New York City Is Dead, Because I Killed It When I Left and Went Back Home to Pittsburgh: An Essay About Murder

Illustration for article titled New York City Is Dead, Because I Killed It When I Left and Went Back Home to Pittsburgh: An Essay About Murder
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“The city is dead,” I said, aloud, to no one, while each step I took crashed the same cement I’d fallen in love with. The pizza box I lugged with me—filled, just 32 minutes earlier, with a New York City pizza slice—was empty, except for crumbs. Heh. A metaphor, for the dead city.


“A metaphor, for the dead city,” I also said, aloud, to no one.

When I’d arrived 36 hours earlier on a flight from Pittsburgh and then an Uber from LaGuardia to my hotel in midtown, the city was vibrant, alive, breathing, brimming, beaming, teaming. People wore clothes, walked places and carried things with them. Bags, mostly. But also sometimes food. Or pets. Some of these people were very obviously members of certain ethnic groups. Tall buildings stood on each block because that’s where city planners decided they should be, I assume. There were businesses—so many businesses—and people would enter them, spend money, and leave with the items they just paid for. Times Square was bright and smelly, like me at my after-prom. The Statue of Liberty was just really far away. Hell’s Kitchen was neither particularly hot nor wrapped around a stove, but I bought some Flaming Hot Cheetos from a Duane Reade there.

I was called to the city by a bodega safari. I’d heard so much about them—on Law & Order episodes, on A&E and in Big Pun songs—that I had to experience one for myself. Was the bacon, egg, and cheese as good as AOC said it was? Would I witness a robbery? Or possibly even meet a bodega cat? I Ubered through the entire city in search of them. Midtown. Upper West Side. Lower East Side. Greenwich Village. Williamsburg. The Meatpacking District. Tribeca. During these journeys, I’d peer through the tinted windows of the Chevy Tahoes I rode around in, and the city would speak to me. “Hey you,” the city would say, and I’d smile. A city never made me blush before. They say the city never sleeps. But I wanted the city to sleep with me. Forget Sex and the City. I wanted sex with the city.

But, by the second day of the safari, I found no bodegas. Just Zara. And not the clothing store Zara. But Zara, the bartender at the restaurant in my hotel. She was a born-and-bred New Yorker, which I instinctively knew once she told me she was a born-and-bred New Yorker. She just looked and talked so...New York. I ordered an avocado toast. She asked if I wanted a drink, and I asked if she ever wanted to fuck the city.

She said, “Oh, you must be new here.” And then I said, “How did you know?” And then she said, “Everyone new here thinks they want to fuck the city. But it’s just a place that people live. It’s just like most other places, except we have more people. Also, functionally and logistically, how would sex with a city even work? Y’all are goofy.”

“Oh,” I said.

And then she said, “You need to leave now.” And I was like “Why? I didn’t even get my food yet.” And she was like “It’s 2 a.m. Your food came seven hours ago. Please go.”


I went to my room, took some Mentos from the minibar, and fell asleep, alone. The next day, after I checked out of the hotel and called my Uber, I realized that the city had lied to me. I saw no bodegas. No robberies. No Robert De Niro. No cats. It wasn’t alive. It wasn’t vibrant. It wasn’t breathing. It was dead, and I killed it by seeing the truth about it.

I’m back home now because home is where I live.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



Interesting that so far the replies on this piece seemed to have taken it at face value, whereas I read it as a commentary on the narcissism of all the folks writing think pieces about New York being dead simply because they no longer want to live here.

Am I high and projecting onto this piece, or did others read it like I did?