High Rise Holding Water
By Miles Nolte / Big Sky Journal / Summer 2017
The ambulance howls at the window, the third one today. I tell myself to keep writing, but my focus is like an oiled piglet. I contemplate lunch again. Umami brine pho? Confit turkey club sandwich? Lengua tacos with sharp, raw onions and flame-ass chiles? Meal planning is an excellent antidote to existential self-doubt.
Sirens echo for a few blocks, then fade, leaving only the normal jittering of Atlantic Avenue. I slouch back into my workday routine: muse about fish, hooks, water, people — the essential topics. I become distracted by well-stocked bookshelves, back issues of The New Yorker, and “that place where time and reason go to die” (the internet). Repeat until angst drives me from the lonely apartment into the waiting embrace of a well-researched restaurant that doesn’t offer Wi-Fi. Eat excessively. Walk the streets of Brooklyn until the meal settles and then make a penitent excursion to the gym that bears only the mildest resemblance to monastic self-flagellation. All in all, I think I’m settling in quite well. Still, my wife’s friends remain curious, if not skeptical.
New Yorkers who know my story almost always ask these questions
“So, how is it, living in New York?”
“Are you, like, doing OK?”
New Yorkers who know my story almost always ask these questions. Their subtext peeks out through inquisitive eyes and compassionate faces at dinner parties: Can the Montanan handle it? Is his soul rotting in the urban canyon, being pecked to shreds by feral pigeons?
I smell a veiled desire for catastrophe behind the empathy. I wonder if they’re anticipating, maybe hoping, that I will start baring my teeth and snapping my jaw, turning over trays of crudité and bowls of hummus as I bolt for the door. But that animal is hibernating. Really, I’m just another lanky, mid-30s white guy in plaid with beard sleeping on the right side of the East River and working as an “independent creative.”
I detect disappointment when I explain that I’m fine — enjoying the food, the people, and weekly walks along the river. No one wants to hear that I’m fine; everyone’s fine. Chain hotel beds are fine, but they don’t make for lively dinner party repartee.
I’ve found New Yorkers to be quite pleasant
This is probably projection on my part, and unfair at that. Contrary to cultural stereotypes, I’ve found New Yorkers to be quite pleasant. I find that people are actually far more amicable on packed subways in New York than at late-June boat ramps in Montana during the salmonfly hatch, or when trapped within the fresh-blossoming reality of Bozeman rush hour traffic. New Yorkers expect to be congested, hurried, and delayed. It’s the expectation of solitude in the face of a crowded reality that incites entitled outbursts.
This year marks my second winter living in the largest city in the U.S. My primary complaint is that it’s loud, really loud, cacophonously loud. The hold music in hell is car horns and sirens reflected off brick walls. (Yes, my version of hell definitely includes hold music.) Moving to New York was never part of my plan, but, now that I’m here, it’s not nearly as dreadful as I had feared. It’s not Montana, but to be honest, sometimes that’s why I appreciate it.
Until last year, I’d never lived east of Montana, and much of my young life moved at the mercy of rivers. To quote another Montana author, David Quammen:
“I looked at a map and saw jagged blue lines, denoting mountain rivers. All I knew was that, in Montana, there would be more trout. Trout were the indicator species for a place and a life I was seeking.”
Chasing blue lines
I spent 15 years chasing blue lines. Funding that chase required waiting tables, mopping floors, scrubbing toilets, pouring lots of beer, serving untold gallons of ranch dressing, vacuuming lipstick stained cigarette butts from outdoor stairwells, squeegeeing windows, parching and slicing my tongue on stacks of gummed envelopes, anything that paid for the essentials without consuming too many daytime hours or requiring too serious a commitment. The best ones tipped well and offered discounted pizza. Somewhere in the middle of that decade, I started working as a fishing guide and publishing stories about fishing. When asked, which happened often at that time, what I was doing with my life, I wish I had had the foresight to answer, “research.”
Why did I trade snowy Montana winters for rainy New York City ones? The simple answer is that I fell in love with a woman who lives and works in the city. She fell in love with a man who lives and works in Montana. I spend much of the winter here; she spends much of the summer there. But the actual complexities of our lived truths are never simple, no matter what we tell ourselves. After all, New York City is to writers as Montana is to fly anglers. Read the complete story . . .