I am the type of person to respond to the “what part of New York?” question with an awkward stammer and a forced “right outside the city.” The city’s finest urbanites joke that I’m from upstate New York, which is both geographically ridiculous and a dismissal of all those further up north. I’m from Yonkers, which is a hop, skip and a jump away from the Bronx, but, by my own admission, I take the commuter line into the city with the rest of the suburbanites, a mix of those urban-averse or too family-oriented to take the leap of faith into the actual Big Apple.
“City of lights!” a friend once incorrectly said of New York. “City of the dollar pizza!” Less wrong.
I had lived in Croton-On-Hudson, Yonkers and Valhalla, while having gone to school in Ossining and White Plains. You may know about Ossining because they have a pseudo-famous prison, and White Plains is used for film shoots, given its large buildings that serve as an off-brand New York. If you know the names of these towns and small cities, you most likely lived in the metropolitan area or drove past our variety of hamlets on your way into the city.
In the summer, I was offered an opportunity to work and live in the city, the latter more of an insistence by me than an offer. The Metro-North train goes from Valhalla to Grand Central Terminal in about 45 minutes, leaving the station every half hour. The Southeast Line, which stops at Valhalla a little more than halfway through its full journey, is a sight to see at 6 in the morning. It’s a commuter rail nearly reserved for the professional and working classes — two historically feuding groups that find commonality in their need to be in midtown by 7:15 a.m., clad with coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other. And while most would jump at the opportunity to participate in such a fascinating social experiment, I much preferred option two: cutting the commute in half by renting a room in a cozy apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
For context, there is a photo online of me with a slipknot man bun; I frequently wear tweed hats just for the fun of it; I listened to the whole Lumineers album, not just “Ho-Hey.” If there was a suburbanite kid from Westchester, New York who yearned to live in the boroughs, it was me. And Brooklyn was my promised land.
Brooklyn was the third bowl of porridge, and god damnit I was Goldilocks. Everything about the location was just right. A minute away from the subway, with a tattoo parlor passing me on the way. Rough day at the office? Get a conciliatory tattoo on your way home from work! The kid from the burbs quickly began to pick up on New York terminology and live a more urban life. “Yeah, fuck the L train,” was skillfully woven into every conversation. “I’ll meet you in the village,” I would say, not knowing if we were talking about downtown west or downtown east. “Oh, you live above Columbia? How is upstate these days?” Quickly, I became a traitor to my roots, finding greener grass in the cobblestone, asphalt and pavement of my newfound home.
If you’re waiting for the transition, you’ll be left unsatisfied. I am arguably still that asshole, the one who really loves recalling aloud his summer in Brooklyn. Imagine a study abroad student, but if they also thought they lived in the best residential college and was also from New York City. I am the worst, as well as a phony and a denier of that fact. If I could commute to WLH via the L train off Graham Ave. I would fucking do it.
Brooklyn poses a tough existential question: What is home? It would only be with extreme hormonal angst that I could possibly say Brooklyn was my home. I did only a few paragraphs ago refer to it as the promised land, which, in all fairness, is a traditionally accepted concept of what home is. If you don’t believe me, brush up on your Old Testament.
“Home is where the heart is” may appear a shallow phrase, but it does hold some degree of truth, or at least reasonable opinion in explaining what home is. Home could be where your family is, or at least where they congregate. Home could be your current address, it could be your first home, it could a place where you feel most comfortable. Growing up playing organized sports, the rink, the field, the baseball diamond were frequently denoted as “home” by coaches and fellow athletes alike.
The discussion of home has become increasingly relevant in my personal life, but home has always been a question mark over my existence. From an early age I was a part of two homes, both of which were located 20 minutes from each other in Westchester, New York. We had the once-a-week and every-other-weekend setup that many divorced families agree upon, with both households insisting that I was lucky enough to have multiple homes — a point with which I strongly agree.
This point was poorly expressed in Noah Baumbach’s recent film “Marriage Story.” The focus of the movie was from the perspective of the couple, the divorcees, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. The movie has divided its viewers, with many bemoaning Baumbach’s inability to make Johansson a likeable character, while successfully eliciting sympathy for Driver’s character. This is further compounded by the uncomfortable revelation that the movie is deeply personal for Baumbach, whose own divorce inspires the film.
Not until the final moments of the film are we given any suggestion that civility will become normalcy for the family. The movie is characterized by manipulation, malicious mischaracterization and frequent devolutions into barbarity and thoughtlessness. The two leading characters, the divorcees, are constantly fighting over what home is, with the underlying assumption that their shared child be placed in the correct answer. Are they a New York family, or are they a Los Angeles family? Which parent is better suited to create a home for their child?
While I concede it would pose an added challenge, Baumbach does a poor job attempting to answer what home is or should be for Driver and Johansson’s child. The movie effectively depicts the difficulties involved in balancing your career, your divorce and your love for your child. Yet, it does an altogether poor job developing the question what should the child’s home be, instead focusing on the parents and their relationship.
Why is the question of home relevant to me? The question of home is woven into my personality, given that home for me is far from just one place, far from just one family. I have parents in four separate locations, which, if not a record, is certainly nearby Guinness territory. As a result, home has been a variety of locations, with the drives in between those two places serving as part of that home. Driving from Croton-On-Hudson to Valhalla, a 20 minute drive along Route 9A, briefly using the Taconic State Parkway before getting off at Lakeview Avenue, served as much a home as the two houses at points A and B.
Perhaps, the mention of Brooklyn is more relevant for us, the Yale community as a whole. How we treat our adoptive city, New Haven, is a frequently and controversial topic. While I don’t want to throw my hat in that ring, our four-year experience in New Haven is not fully explored until we answer the hard question: Is this a pit stop or a home?
The moral question that I hope to avoid comes in how we treat New Haven. It could be more easily argued that it is immoral to treat New Haven as a pit stop, but my hopefully amoral question is whether we can truly call New Haven our home. Our being in New Haven feels like a senior year relationship. You both enjoy the time you spend together, but one of you is working in New York, and the other is moving back to California. You know that come the end of senior week, you will both go your separate ways, with an emotional goodbye but a goodbye nonetheless. Knowing this definite ending, can we make this city our home?
Unfortunately there is no objective truth is this field. If you, like me, can make a place your home with ease, then your drive from Union Station to your residential college can quickly replace Route 9A, connecting point A, Westchester, New York, to point B, your home away from home, New Haven, Connecticut.
Nick Tabio | firstname.lastname@example.org