Move to New York.
New York is where assholes live and where non-assholes go to become those people’s neighbors.
When you move into your new apartment you will spend an entire afternoon discussing with your neighbors where to store each individual tenant’s bicycle, which you have not yet acquired the money to buy. When you do buy a bike, and you store it at the bottom of the stairs, you will receive a note taped onto your brown, leather seat that says, “This is not what we discussed.” Don’t make friends with your neighbors.
Take your shiny bicycle (which you decided to buy brand-new because Craigslist is filled with swindling assholes who want to sell you their 70s junker for $300) and bike in the designated bike lanes. Follow the rules. Wear a helmet. Only run a red light if you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that a car is not coming in the opposite direction. When a car, coming in the opposite direction, throttles past you with their middle finger sticking out the window, keep pedaling.
Pedal to Williamsburg. Williamsburg is the town with all the hipsters. Ask the first person you see—a boy who is dressed like a 1930s train hopper, if this is the town with all the hipsters. Ask if he is a hipster. He will ignore you. Find a place to lock your bicycle—a street lamp, perhaps, or a signpost. Don’t be alarmed when you get back to your bike and your handlebars have been meddled with, are facing the wrong direction. While a blond child dressed in a hand knit, wool sweater watches you snap your wheel back into place, he will scream and cry and cough phlegm onto the pavement. Don’t look away when his parents notice your disgust.
Purchasing anything in New York City is like an unwinnable game. If you don’t want to lose (every single thing) and become a homeless asshole, don’t carry cash. But when you do carry cash, only carry enough for a black cup of coffee—$1.50. Order decaf. Argue with the barista when they want to charge you $2.50 for a decaf Americano. Hold up the line (there is always a line). Tell them this is not what you would do if you owned a café. You would not charge people an extra dollar for ordering decaf. Thank the barista when she hands you your $1.50 decaf Americano.
Americanos are for assholes who get what they want and don’t say thank you. But you are trying not to be an asshole, remember? So thank the bus driver. Thank your grocery bagger. Thank the person in front of you for holding the door open to the gym, because, after a few visits it has become clear that gyms are chalk full of assholes. Thankfulness may just take the edge off. Shower in the locker room before getting in the pool. Only take two towels. Wear flip-flops. Lock up your tennis shoes. Sign in, and dip into the lane with a big “M” painted on the opposite wall—your speed—medium. Swim at a medium speed. Watch out for other swimmers. Don’t splash water or flail your arms. When the man behind you pulls on your leg, DON’T cause a scene by asking him what the hell his problem is because his answer will be, “I just wanted to pass you,” which you already should have known. Each time he taps your ankle after that, don’t let him pass.
Ah, you’re chugging right along now. You’ve completed your orientation into the Park Slope Food Coop. Don’t dawdle on your paperwork. Pay your fees. Take your ID picture and scan your ID card each time you enter the store. (*Note: You will be eyed suspiciously, “treated like an asshole,” until the person with the scanner realizes you are in fact a member who has paid her fees and worked her shifts.) WORK YOUR SHIFTS. Buy organic limes and bananas and free-trade coffee and vegan sushi. Also buy “minimally treated” New York State apples. Minimally treated is a stage below organic, where the food is treated with pesticides. They are cheaper, and you need that extra $1.50 for your decaf Americano. When your cashier repeats, with a hint of condescension, “These apples are ‘minimally treated,’” stare at her, with unwavering eyes, and pull out your wallet.
Treat the books in your graduate writing program as examples of how to write. Say, out loud to your professor and fellow peers, that you don’t agree with the author’s narrow-minded assessment of the race situation in downtown L.A.—a place where, the author writes, “only the Mexicans come to work.” Don’t state the obvious—that you are white. You are an educated, white female. You are an educated, white female from L.A. who does not work. Because if you do your professor will roll her eyes. Return the favor when you see her name listed with a quote, on the back cover of the book, claiming the author’s racial critique as “genius.”
“Genius” is not how you would describe the children who you teach part-time in the Lower East Side. Promising is a better word. Promising suggests hope. Give the students the names of your favorite authors. Give them all of your energy and your last year of good hearing. Give them four hours of every single day. When you feel you are reaching them, check your bag. They have stolen your phone. Find a higher paying job.
Phones with Internet tracking devices are over-rated. Check the map you’ve tacked against the white plaster wall of your 60-square-foot bedroom, and scribble directions onto a small slip of paper that you will stuff inside your back pocket before mounting your bicycle. When you get lost beneath the Brooklyn Bridge two hours later, drenched in sweat and shaking from hunger and fear, interrupt a woman’s meditation routine. Borrow her Internet tracking device.
Decide you still believe in God. Decide you still believe in Jesus. Continue to attend church. Don’t look down on homosexuality. Don’t look down on Jews or Muslims. Go to dinner with the two other Christians in your school program, and when you tell them that you’ve been doing a lot of radical thinking lately, they will pull away from you in visible judgment, and ask, if you “still consider your self a Christian?” Don’t get upset. Don’t throw the pumpkin milkshake they have bought you onto the floor. Okay, get upset, but don’t throw the milkshake.
Milkshakes are for suckers. Drink beer. Get onto the subway—two beers in—with a guitar and a keyboard and your band mate, and arrive late to your show. Play hipster-music for a crowd full of hipster-kids. Try, with all your might, not to laugh when you realize this is the one time you have not been treated like an asshole.
Humans with penises make great assholes. Turn down every man who tries to sleep with you—this will be every man you meet. Don’t take it personally when the first man you turn down shrugs his shoulders and insults your hair. Also don’t take it personally when, at a feminist poetry reading, one man sits so close to you his arm rubs up and down your thigh each time he bends down to “stretch.” Tell the first man that you don’t like his thrift store cowboy shirt. Jab the latter man in the neck with your elbow when you raise your arm to ask a question. Find a decent man who is not obsessed with his penis.
Penis is not a word you typically use. Use it three times in two paragraphs and post it on your blog.
Blog less and less every month because you’re spending all remaining time learning how to survive in New York.
New York is not like California. Move to New York and tell people, repeatedly, how much New York is not like California.