Recently, James Altucher wrote an article predicting that New York City would never recover from the coronavirus pandemic. He cited several reasons in his article, including but not limited to: business, culture, food, colleges, and commercial real estate. Unlike past disasters from which New York City has recovered – like 9/11 for example – Altucher argues that the culture of remote work as well as the massive tax deficit combine for particularly unique (and damaging) circumstances.
Not long afterwards, Stephen Diamond wrote a response in the same publication, The New York Post, in which his opening line is “Drop dead, James Altucher.” Then, one of my favorite comedians, Jerry Seinfeld, wrote a New York Times article serving as a rebuttal of sorts to the Altucher article. In it, Seinfeld personally attacks Altucher and the comedy club he owns in New York City, StandUp NY.
Not to be outdone, Altucher has written what I hope is the last and final piece in all of this drama. And in that article, Altucher points out that Seinfeld has been hiding out in a mansion in the Hamptons, suggesting that he is a hypocrite for pointing fingers at those who have left New York City behind since he himself has essentially done the same exact thing. Altucher’s co-owner of StandUp NY, Dani Zoldan, doubled down by suggesting that Seinfeld was always “cold and arrogant” whenever he visited the club.
Can everyone chill out and calm down?
Let me go back and tell my own story.
I moved to New York City almost seven years ago and pretty much on a whim. I had had some experiences go south for me where I was living previously in Boston, and I had decided that I wanted to shake things up. Making the move was uncharacteristic of me as someone who really enjoys familiarity and does not like feeling anonymous. Something that was great about Boston was its neighborhood feel and its proximity to where I grew up (and my family). New York was the exact opposite: the unfamiliar, the unknown, the unprecedented.
After driving my U-Haul truck from Boston to New York City, I realized after “moving in” that half of my furniture did not fit in my tiny, overpriced apartment. This led to something of a nervous breakdown. And for nearly my first year in New York City, I was a little depressed. I had not made friends yet, I had not carved out a niche for myself in my new job, and I was concerned that maybe I had made a mistake. When I traveled for work, I would Airbnb my apartment so I could make ends meet.
After that, New York City became a great decision. I started doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and made friends at a Mixed Martial arts gym. I joined a soccer team and played with them for six years. I built fantastic relationships and grew my career exponentially, having the best years I have had in my career by far, putting the days of needing to Airbnb my apartment far into the past. I met my girlfriend of five years. And I enjoyed all that the city has to offer with its nightlife, restaurants, shows, and people. Most recently, one of the things I most enjoyed doing was the Big Brother Big Sister program, mentoring a sixteen year old boy in Brooklyn and getting to feel like a kid again sometimes. I learned Meditation. I started to expound upon my love of writing. Overall, I became a better, healthier, and happier person.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the last thing I wanted to do was leave New York City. Indeed, right up until March, I was maintaining my normally busy travel schedule with plans for more, and I was still going to my favorite gym, Switch Playground, every day. Even as my company elected to have its employees start to work from home, and as gyms and restaurants shut down, I remained committed – for a short time at least – to trying to see things through.
But as more and more news poured in about what was going on and what restrictions would be in place, I had to make a difficult decision. I am incredibly fortunate that my parents have a house in Cape Cod. As I looked around my relatively small apartment, and as rumors were circulating that the city would have an entire shutdown (and that people might not even be able to leave for awhile), I ultimately felt a need to act swiftly. On March 15th, I quickly packed up all my things, including my cat, rented a car, and drove off.
When I first left, I expected to be gone for a couple of weeks. And to be sure, it was a little weird for awhile. All of the daily routines I had established over the last several years and all the people I was accustomed to seeing were suddenly behind me. The town I have been in is very sleepy in the winter and spring, only really opening up for tourists and vacationers over the summer. Going from the stimuli of New York City to being in the middle of nowhere was a big change.
Over time, I learned to adapt, and I built new routines that made me feel comfortable again. All the while, I watched sadly on what was happening back in the city. The shutdown of New York City’s restaurants led to the closing of my favorite bar, Professor Thom’s, for Boston sports fans. It seemed that this was a trend, with many small business owners writing articles about needing to furlough or lay off their staffs or shut down altogether. And while their lives were being ruined financially, the lives of thousands were being lost as ambulances were constantly blaring all throughout the city. To make matters worse, crime began to soar and many once-proud neighborhoods became overrun with drug addicts and homeless people in need of dire help.
I say I was sad to see this because that is exactly how I have felt. I remember ironically being in New York City on the day of the Boston Marathon bombings back when I was living in Boston and feeling a little bit guilty that I had not been there on that horrific day. Similarly, I feel badly that the city has to deal with all of this, and that my friends who are still there have to go through a hard time.
All of this being said, I made what was the best decision for me at that time. And we should respect people for doing what is best for them. If for someone the best thing for them is to stay, then that is great. They are an adult and they can make that decision for themselves. If instead the best decision for someone is to leave, then that too is a decision we should respect. Somehow, it became a phenomenon that by leaving, you are somehow “giving up,” or that you are not “part of the spirit” of the city, as if your presence there somehow magically changes the circumstances, or that whatever minimal impact your staying has on the local economy somehow trumps your own personal happiness and plans and goals for yourself.
It is bizarre to me that we live in an era where simply for voicing a prediction about the future state of a city, someone must be pummeled, personally attacked, and made to feel like they are a quitter. To be sure, some people are more privileged than others and have opportunities to leave that others may not have. I am not blind to this reality. But what do you accomplish forcing someone to stay in a city people pay to live in predominantly for its abundance when everything is so scarce?
Even more confusing to me is the shaming I see from people who have also left the city. Seinfeld is but one of many people I know who sits in an ivory tower anywhere but New York City and criticizes anyone merely for having the opinion that the city might not recover. This makes no sense to me. And conversely, those who leave and finger point at those who have stayed behind, seemingly unaware of their own privilege along the way.
I don’t mind that these writers are voicing their opinions about what is going to happen. Disagreement is healthy much of the time in our discourse. But what is not healthy in our discourse is personal attacks. Telling people they are cold, that they are quitters, that they run a dingy business, or that they should drop dead — these are not the signs of a healthy discourse.
We live in a really weird, tense time right now. So if I had to guess why we are witnessing everyone flipping out on one another over questions about the state of a once-great city, that would be it. We would all do a lot better to chill out, relax, and not take it so personally when other people make decisions in their own lives that suit their own needs.