Sunday Songs: R.E.M. – “Leaving New York”


I wanted to stay.

I wanted to stay then, back when I left for good. Just for a month, granted. Just to finish the lease I’d signed, more because of the situation in Seattle than the one in the City. But my mom had plans for that month, grand plans for her extended vacation, and so I left.

I wanted to stay this week, just for a couple days. There was too much to do, not enough of it done, even as I wandered the city to the tune of more than ten miles of walking per day, taking in two comedy shows, a Nightly Show taping, a Mets game, a stop by my old apartment, a trip to the top of the new One World Trade Center, and drinks with two friends on separate nights. Four days in the City sounded like plenty when I booked the trip.

I will never get enough New York.


Back then, one day, an email. My boss was going to interview Michael Stipe, and asked the entire magazine’s staff to submit questions for her to ask. She was at a loss, starstruck and overwhelmed, yet when I popped into her office to express my awe at the opportunity she had ahead of her, she expressed something else entirely: Regret.

The plan was, Caryn was going to fly to Philadelphia, and interview Stipe during a train ride back to New York. As we talked, she shrugged, offering that she wished the train had been going in the opposite direction. The new album had a song entitled “Leaving New York,” and if the train was only going the other way, the headline would write itself.

Around that time, it really started to sink in that nobody enjoyed working at Spin as much as I’d imagined.

“You might have laughed if I’d told you/You might have hidden the frown…”


I don’t know who I’d be had I stayed.

Poorer, probably. Or, at the very least, not living at the standard I’m accustomed to. Lonelier, maybe, or maybe not.

Monday night, while catching up with a former volunteer teammate in the City for grad school, she expressed a difference between New York and Seattle that I’d long wondered if I was alone in feeling. In New York, she said, nobody judges you for doing things alone, the way they do in Seattle. You can take a book to the bar and read without feeling cold stares.

The tail end of my time living in New York was the loneliest of my life to that point, and yet I handled it with ease. It’s when I developed my habit of going to shows alone, one that still serves me well to this day. It was the only time I felt completely at ease with my nocturnal tendencies. It was a city without shame, the only place so brutally dense and fast-paced that nobody has time to care what anyone around them is doing. A city of you do you.

I tell people how I felt in tune, in love with Seattle right away. But, now that I think about it, how much of that was really those college years? More importantly, how much is just an attempt to retroactively justify my return?

“You might have succeeded in changing me/I might have been turned around…”


This trip was supposed to be about Brooklyn. Prospect Park, wandering Williamsburg, poking around Park Slope. Getting a feel for the borough that might be the only habitable place where the spirit of late-aughts Capitol Hill still survives. But there wasn’t enough time. Somehow, in the country’s only truly 24-hour city, there’s never enough time.

Barcade was all I could manage, and even that was brief and overwhelming. The Saturday night scene made me worry that Williamsburg was falling to the same scourge as the Hill, albeit at a slower pace.

Still, there was an energy to the place. As a friend and I wandered the borough, looking for a bodega to grab drinks before sneaking onto her old building’s roof, where I could see a panoramic view of Manhattan, I felt invigorated, as though my mere presence in the area was enough to shake off the brutal 24 hours previous: Birthday drinks for a friend, three hours of sleep, a 7am transcontinental flight, a train ride into the City to my hotel, the line at a Theatre District Shake Shack, a walk down to the Village, a drink at the bar where I’d had my first legal beer years earlier, a surprise Aziz Ansari set at the Comedy Cellar, a walk back to my hotel, and an Uber to Williamsburg.

I barely stopped moving. I couldn’t stop moving. To stop would mean to sleep. Sleep would be time lost. And there’s never enough time in New York.

“It was easier to leave than to be left behind/Leaving was never my proud…”


Wednesday morning, when I shuffled across the street to Penn Station to catch a train to my late father’s hometown, I felt victorious and defeated. After six long years, I had returned to New York. I’d checked the most important boxes, while leaving plenty more for the future. For next time.


And yet, I was leaving, having once more not conquered all. There’s a part of me that will never feel my life has been fully lived until I truly do New York. Until I live there, without an end date. Until I live there again, maybe not forever, but at least knowing that walking away, if I do, is my choice.

While wandering the City last week, I frequently looked up the websites of buildings with “FOR RENT” banners hanging from the side. The prices seemed absurd, but that’s Manhattan. Brooklyn is something different. Something possible.

Something to look forward to, perhaps, if Seattle keeps trending the way it has.

“Leaving New York, never easy/I saw the light fading out…”

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