Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

The End of the 00s: Made in New York, by Joel Johnson

The lights and the ships
New York is a town without time, but it has a date. I moved to the city after the attacks. These are the things that made me a New Yorker.

I lived in a studio built illegally on the roof of garbage truck repair depot by one of Brooklyn's most notorious Hasid slumlords, woken weekdays by the smell of exhaust leaking through our floor.

I listened to hundreds of hours of music while riding subways. I overshot my home stop less than half-a-dozen times because I was drunk, and once because I was flirting with a thick-legged blonde dressed in gingham who was on the way home from her shift at a barbecue joint. I got her number but never called.

I worked in Times Square, photoshopping handbags for a catalog company, masking models' hair from a $200 leather handbag to make a brown bag look pink, or leather like canvas. I took my smoke breaks on a perilous concrete perch that faced an inner courtyard of four buildings, flicking my butts twenty stories down.

I blindsided Nick Denton over instant message one evening, asking him why there wasn't a videogame-themed counterpart to Gizmodo. He said he preferred email. By chance, I took over Gizmodo a couple of months later, eventually wrote thousands of blog posts, had a minor nervous breakdown, and learned how to write. Choire Sicha, Noah Shachtman, and Brendan Koerner picked me up by the scruff of my neck and told me how to do it.

I went down on a girl in the back of a moving cab, later to finish the evening on her fire escape in Harlem, where I ejaculated across the side of the building.

I discovered I needed glasses, the frames of which became thicker and darker each year.

I lived in four different apartments, each better than the last, until I made the mistake of moving in with roommates.

I had an irrational, ignorant crush on a witty young German girl with a Jewish name, who later starfucked a Jewish writer with a German name.

Having decided to try an open relationship with my soon-to-be-ex, I pressed myself against a punk girl after we'd shared far too much whisky, then spent the next two months listening to The National while walking through Park Slope crying after she'd blown me off.

I had a short affair with a Chinese acrobat who had formerly been a lawyer, until one evening I ended up at a birthday party with a man who revealed himself to be her other partner in such a way that it thrummed every insecurity I had. I looked him in the eye, picked up his whisky and drank it in one shot, set it down in front of him, and said "Happy Birthday." I then went home and cried.

I watched the iPod go from an affectation for moneyed hipsters to something that every other person on the street owned. I watched the iPhone go from something that would cause people to gather around me in bars to play with to something that every other person on the street owned. I make a living writing articles for an audience that calls me an Apple fanboy.

I made a modest amount of money telling old media companies how they should approach the web, then a similar amount of money hanging around while they didn't do it.

I spent days at a time sitting at home alone, getting high or drunk, playing videogames, watching television, ordering delivery falafel, and wasting time on the internet.

I shared some ketamine with a lesbian who proceeded to get up from my bed, vomit into my sink, and then pass out. I scooped the thick vomit from my sink to my toilet with my bare hands. Hours later, after I passed out, I woke to find her playing with my genitals. She told me the next morning that she'd "had a nice time."

I told several girls that I'd "had a nice time."

I could never seem to score cocaine even though everyone around me was clearly high all the time. Except for when I'd first moved to town and the lone black patron of our corner DUMBO bar would occasionally give me bumps in the bathroom, which led one night to a five minute after hours locked-door dance party to "Hey Ya". It was the first and only time I can recall dancing in NYC.

I was hit by a full bottle of Coca-Cola thrown at me while biking through some Bed-Stuy projects from what I estimate to be at least 20 yards.

I learned to love the city through the eyes of Gay Talese.

I wrote nothing of any lasting importance, but I wrote several jokes that I found funny enough to read over and over.

I brewed beer, tended my own garden, and repaired craft electronics for the first time in my life, despite having spent most of my childhood on a farm.

I cultivated a love for loud sneakers and bright colors, only to realize that I was basically dressing like 12-year-old Dominican girls.

I was invited to many parties. Most of the time I did not attend. When I did, I would usually find a corner with an open window and smoke, holding court as people would come around and bum cigarettes off me. It was the only way I ever learned to enjoy parties, but I liked it quite a bit.

I never really learned the names of any streets that weren't letters or numbers, or at least never learned where they were. It wasn't until the year I left that I could reliably guess where a named neighborhood in Manhattan might be; Brooklyn was 50/50; the other boroughs might as well have been Vermont. (A state which I believe is next to Connecticut.)

When I returned to Kansas City for my ten-year high school reunion, I was a luminary because I lived in New York. I wore a black tuxedo shirt and ripped jeans and lapped up the attention.

I had a one-night stand with a girl from OKCupid who brought me over Theraflu because I had a slight cold. As I came she pulled me into her breasts and said "Shh, it's okay." And I kind of liked that.

I went hiking the Hudson valley a couple of times without using a car. On the way back from a solo trip where I'd nearly stepped on a rattlesnake, a man on the subway asked me if I were Swedish. It was then that I realized that I looked like a Swedish mountaineer, complete with knee socks, high boots, and a plaid shirt.

I started my own "web publishing company"-a web site-and drove it into the ground due to some really dumb business decisions. I produced some of the best content I have ever done, of course, which now lives online forever if I keep paying the $90 hosting bill each quarter.

I once had sex with a hairy woman who was incongruously proud of her ability to jam my penis deep into her vagina with a constant, threatening force. I stopped dating her when she corrected my use of "prideful" when she preferred "proud".

I never grew tired of crossing a bridge at night in the back of a cab, watching the lights and the ships.

I cried when I first came back to the city after I moved away, but didn't cry when I left.

Joel Johnson prefers "prideful" to "proud."

81 Comments / Post A Comment

sigerson (#179)


HiredGoons (#603)

(I think this was my favorite)

ericdeamer (#945)

I thought the one about the midwestern high school bands was my favorite but now this is my favorite.


Also? What happened to Blotto!

Tuna Surprise (#573)

Between this post and the kidney donating post, I'm going to bawl like a baby in the back of the taxi tonight. When can we get another post about bears?

beingiseasy (#1,735)

seriously. it's been quite a day here at The Awl.

iplaudius (#1,066)

Prideful Joel, keep on burning,
burn and rave at close of day,
burn always with this hard, gemlike flame.

strangely_brown (#1,952)

Joel Johnson, you just broke my heart.

HiredGoons (#603)

"I never grew tired of crossing a bridge at night in the back of a cab, watching the lights and the ships."

Hello kindred spirit!

HiredGoons (#603)

(also the things I have done in the backs of cabs!)

jolie (#16)

(pulls up a chair, props chin on knuckles)

HiredGoons (#603)

time; place.

HiredGoons (#603)

I'm building a new website, Jolie. Soon my pretty.

jolie (#16)

God. Cab fucking is really just so good, isn't it?

HiredGoons (#603)

It's best when the cabbies yell at you to stop.

jolie (#16)

I can't come unless they do.

iwantyrskull (#1,706)

*prefers the skyline view on any bridge coming home from any airport, but yes! a million times yes!

HiredGoons (#603)

It's the best kind of dirty talk.

Devastating. And not just the cum shots.


I beg to differ, but you aren't a New Yorker unless you were born and raised here. You can't just call yourself a New Yorker because you feel like it or you think you put in some arbitrary measure of time in the place.

Nice piece though.

iplaudius (#1,066)

You are perfectly wrong.

In an Edmund White story, a French boy tells his American lover that he can never be French, but he is already Parisian.

New York, you ought to have noticed, is not a city of natives.

lu (#2,779)

bullshit. i'd say there's a 60% you're white and a 45% your from the west coast. you probably only hang out with people just like you (aka the douche who wrote this post) – and you all ignore the real new yorkers.

real new yorkers aren't people who move here and scrap along while living the life until they meet nick denton and swindle money out of doucher-bags. they're invisible spics like me, my parents and my grandparents who never get out of the slums and man your rite aids all day and night.

this blog made my skin crawl. I wish i never learned to read and I wish you all would go away.

Spare me! Anyone who manages to make it past the 15 minute mark in this city is a real New Yorker.

lu (#2,779)

you're an idiot.

HiredGoons (#603)

I also wish you had never learned to read.

HiredGoons (#603)

So… where did your grandparents immigrate from?

iplaudius (#1,066)

Amigo, I doubt an "invisible spic" would spew such self pity and ethnic caricature. I'd say there's a 60% chance you're white and a 45% chance you're Barbara Ehrenreich.

Ted Maul (#205)

I'm not sure that I agree. However, people who move to NYC in their mid-20s and then proceed to go on and on and on and on all the fucking time about their identity as "New Yorkers" are typically the world's biggest bores.

Having said that, this was great.

deepomega (#1,720)

Worse still: people who then move to LA and go on and on and on and on about how much better New York is. Fuckfaces all!

In LA, we fuck YOUR face (on film).


HiredGoons (#603)


deepomega (#1,720)

A gentlemen always makes sure not to finish in her hair, and brings a towel afterwards.

HiredGoons (#603)

"just don't get it in my eye."

NVC, but we won't let you use that scene for your billboard.


Abe Sauer (#148)

@ted: Additionally, HOW you move to NYC matters. There are immigrants who live in those illegal rooftop places not for a year after they move to NYC from Temple or Penn State but more of less permanently. Then there are those who live there for the cred on parental stipends because it's got more "NYC cred" than the upper east side. Both extremes of those people "moved to NYC" and "became New Yorkers" but the romantic interpretations of those "becoming New Yorkers" experiences vary WILDLY.

@Abe: Plenty of those college-educated kids to whom you refer are third to fifth generation Americans, whose grandparents– like our new friend, Lu's– lived in tenement buildings, had to master a new tongue, worked "invisibly" six or seven days a week, and somehow, between the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, the Crash/Depression, and God-knows-what-else, managed to make it in this city without whining about it. THAT is a "real New Yorker." If part of their legacy is a bunch of kids who take up residence as in your example, well, I'm not so bothered. They contributed much else to the fabric of this city and their progeny, however galling, are proof of their triumph over adversity.

New York is a bitch of a city to live in, I don't care WHO you are. The daily indignities, the heartbreak, the drama and traumas people endure while doing battle with and within could care less about whom they reduce to a mass of quivering jelly on the sidewalk. Pissing matches about who has it worse, or who has title to the title, are silly.

lu (#2,779)

you're right. no one has a claim to a title and pissing contests are stupid.

and that my grandparents were puerto rican immigrants makes me an idiot for claiming that i'm a new yorker just because i'm not from anywhere else.

still, i refuse to be an extra in some idiot's sex and the city fantasy. there's more to new york than "making it". i'll never understand the douchebags who romanticize our poverty, inequality, subway, corruption and vices.

i guess can understand people who want to run away and end up here but i don't understand people who come wanting to be a new yorker.

lu (#2,779)


@Lu: Let's go find out!

Mindpowered (#948)

@ lu

No. But but torching a BMW after night spent high on extasy while listening to anarchist hard core techno, in a basement club in Prenzalaur Berg would. Extra points for swimming in the Spree afterwards (X 3 if between October – May)

It's all about the depth of experience of the sense of place.

Hey Guys,

I'm just the messenger. I don't make the rules.

-Lionel Mandrake

Mindpowered (#948)

New York always struck me as America's India during the "Raj".

Somewhere to send your milksop 20somethings to get toughened and tempered by the fires of the place. Also analogous are the fucking, drinking, bitter "locals" and sense of ownership/belonging of the 20somethings after they leave.

I'm half surprised that there aren't New York societies in places like Charlotte and Denver where ex New Yorkers gather and reminisce and do lines of coke for old times sake, like the India colonial societies of Surrey and Essex getting hammered on Gin in the 1960's and 70s.

jolie (#16)

"I went down on a girl in the back of a moving cab, later to finish the evening on her fire escape in Harlem, where I ejaculated across the side of the building."

This is the best God damned thing I've ever read on the Internet. And I have read, several times over, every single word Choire Sicha has written on the Internet.

tiny dancer (#1,774)

"I cried when I first came back to the city after I moved away, but didn't cry when I left."


Yes, this! Especially because I did the same thing!

lizp (#1,347)

Yeah, Mandrake, I'm afraid you're gonna get called out on that one. New York is, and has historically been, a city of refugees and transplants as much as a place of native belonging. E.B. White has a great passage about this in This Is New York. He defines three New Yorks: that of the native-born, of the commuter who works here and lives elsewhere, and NY as "the final destination, the city that is a goal"– for immigrants, aspiring artists, etc. Of these three cities within the city, he says, the greatest is the last. Here's the passage:


Jole– lovely essay, my favorite so far (along with Natasha V-C's) in this excellent 00s series.

mcbeachy (#548)

Nice piece, but needs more dancing.

Or don't NYers dance anymore?

The Mudd Club, CBGB's, Danceteria, the Limelight, Club 57, Area, Bond's… I could go on and on. Nothing like emerging from a sweaty dance club into the NY night, cheeks flushed… and heading off to Googie's or for a snack. I am old!

LondonLee (#922)

I agree, I find people who don't/won't dance more than a little sad. As you said you can't beat coming out of a club all sweaty and woozy with your ears buzzing late at night/early in the morning in a big city.

HiredGoons (#603)

I will dance all y'all into a corner.

lizp (#1,347)

Whoops, Joel not Jole! Transposition error!

(ps. Now I'll always walk through the city wondering … was that the building he ejaculated on?)

petejayhawk (#1,249)

It's shit like this that makes me very occasionally regret I didn't move to NYC when I had the opportunity.

But I'm sure you've been to Manhattan to see K State get rock chalk Jayhawk'd.

David (#192)

Doesn't it seem that only some an ingracious idiot named "Lionel Mandrake" would not understand what it means to become a person of this great City by virtue of our experience and contributions here ??? Oh well– his loss.

HiredGoons (#603)

"I had a short affair with a Chinese acrobat who had formerly been a lawyer"

I mean, c'mon!

Kataphraktos (#226)

Joel, I followed your work across multiple websites – including the one you say you blew up – and I think you are being a tad humble about your accomplishments.

"I learned to love the city through the eyes of Gay Talese."


Flashman (#418)

Especially as sung to the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

fek (#93)

I wrote nothing of any lasting importance, but I wrote several jokes that I found funny enough to read over and over.

Joel Johnson, you win.

lina harper (#2,792)


Abe Sauer (#148)

This is what Esquire's What I've Learned always tries to be and never is.

Really liked this, Joel.

I am looking forward to the Joel/Balk emote-a-rama throw down.

slinkimalinki (#182)

balk's would have more crying and less sex.

There is nothing wrong with that.

chrismohney (#322)

Joel called me a dick in his first email to me long ago but it was in a welcoming/congratulatory way. And that pretty much set the tone for working in This Industry that I love so well. I've had middling enthusiasm for some installments of this series, though many have been great too … but this one is over the fence. Well done.

riggssm (#760)


babettelafox (#2,800)

I'm sorry, I've forgotten everything else about this post other than this line:

"I once had sex with a hairy woman who was incongruously proud of her ability to jam my penis deep into her vagina with a constant, threatening force."

There are just so many questions, I don't know where to begin. So we'll have to leave it at that.

rj77 (#210)

Every sentence seems to be a novel unto itself.

missdelite (#625)


lawyergay (#220)

The only way this could have been better is if you had worn a black tuxedo t-shirt to your high school reunion.

dado (#102)

I thought I was a real New Yorker when I saw Men Without Hats at the Palladium and then ended a long evening at Ess-a-Bagel. But Stuy-town had no air conditioning back then, so I left for San Diego. When I came back, the Palladium was gone.

nichelle (#645)

As I recall, you do look kinda Nordic.

Please don't call them 'attacks'

jacksonwest (#637)

This made me realize that I probably devote more of the available "relationship" space in my brain to cities rather than people. They are the characters, and people the milieu, not vice versa. Which is kind of psychotic, I know. I need another cup of coffee.

Dave Bry (#422)

Like "The Wire," with Baltimore.

This was great. Reminiscent of Joe Brainard's lovely book, "I Remember."

dave press (#80)

Exactly what I was going say. Totally my favorite piece in this series.

Servicey! Thanks.

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