When I lived in New York City in the '80s, I went to see about a room for rent on the Upper West Side. It was in a beautiful neighborhood just a block from Central Park. As I recall, the room was going for $300. Why was a room in this neighborhood going so cheap, I wondered?
The man who owned the apartment had been drinking when he let me in. He liked me at first sight and wanted me to take the room.
"Before we go any farther," he said,"I need to tell you about my thing."
"Okay. What's your thing?"
"I like to go into Central Park at night and hide in the bushes and give guys blow jobs."
"That's your thing?"
"That's quite a thing."
"Oh, yes! I meet the most interesting people."
"I've done priests. I make them hide their cross before I'll do them."
He seemed surprised at the question. "Everything it stands for. I think it's better for them if they put the cross away while I'm doing it. I also did a policeman. He let me ride on the back of his motorcycle."
The fellow shivered in delight at the memory of riding that motorcycle.
"I dunno," I mumbled, "I think I better look elsewhere."
"Why?!" he cried in dismay.
"I just... I'm a little uncomfortable with your thing. Not that there's anything wrong with it, if, you know, that's your thing. I'm conservative."
"So am I!"
"Right. I mean... my mother would disapprove," I said rather lamely.
"Oh, I know! Mine does, too."
I got out of there as fast as I could.
Thus did I end up taking a room in a loft in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. When I moved to New York in 1984, I took along a book on how to move to New York. Yes, I would buy such a book. It advised against moving to Williamsburg -- too dangerous. By the time I left New York in 1995, Williamsburg had become trendy. You saw lawyers and Wall Street types coming over to the bars.
I liked Williamsburg. There were three main types of people there at that time: Hasidic Jews, Puerto Ricans and young artists. It was a bizarre mix of people that made the place seem exotic and romantic, in a decaying urban sort of way.
I remember quite vividly walking across the Williamsburg Bridge on nice days when the crisp air came down out of Canada and blew away the humid Caribbean air. The buildings of Manhattan shone with clearly defined lines on such a day.
When I would return to California on vacations I was surprised at how big and clean the suburban streets were. I was stunned the first time I saw a supermarket check out counter with an electronic reader beeping as the items were passed over it. The bodegas of Williamsburg had no such science fictional technology. As exciting as New York City was -- nothing like it in my experience -- the quality of life in California was higher. More boring, but easier. I never did get used to the winters back east.