Since that glorious day 500 years ago when Spanish conquistador Hernando “Kiss My Aztec” Cortes razed and burned his way to Anaheim, Calif., and founded what would someday be the landmark of the free world, Disneyland, the East Coast-West Coast debate has raged. And now I join the ranks of snobs who can’t be bothered with all the red states in between (or even Minnesota) to ask the question: “New York or LA?”
Being Boston-born and bred, I am not exactly a New York-ophile. Yet New York is the only East Coast city I considered going to for grad school. Why? Because returning to my hometown would only make me sad. Kerry lost. Every time Larry Summers says something dumb, my family in Massachusetts has to drink a shot — so now they’re all alcoholics. And what’s worse, the Red Sox won the World Series.
Wait, you say, isn’t that a good thing?
Well, consider this — the year the Red Sox finally win the World Series is the year suddenly everyone starts talking about how half the Major Leaguers are hopped up on steroids, so none of it really counts anyhow. Did we not see that one coming?
But the real problem is that Boston has changed. We’re no longer the underdogs. Now that we have that dazzling blue ribbon we don’t know what to do with it. Seeing it ripped from our grasp by those damn Yankees each year served to unify every last scarred Catholic one of us. Even the way the Yanks bitch-slapped my team on opening day doesn’t help; now we’re just a team with no “Curse” or “Spanish Babies” to blame when we lose. Success just don’t look good on Beantown kids.
Anyhow, back to New York, the most vertical place I have ever been. Do I really want to write bad poetry there for the next two years? Mmm, kinda.
A good number of my friends will be taking their Yale degrees to the Big Apple post-commencement, and so I would not be alone in the mad city. I can even bother wacky kind-of-relatives in a lovely apartment right next to MOMA. I could not watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York instead of not watching it at home. My sister could visit from Rochester. I would be within spitting distance of the guy who shreds my heart. These are all the pros.
Yet there’s the lure of California (when you read this, mentally sing it Phantom Planet-style). I’ve been stuck in Connecticut nearly all my life. Slowly, it has sucked the life out of me. New Haven was fine because it’s nothing like my soul-destroying town, Wallingford. But it does feel about time to flee this uptight, snow-riddled coast.
Valencia, which is a half hour north of LA, is warm. Apparently, uncomfortably so. It has outdoor tennis courts open year-round. Terrorist attacks seem unlikely. I could develop a fun little eating disorder or get heat stroke or die in an earthquake, but only two of these seem at all likely. After all, I am very good at keeping myself hydrated. I could write Tim Burton’s next big movie — he’s going to need something to redeem him after his atrocious remake of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” comes out. I could drive to Mexico on spring break, get food poisoning at Jack in the Box and stalk Seth Cohen. No shoveling, no pesky East Coast family, no Yankees. Rain is the least familiar four-letter word. It all sounds very appealing.
What to do? I am Kati’s heat-seeking neural cortex: “Go West, young writer, and get filthy f-ing rich.” I am Kati’s famished heart: “Stay where your soulmate is, even though he doesn’t know you’re alive.”
I am a non-profit non-prophet: empty future, empty pockets. I don’t know what I’m doing or where I will be doing it but I do know I won’t be making any money at it. The City has starving overrated poets yammering for a spot in the next issue of the New Yorker. The Valley has filthy rich, under-appreciated screenwriters watching their work butchered for the lowest common denominator. In Valencia I could take photography classes. In New York I could take the subway.
Of course, if I’d been the slightest bit bright, I would have fled the country. But I’m poor and fellowships that let 21-year-olds go sit on a Harare veranda and write fiction are hard to come by. Shockingly.
Only one thing can tip the savage balance. I need to be asked to stay in the Empire State. Financial aid is one way. Profession of undying love (or even like) from a certain young man is another. I merely want to be wanted. All I need is a sign from his Most Aboveness — I’ll know where I’m meant to go by who wants me there the most.
Until God shoots a motivational arrow into Mr. Cardiac Arrest, I am willing to consider my readers’ opinions. What d’ya think? Start over and get skin cancer, or remain with the intelligentsia and face my claustrophobia straight on? Harlem or brush fires? Plastic bags blooming in barren trees or in people’s faces? Please, please, just write in and tell me what to do. I can’t make the decision myself. I need you, oh nameless Yalies. You’re my only hope. Besides, if you make a bad choice for me, I can always blame you later.
And with that, I bid those of you who will not read my Commencement issue column a tearful adieu. I almost wish I could just keep writing this column for the rest of my life, but I am careful about making such wishes. You never know. Once, I wished I had a brother. Turns out my dad slept with half the Eastern seaboard. Voila, many half-brothers. Anyhow, I’ll miss you guys, especially those of you who sent me fan mail. It’s been real-ish. Look me up if you’re ever in NYC or Valencia. If I can manage it, I’ll be the only Katherine Stevens in the phonebook in italics.
Katherine Stevens still hasn’t lost her virginity. Commencement is almost here. What are you waiting for?