When I moved to New York City in the summer of 2010, there were a great many things I didn’t know about the world, like the expression “served up” or the benefits of renter’s insurance. I was fresh from college and a novice to anything remotely “adult,” ranging from high society social faux pas to basic financial awareness.
It was lucky—I suppose—that when my feet first touched this city’s bustling pavement, I landed in the safe arms of Astoria, Queens. This neighborhood held no pretention, full of old Mediterranean immigrants, middle-aged Latino families, and pockets of fresh-faced actors. Astoria was one of those places with a working blue-collar community that seemed satisfied belonging to the ever-shrinking middle class. It was custom to see the wives of firefighters shopping at the butcher’s, young nurses exiting the train, and plumbing trucks parked along the sidewalk.
My neighbor was an old Greek man who had lived in the same home since first arriving in New York. He would always ask about my roommate, Anna, or offer up grapes from his garden. Down the street from him was a loony clown with a terrifying, colorful van full of props and dead-eyed dolls. He had a yippy dog that followed him everywhere, and cameras posted outside of his apartment. (He was easily the most unsettling part of my four-year stay in Astoria.)
My landlords were an Italian couple, she a New York native and he an Italian immigrant who barely spoke English. Her northern accent was unbelievable to my delicate southern ears—she sounded like the caricature of a mobster’s wife—but Laura was kind and protective of our little home. Two of their grown children lived in my three-story walkup, a quiet building located about 15 minutes from the N train’s 30th Avenue stop.
You learn quickly when you are far from the comforts of normalcy. I would also argue that living in any large city considerably speeds up the process of finding your bearings. You sink or you swim. You “make it”—or you don’t.
All of this to say, throughout the next several months I plan to write about the 10 things I wish I’d know before moving to the tiny universe that is New York City.
I found this (ridiculous) video when I was cleaning out my computer, and it inspired this series. There are so many things I wish someone would have told me—but then again, maybe that would have ruined the story.