Urban Anthropology: New York can wait

NYC Skyline HZTMy co-workers in the city were especially chatty the Thursday before Christmas. Pasting my boss’ smiling face on a male stripper wearing only a speedo and white tube socks with the inscription, “He works hard for his money” on top of our company logo, one co-worker complained of a holiday party he had hosted at his apartment the night before. “Each woman had to cry and tell their sob story about how they hate their job, boyfriend or child. It was like Eat, Pray, Love. And I was like, I’m fine [does diva hand gesture]. It was too much. “

When the conversation turns to interior decorating, another co-worker is swept away in a sea of nostalgia, “We could not figure out a fabric for our lives” she says, recalling the days when she first moved into her apartment with her boyfriend.

After living day in and day out in a land where talk about mediocre quarterbacks, babies that play with iPads, match.com boyfriends, and the big Lotto jackpot are the norm, I couldn’t be more relieved to set my sights homeward. No more impatient drivers flipping me off for walking too slowly across the street or bumper stickers in a restaurant bathroom declaring, “New York doesn’t need you.” While the fabric of my life may be long overdue for an upgrade, an upstate alteration couldn’t hurt.


It’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes does for a familiar landscape. There are small, quirky details and incidents I had forgotten or taken for granted — like the moment I spot two vigorously hopping figures — one adult, the other significantly shorter, bouncing up and down the sidewalk near the library in Woodstock on Christmas Eve. In New York this would probably draw a crowd of gawkers looking at the weirdos, here it’s business as usual. I say keep marching to the beat of your own drum.

If my life is a tapestry, New York City is insistent on making its presence known even when I head to the hills. Sharing an old Volvo that smells faintly like gasoline with five young locals newly turned New Yorkers I’m amazed to hear my own thoughts echoed. “I have such a complicated relationship to the region” says a Columbia student I’ve known since kindergarten and haven’t seen in nearly that same duration of time. He, like me, finds himself needing to make a pilgrimage away from the city every three weeks or so. “I love coming home” says another with whom I attended elementary school.

“Isn’t it nice when people are nice?” I overhear at the shopping/spa complex three miles from my house after breakfast at the Phoenicia Diner on Route 28 where I have run into two former classmates, one working in the fashion industry in New York and the other waitressing at the diner. The woman’s companion laughs, “… Just like New York!”

Near dusk I find worries about my so-far fruitless job hunt suffocating me. Just as when I was a kid, the outdoors and breathtaking scenery is my safe haven. Our border collie and I crawl through the hole in the fence to cross an old closed bridge, taking the path of my past. The familiar background of blue mountains, the rush of the river, the moon rising in the sky, bring back fond and innocent memories of swimming in the river, dancing in the moonlight on country roads with my best friend, trail-running with my gaggle of cross-country runners. I’ve walked as far as Catskill Corners now. My spot along the riverbank is partially illuminated by that sprawling version of country log cabin which is pretty far removed from the small white houses with broken screen porches I see across the creek. Refusing to be ignored, the city still manages to impose itself on the natural surroundings.

Tucked behind Catskill Corners is a large sign: “More jobs, less taxes.” I can’t escape the unending debate in my mind: money, a traditional career path verses natural beauty and life’s simple pleasures.

But the fabric of all our lives — locals, New Yorkers, and everyone in between — is more complex than that. Surveying the scene once more, I put an end to the thoughts wrapping up my mind. For now, New York can wait.

Alex Sveikauskas of Mount Tremper is writing about her first year in New York City.