and Clay Ezell.
Heather Lazare, at times you knew better than I what I wanted this book to be, and at each turn you helped me improve it. Thank you for your keen insights and for pinpointing what was absent, superfluous, or all bunked-up; thank you for always answering the phone. Lots of appreciation also to Philip Patrick and Brett Valley in the beginning, and to Campbell Wharton, Justina Bachelor, Nikki Sprinkle, Kira Peikoff, Rachelle Mandik, Tina Pohlman, and Catherine Pollock throughout. Wade Lucas, cheers for the title.
Thanks, Mom, for letting me joke about your ice-cream-eating habits, Dad for suggesting I cut the joke about losing my virginity, and Aunt Jane for allowing me to write about your underwear. Thanks also to y’all plus Lou, Tucker, Lucius, and Nancy May for reading early drafts and not, as far as I know, burning them afterward. I am fortunate to have a family who puts up with me. To all of the Bordens, Lacys, and Preyers, I am grateful for a lifetime of encouragement.
Nathan, thank you for reading and offering endless suggestions.
Whether it was “this connection feels abrupt” or “you use a lot of semicolons,” they were always right. Thank you for getting on my case when I needed to work and pulling me away when it was time to rest, for keeping me anchored, cooking me dinner, finding illegal recordings of
Bethenny Getting Married?
on YouTube, and writing e-mails and drawing maps when my injury wouldn’t let me. I literally couldn’t have done it without you.
Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, Elizabeth Barr, and Lyssa Ball, I can’t believe you took the time to read the entire book and offer sound advice on troubled sections, when you could have been achieving fame, putting together a magazine, or playing with your children, respectively. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
My fellow Southerners in New York, on several occasions you let me bounce ideas off of you, pick your brains and, frequently, steal your jokes outright. And all you got in return was egg casserole and this thank-you: Susanna Hegner, Abbie and Chris Carson, Katie Kosma, Cathy and Brian Walsh, Tiffany Almy, Bartow Church, Jamie Hancock, and all of the others with whom I lamented the lack of pimiento cheese in Gristedes.
Thank you to fellow New Yorkers who gave me ideas: Alex Perry, Will Hines, Andy Secunda, Dan Powell, John Carney, and Meghan Keane; to everyone at
Time Out New York
past and present and especially Joe Angio, Michael Freidson, Ethan LaCroix, and Matthew Love; to the teachers and professors who planted in my head most of the ideas in this book: Susan Navarette, Ruel Tyson, William Peck, and Rob Seals; to John Hodgman for publishing an early essay and instilling in me the confidence to write a book; to Dan Rabinow for making an introduction; to Locke Clifford and Eric Chase (Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl) for confirming facts; and to Lewis Carroll, off of whom I blatantly ripped.