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I Love New York

Wednesday, 03 September 2014 Written by // Jay Squires Categories // Gay Men, Jay Squires, Travel, Lifestyle, Living with HIV, Population Specific

As Jay Squires returns to Virginia after a year in the Big Apple he says “I hope what I learned in New York will give me the skills needed to adapt and succeed. If so, or if not, my time in the City was priceless”

I Love New York

It is August 29 and there are three hours left. At 4:30 I will meet the super and turn over the keys to D34. My year in New York is over.

For decades I dreamed of a life in New York. I remember as a child spending days pouring over travel magazines planning my family's vacation there. I was intrigued by the Roosevelt Hotel. We stayed at the Howard Johnson. New York captured my imagination and as soon as I was able I journeyed there on my own.

Through my 20s into my 40s I visited the City regularly. After I moved there I realized that these past trips rarely took me beyond midtown and the West side. That was enough and each short visit introduced me to new sights and experiences. I learned about the City one bite at a time.

New York's gay life was at the top of my list. As a new college graduate, just two years out, New York gave me an unmatched education on what being gay could be. Those lessons returned with me to uptight, bigoted Virginia. They formed a basis for my budding activism. If New Yorkers could live freely, why not me?

The chance to move to New York came suddenly through the convergence of unrelated events and my need to get away from the scene of my pain. 2012 was terrible and it left its mark I needed to begin again.

Angelo and I took our apartment September 1, 2013 in Inwood, Manhattan's northern tip. This bustling, Dominican neighborhood proved the perfect backdrop for the adventure to come. Angelo loved the opportunity to speak his native language daily. I was the only person around who had no Spanish. And yet my neighbors and I made our points plain. We were in a (relatively) quiet part of town, seemingly distant from the bright lights and loud horns, yet all was found with a short ride on the train. We grew to love our train, made famous in the classic Duke Ellington hit "Take the A Train." Our station was steps way.

Angelo became the homebody, making us comfortable in 450 square feet. He scoped the local markets and vendors, quickly finding the bargains and learning the schedules of weekly discounts. For many purchases it was only necessary to walk to the corner. Vendors crowded the sidewalks day and night. We enjoyed dining out at the many Dominican restaurants within walking distance. I came to love the food, especially bistec. I passed on the goat soup.

I became the adventurer, traveling by train and foot the length of Manhattan. The exercise did wonders, both on the walks and on climbing the three stories to our flat. I grew stronger, if not strong.  I am convinced this sped the improvement in my health.

We lived here, in time I told myself, like natives. Perhaps that was true. We got along well.

This experience encompassed all of life. Some moments were filled with awe and amazement.  Others were mundane, like they are everywhere but with a layer provided by the nation's largest city. In time I fell into the city's rhythm, which like everywhere was about living. At is basic level, New York is not so unusual.  My life in this year was just more.

What did i see? At the start I wandered the streets, mouth agape like the tourist I still was. So many marvels filled my long walks and train-to-train subway excursions. There was Central Park, a monument and adventure clothed in nature's finery. St Patrick's Cathedral was a stop I needed to make in recognition of its critical role in the achievement of life for people with AIDS. The waterways, the Hudson River, East River and the Seaport drew me. New York is a nautical city, to my surprise.

The natural areas were best. The megalopolis' reputation is of a dirty, overcrowded place. Dirt and crowding are there certainly but in much larger measure there are beautiful, unspoiled, wild places. The natural variety is remarkable. Tightly landscaped parks give way to unstructured areas and in my neighborhood even actual old-growth forest.

The geology of New York is surprising and can be intimidating. Central Park features its famous rocky outcroppings loved by sunbathers and pot smokers. I live across from the entrance to Ft. Tryon Park where a five minute walk will take me to a wonderland of huge thrusts of solid stone emerging on the trail, requiring a detour around. Here the earth claws upward to seek the sky. The effect is primordial and spiritual.

While studying New York's ecology and geology I came across the city's other great resource - its tough, friendly, smart and resourceful people. I am a people person, sometimes to the dismay of my spouse and friends. I will chat up anyone, anyplace. These spontaneous conversations sometimes are unproductive, occasionally antagonistic, but mostly wonderful and educational in the best sense. I learn about a city not from maps or museums but from its people. These people are why I came to New York. I knew they would be different than those I knew.

And so they were. New Yorkers are a unique breed, bred to survive in a place with more of them per square foot than anywhere else stateside. Coping strategies have evolved: walk to the right, smile but don't speak to others while walking, mind the street cleaning signs, tip well, complain about the mayor but vote for him anyway.

I made so many friends among people I will never meet again. Each has a place in my memory and many live on in my photographs. Taking a New Yorker's photo requires tact, compromise and assurance. When I make a portrait my aim is to capture a person's personality. For me this is the most rewarding work. Any person is more majestic than the highest peak (though peaks are pretty cool, too). When I grab the shot that person is connected to me, forever.

Some Native Americans oppose photos because they believe the photographer captures the subject's soul. I can see their point because that is just what I am about, though my motives are pure. My goal is to capture a person's essence in the piece of a second it takes to expose the photo. My work is a slice of life. It is a small, tantalizing, satisfying slice.

I am leaving New York with a trove of more than 1,000 uncatalogued photos to add to my stock of 5,000 from years past. I would be lying if I said I didn't spend hours flipping through them admiring my scenes and sometimes my skills.

I have said it so many times: My time in New York was a gas. It was unproductive on the employment front but so worthwhile in other ways. I regained my health. Angelo and I passed through trial to become a closer and more realistic pair. I learned I had strength I only dreamed of. I am a tough son of a bitch. This will serve me well as life continues its changes.

It was an expensive year that left me with less than I want to live in the next. But I do not regret my choice to experience the real New York. I needed to do this since my life has become so uncertain. I needed to seize my life and bend it to my will. I needed to prove I could do this, that I was strong enough and would not fail. I could not sit by and simply let life happen. I needed to take charge and lead my life to a destination I chose. I accomplished all those things. I succeeded.

Tomorrow I will again be a resident of Virginia and subject to its inadequate services for people like me Life will return to uncertainty. I will lose much control. But I hope what I learned in New York will give me the skills needed to adapt and succeed. If so, or if not, my time in the City was priceless.

I did not want to leave but an exciting, invigorating life is too dear a thing, today. But tomorrow?

I Love New York.