Michael Wolraich's picture


    There are moments in life, in some lives, in my life, when one becomes unmoored. Something or someone cuts the bond between anchor and ship, and the sailor is cast adrift. Perhaps a violent squall snaps the tether; perhaps a villain slashes it in the night; perhaps you sever it yourself in a drunken flourish of enthusiasm or at a tranquil moment of lucidity; perhaps you simply wake up one morning and find that you've drifted out to sea.

    I sailed into New York harbor in January of 2000, bright with the hope of a new century and intent on ending my itinerate ways. I loved the city instantly and passionately. I marveled at the buildings and the bars and the buses and the bagels. It seemed as if a hidden choir roared Ode to Joy while I grinned my way down the tumultuous avenues. I would often stop suddenly to absorb some new experience--the morning sun reflecting from shining skyscrapers, crowds swarming through a rumbling subway station, a saxophone singing softly in the park at dusk. Elation would flood through me, and I'd imagine throwing my hat in the air like Mary Tyler Moore. My New York moments.

    I found a tiny burrow of my own in the beautifully gritty East Village. I'd loll on the fire escape at the foot of an urban forest with a beer in one hand and a glowing red-tipped cigarette in the other as Tom Waits sighed from my stereo. I discovered a buzzing, eclectic cafe around the corner where I'd sip tea for hours as I worked or wrote. Sometimes, I'd strap on rollerblades and fly along the rusting, industrial East River; dodge the Chinese immigrants who fished in the proud shadow of Old Man Brooklyn Bridge; roll cautiously over fish oil leaking from the stinky old Fulton Fish Market; shimmy past ogling tourists under the passive gaze of the Liberty Statue as I pivoted around the tip of Manhattan; glide along the pretty brick plaza beside the Hudson River slipping nimbly between afternoon strollers and upset yapping dogs; then cut through the Greenwich Village and dodge the traffic crawling past elegant brownstones.

    Brimming with optimistic fervor, I started a software company for fashion e-commerce. I met pompous investors, beautiful models, ambitious entrepreneurs, and old Jewish men from the "shmata" (Yiddish: rag) trade. I excitedly shared my progress with friends and family and looked forward to what would come next. But then, the market collapsed, and the investors' internet enthusiasm washed away, taking my poor hopeful startup along with it. I awoke one morning to a call from an ex-girlfriend. Some planes had crashed into the World Trade Centers. From my roof, I saw them writhe and burn and fall fainting to the ground.

    I struggled to find work for a time and fretted as rent costs threatened to force me from my new haven, but New York and I persevered together. I found a job; the city began to rebuild. I turned 30 in a cabin in the Catskills with fifteen friends toasting my age. My early thirties were happy. I was still young but confident now with friends and girlfriends and money and hope. A friend of mine found a sunny, smiling apartment with low rent and a roof deck overlooking the tumble of the East Village. We moved in together, and our parties were "fabulous." It's true that I began to take the city for granted, and my New York moments came less frequently, but they were replaced by a deeper love. My first experience of New York was a lusty embrace; later, the city and I held hands sweetly.

    At 35, something changed. My friends married themselves off in a sudden rush; there were four weddings one happy, poignant June. At 36, most of them had new babies. Some moved deep into the outer boroughs, and I would see them less often. Others left the area entirely. My roommate moved to Chicago where she could afford to buy an apartment and settle down. I found a new roommate. He was pleasant and interesting but wasn't really my friend and left nine months later owing me money. I found another roommate and then another. They were friends but didn't stay. I had a couple of romantic relationships, weighed down by uncertainty and indecision. I didn't stay.

    I have become tired working in technology. I enjoy the freedom and flexibility of my freelance job, but I work too hard and don't earn enough. The thrill of creation has subsided, and the dream of entrepreneurship has lost its glow. I started blogging, not with any grand plan in mind, but because I felt as if I had lost my voice. For the past year, writing has been for me like a hot fire in a cold dark room. It keeps me warm.

    I'm 37 now. My last roommate just moved out. I cast about half-heartedly for a new roommate, but in this economy, there are no applicants. I decided it was time to live on my own, and I've been prowling for apartments. What I have seen has been cramped, dark, and expensive. Some places might suffice, but I can't commit. Perhaps it's time to follow my brother to Philadelphia, where costs are lower, and I have family and a friend or two. Philly will never ignite my passions as New York has, but it is old and pretty and proud. Yet, I worry that my brother will not stay, and it will be more difficult to meet with my clients or find new work. I have a new lover in New York. I like her, the relationship holds promise, but it progresses slowly. Philadelphia is not so far, but perhaps it's too far for a fragile new relationship.

    I went rollerblading again yesterday. The sky was gray and the air chilly. The path along the East River is closed and has been for five years. The work was supposed to have been completed two years ago. The alternative path, along the highway, is rutted and crumbling. Fulton Fish Market has moved to the Bronx. The industries along the river are being replaced by condos. But the Chinese immigrants still fish, the tourists still ogle, and the Liberty Statue stands serene as ever.

    My ship has been quietly slipping from the harbor these past two years. I can't stay out here in the open sea. Shall I tack back to port or sail on? Even the idea of leaving makes me miss the city, but I cannot even remember my last New York moment.



    Lovely piece, G. I know a bit about how you feel. Since college, I've had 3 rounds of 7 years each. Settle in a city (Toronto, London - my true love, like your NY - and this cold Prairie town), grow to love it, friendships & work & lovers, and then... that "loose" feeling eating up the last 2 years. Each time, same cycle. I'm in a similar place again, at the end of a "detaching." Likely leave this Spring.

    Our world puts a premium on speed, flash, wit. You have all that, in spades. I had it, got rewarded for it, and so I ran - hard. For 20 years. Didn't stop the 20 years from passing though. And now... I have some regrets. Wished I'd gone a little slower, not been so uber-motivated, creating & working so bloody hard, letting it consume my life. Me. Turns out there was value to slowing down, deepening, hanging with the same set of people, place.

    Last two years, have reconnected with the original love-of-my-life. We lament the lost years, but are glad there's more to come. Started writing again. Hadn't written in 15 years. But now... I need a home. Haven't had one since 18. Not really. Donno how to do it, even.

    I think we're gonna have a lot of company, in this finding a new (or old) harbour. An era has ended. You'll do great Genghis, whether in NYC or Phillie or wherever. You got the chops. But if there was one thing I could say, based on my 20 year run... it's to slow it down. Sink some roots. And for what it's worth, if you feel like "YOU" in NYC? And still love the place, even under the grime? Then call it home. For good. You're an old-timer now, have seen it through some seasons & cycles. And if it isn't home, or you can't be you there, then... set sail. Cheers, G. q the e

    Thanks, Q. There's clearly a story, or several stories, in your comment. I'm curious. You should blog about it.

    It's interesting that you encourage me to stay and grow my roots deeper, while you're ready to go, when what you really want is a home. Where will you go? Home, I think, is not a place but a state of mind. New York has been my home, more than any place since I was 18. But sometimes, there's value in leaving home. And also in slowing down, which is difficult when the rumbling engine in your guts demands that you hit the gas.

    I was saving this song for an Ode to Canada post, and I'm sure that you know it well, but it's too appropriate not to link here. I apologize for the Toronto pics, but there isn't a better version on youtube:


    Hey G. For me to go or be at "home," means I have to leave here. The Prairies will never be me. NS is, and S. Ontario is close - lots of friends, plus M, even relatives there. No one can really advise on this stuff. Only you know. Just think about where you feel you. Who & where makes you feel at home. And don't run too hard for too long. Your 40's go in a flash - it's a shocker. And after that, health becomes a big big deal. Friends start dying. Body acts up. And then... after the long ponder... do what the f*ck you knew you were going to anyway!

    OK, then get yourself off the prairie ya bastid. And take the love of your life with you. I'm sure that I'll end up doing what the f*ck I was going to do--I always do--but I appreciate the counsel nonetheless.

    What New York Used To Be - The Kills. 

    My father once told me I was like a blue crab, scuttling up and down the coast between Delaware and Charleston.  In a couple of weeks I'll be moving back up.  I was excited about being closer to my friend in NYC but today he told me he has plans to move to California.  He has talked before but this time I think he is serious.  Some people never move, some people never stay.  Wish I could do the cool thing and embed the video here but all I can do is link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbnJo88kuP8


    Most of my closest friends live in San Francisco. I lived out there with them, but there came a moment when I knew that I had to leave. I was sad to go and still miss their daily presence, but I was right to go. I wish that we could gather our friends and family from across the world and bring them to where we need to go.

    Bowie's Changes always feels anachronistic to me, like Our Generation. Universal in appeal and yet bound to a specific moment. Btw, to embed a video, click the little filmstrip button at the top of the edit box, and paste in the youtube url.

    Thanks for the tip about the edit.  My friend is talking about San Francisco.  But I must say, he does always starts this up in the wintertime. 

    I love David Bowie.  I get the anachronistic bit but Bowie got so embedded in me it seems like he is always as current as I am. 

    I felt the same way after about seven years in Chicago. I stayed for two more years and then, for various reasons, moved back to where my family is. And I have missed the city every single day since. Even knowing that, I'm not sure I would have made a different choice. But when I left, I hoped someday I would go back and I still hope that.

    It's a struggle sometimes to be content with what you have, to keep the restlessness at bay. That said, there's nothing wrong with a new adventure, whatever it is. Good luck with yours!!

    Going to your parties were my New York moments.

    "If I can't make it here, I won't make it anywhere." Or did I get it backwards?

    Get a double shot in your cafe, take a deep breath, and find another Republican fund raising website to work on.

    You'll be fine.

    "If I can't make it here, I won't make it anywhere."

    Ha. Optimistic twist. Even if I stay, I'll move to a smaller place, so no more parties. But I may have one last hurrah the last weekend of March. You should come into the city for a New York moment.

    Always enjoyed yout post and it's good to see the shirt againSmile

    Love the song!!!

    Aahh the shirt! I definitely felt there's something different but I couldn't figure out what it was. Please, pleeeaaase make it blink like the good'ol days at TPM!

    Genghis, my young and flighty friend: Let's stipulate you weren't asking for advice, and none we could give will change your mind anyway. The confluence of job fatigue, financial difficulties, romantic and urban ennui -- it sure does look like a sign, doesn't it?

    What bothers me is that Philadelphia isn't luring you; as you describe it, it's second-best in the job, love-life, housing and urban-vibe departments. Well, maybe what you need right now is family and old, tested friendships.

    But you just weathered a New York winter; sun, warm breezes off the river and miniskirts loom on the horizon. It's a shame not to reap the rewards. If you must leave, have you really sated all your wanderlust at 37? You could write or do tech work from anywhere in the English-speaking world. You'd like Ireland.

    At least you'll get to see one last N.Y. St. Patrick's Day parade.

    I always appreciate advice, even from you Canadians. You are astute to observe that Philly isn't luring me. I'm not even willing to commit to it yet; just thinking about staying with my brother for a couple of months while I decide what to do. If my lease weren't up, I definitely wouldn't move immediately. But I'm also finding it very difficult to commit to another year in New York, which a new lease would require me to do. And most of the places, I've seen involve a broker, which can cost up to a month and a half of rent, meaning that I would have to pay up to $2500 for privilege of moving.

    I've thought about a little traveling but not actually moving abroad. I'm hesitant to move to a new place where I don't know anyone--I think it would be lonely and exacerbate
    the unmoored feeling. But I may take advantage of my mobility by couchsurfing a bit with old friends around the country and England.

    You know, I've never seen the St. Patty's parade. Maybe now's the time.

    If you decide to flit around, you should plan to alight in Chicago for a couple of weeks in July or August. The city that works is also they city that knows how to play, especially when the weather is bearable!

    I envy your mobility. If I had it myself, I would head overseas again. My nephew just left for the Peace Corps and I find myself horribly jealous.

    If I flit, I will likely visit Chicago, and if so, I'll let you know, but it sure as hell won't be in July or August. Bearable weather? Are you insane?

    July or August weather in Manhattan might be unpleasant and your rememberings of the heat and humidity of the prairie are probably accurate. But in Chicago, the breeze comes off the lake, making it downright perfect! As long as it's below 95, there's no better place in the summer.

    Latest Comments