I’m currently reading a collection of essays that have been written by writers who once lived in New York, but felt compelled by circumstance and fate to move out of the city. The compilation is called Goodbye To All That: Writers On Loving And Leaving New York. With a very few exceptions, the essay writers came from someplace to New York, spent some time there and then left.
Can you be a New Yorker, a true New Yorker, by any way other than birth?
I was a contestant on Jeopardy! not long ago. The contestants provide some biographical information, either where you were born or where you live currently, and it gets used in your intro. In my case, I chose to use the city of my birth—Brooklyn, as in, ‘originally from Brooklyn, New York.’ Being from Brooklyn seems to be quite a trend on Jeopardy!. I was speaking with the current champion in the green room prior to taping. He was also from Brooklyn. So, of course, I asked him where in Brooklyn he was from. When he replied, ‘Park Slope’, I thought, Oh, you’re one of those. Those being hipsters, trend seekers, nouveaux, arrivistes. You know, new-comers.
I, on the other hand, am OG. Brooklyn born and bred. I was from Brooklyn well before it was cool, hip or trendy. We lived in Borough Park (still not a hot area, probably never will be). My grandmother lived in Bensonhurst. My parents married at the Masonic Temple on 13th Avenue. My mother went to New Utrecht High School; my father to James Madison. I was born in what was called at the time Israel Zion Hospital; it’s Maimonides now.
I used to roller skate (skates that attached to my shoes with a skate key) on uneven sidewalks, go to the candy store, hang out with my friends from the building, visit my cousins. Got into occasional kid trouble.
But back to my moment in the Jeopardy! green room. When the current champion told me he lived in Park Slope, I asked him where he was from. When he replied, ‘Woodland Hills’, I had my answer. He wasn’t from Brooklyn. He just lives there now. He’s not a New Yorker.
A New Yorker is something you are, not something you become.
I may live in Los Angeles, but I’m from New York.