|LIFE AS A LOSER #68: LOOKING THE CITY IN THE EYE."|
|By Will Leitch|
This city is hard. I don’t know why I thought, when I left St. Louis and The Sporting News in December 1999, that I was going to take over New York, that I was going to a place where my alleged genius would be embraced, that I was going to achieve fame and fortune and the trappings of literary stardom, but, well, that’s what I thought.
In St. Louis, I saw myself as that proverbial big fish in that proverbial small pond. I started out just logging agate text, editing incomprehensible team reports, cropping photos, writing 100-word blurbs about the Clippers’ upset win over the Timberwolves. But as I spent more time there, I started to gain confidence in my writing and my presence, thanks not in small part to this Web site, where I was allowed to indulge my most private and self-indulgent inclinations, a freedom I appreciated at first, then took for granted. After a while, I felt entitled to the freedom. This is a freedom that is perhaps not healthy for a 23-year-old kid who, when you broke it down, really had never had to work very hard for anything before in his life.
After a while, I was known as the artsy literary guy of The Sporting News, which, in retrospect, was a title probably built more out of my own self-promotion than any actual merit. I was the one always championing the plight of the writer, blasting the corporate higher-ups for not realizing the artist they had on staff, the brilliance that resided in their midst. I worked there long enough to earn a little bit of clout, and I parlayed that into a successful lobbying effort for two columns. The conceit of these columns, the Daily Closer and the College Football Blitz was that they were columns for the common man, the guy who had more to do than obsess about the minutiae of sports statistics. The average sports fan, I argued, doesn’t care about how many yards Trent Dilfer threw for in Week 13 against Green Bay; they just wanted to be entertained by columns with a sense of fun. To anyone who would listen, I would describe the “vision” behind these columns: “They’re not about sports; they’re about me writing about sports.” They were filled with self-referential humor and relentless digressions.
The whole thing was a scam. I just wanted to be heard, wanted to feel special, wanted to feel like I was good enough to get away with something. When the columns started to be read a bit, as the page views inched up infinitesimally, I took it as validation: I was bigger than The Sporting News, I was onto something that the corporate schmoes were too square to understand. The columns always meant more to me than they did to the readers, but that’s because I was important. I deserved those columns. Just like I deserve this one.
I began to feel that St. Louis was a waste of my time. I would never be able to realize my full potential in the Midwest. Goddammit, didn’t they realize who I was? And sports ... true artists could not be shackled to something as trivial as sports. I had larger fish to gut, clean and fry.
I was invincible. A woman I worked with, engaged to another man, happy with her life, caught my eye. A lesser man would have recognized this and stayed away. But I was different. I was special. There were no rules for me. I pursued her relentlessly until a moment of weakness, when she caved. I then made her feel guilty, lacking vision, for returning to him.
I then met a sweet, loyal, beautiful blonde who, for whatever reason, thought I was worth hanging around. I fell for her ... until I realized she was a St. Louis girl - more shackles. I was offered a job in New York. I was about to conquer. I accepted the job without even a second thought as to her. Later, she would follow me to New York, where I would break her heart because she stood in the way of my destiny. Because New York was mine. I left St. Louis and vowed never to look back.
And here I sit, more than a year later, confused, humbled, crumbled.
Eric Gillin, an Ironminds editor and one of my closest friends on the planet, lives on Bowery Avenue just outside of Chinatown. He pays too much for his apartment, like everyone here does, but it’s a great one, homey, quiet enough, conveniently located. After we traveled across the country for our Web site-“launching” Issuepaper.com trip, I spent many hours at Eric’s apartment. Anytime I showed up there, it would only be a matter of minutes before I swiped a beer from the fridge and headed to his roof.
In New York, there is nothing better than a roof. Eric has a great one. When you step up there, you have a breathtaking view of the city. To your left, the awesome Twin Towers looming, imposing, solid, reveling in their skyscraper-ness. They are not architectural wonders; they are just enormous and dominating. And then, to your right, the rest of the city ... the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, all of midtown and uptown, shining luminously. What always amazes me about this view of Manhattan is how colorful it is; even though we’re dealing with just massive amounts of concrete, stacked end to end to unthinkable heights, the color never fades. It’s always beaming red, or green, or blue, or just bright. It’s always shining, like the city itself is a pilot light that will extinguish long after the rest of us are gone. In the film The Cruise, Timothy Levitch talks of the city being alive, a breathing entity with mood swings and fits of anger that ebb and flow like anybody else’s. You feel this looking at downtown New York from a distance. New York is like the kid in school that got all the girls, the guy you want to be friends with, the guy who kinda likes you and maybe will give you the chance to hang with him, but who ultimately doesn’t care one way or the other. He’ll be there no matter what, impenetrable, the guy the girls love, the girl with the most cake.
And there’s something about roofs here ... a roof makes you big. A roof makes you feel as if you can see the city at a distance, see what you’re doing here. It grants you a perspective you lose when you’re another anonymous drone bustling around aimlessly on the ground floor. You feel like, for once, you can talk to the city on its own level, look it in the eye, try to make it understand
I have been talking to the city a lot lately. I’m staying at a place in Brooklyn with a roof that’s not quite as nice as Eric’s, but close. You can see the Statue of Liberty, positioned strategically away from all the chaos, laughing at us all insignificant idiots inflated with self-importance. But most of all, you can see the city. You feel like you can put your arms around it and grab it, for once, get a handle on the damn place. For a few minutes, you find peace and can try to see the whole picture.
It makes you feel larger. It makes you feel that New York has a place for you. And, at times that you really need it, in a weird way, it does a favor ... it makes you feel smaller.
There is one problem I will not have the rest of my time in New York, however long that will be, which, at this rate, might not be that much longer. I will always feel smaller. This city has done many things to me, and it has beaten me in ways I hadn’t thought possible, but it is New York that I have to thank for being humbled and crumbled.
I think back of St. Louis. The Missouri city has an underrated downtown view; the Arch swoops over nondescript buildings and lends the place an awe it wouldn’t otherwise have. But it is small. It makes you feel big.
New York has made me feel small. Which city is right is a question yet to be answered.