It’s not as if I were an immigrant and a part of me was Mexican or French or Ghanaian while the other part of me was American and culturally my ancestral homeland and my adopted homeland were so different that there was just no way to meld the two and contain them in one hyphenated self, but . . .
I’m a New Yorker. I’m also a Coloradoan. And these two selves don’t really match.
Before I moved out West, I was already a half-breed (half-Italian, half-American), a condition I’ve written about in an earlier essay. And when I moved, I didn’t have an identity crisis at first because I was so obviously a New Yorker who just happened to be living somewhere else and who would probably move back at any moment. I first became publically aware of my New-Yorkerness at a Colorado Rockies baseball game. When the Rockies pitcher gave up six runs in three innings and was mercifully pulled, I booed lustily as the pitcher made his way to the dugout—which, in New York, is what you’re supposed to do as a fan—but all the blonde, healthy-looking people seated nearby turned to me and said, “Hey, be nice. He was trying his best.” I thought to myself, David, you have entered a different world.
At the time, I lived in a mountain town of 250 people at 9,000 feet, a place about as opposite from New York as I could get (which, I now realize, was precisely the point), and, in truth, my displacement was painfully evident to even the most casual of onlookers: I had long hair, a bit of a New Yawk accent (I have never really sounded like a typical New Yorker, since my father was a soft-spoken man and my mother had an Italian accent, but still, it’s there), and I couldn’t make a campfire (or cross-country ski, or shoot an elk, or chew tobacco, or snowshoe, or find a damn bagel) to save my life. I didn’t own anything “thermal,” had no idea what a “marmot” (or “lynx” or “turkey vulture” or “red-tail” or “prairie dog” or “pica”) was, and are you freaking serious there are actually mountain lions around here and WHERE THE HELL IS THE OCEAN? I went winter camping in Wyoming once and when I woke up to find a two-foot-tall pyramid of steaming grizzly-bear shit right by my tent I had to use my “special muscles” to keep from soaking my brand-new Patagonia thermal underwear.
But now that I’ve lived in the Centennial State, both in the “real Colorado” (which, for the benefit of my East-Coast readers, is anywhere outside the Denver-Boulder area) and in “the city” (the former-cowtown-turned-something-resembling-a-metropolis called Denver) for a total of 15 years, I can honestly say that I’ve become a Coloradoan.
But hey, fuggetaboutit. I’m still a New Yorker.
As my experience at Coors Field indicates, part of my conflicted transformation has been oddly sports-focused. Strangely enough, the strongest affiliation I had to any New York team was the first to be abandoned. In the year I moved, the Mets had just traded (or lost to free-agency) most of their players in the off-season (this was a good thing—all Mets fans remember the 1986 team, but how many of us remember the 1996 team?), and meanwhile, the Rockies–this was the Blake Street Bombers era–were nothing but fun. So in the summer of 1997 I enjoyed watching Rockies games while dutifully keeping tabs on my Mets. But one day, when I drove down to Denver to see a Rockies-Mets game, I wore my old Mets cap and began the game cheering for my old team, but I soon found myself caught up in the sold-out crowd cheering for the Rockies. Afterwards I was a little stunned by how fickle my loyalties could be.
As for the other major sports, I had never been a Giants or Jets fan (oddly enough, I was an L.A. Rams fan, but found it hard to keep that up as that francise relocated from city to city), and I had never been much of a professional hockey fan—so when the Broncos won two Super Bowls, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, and the Knicks traded away Patrick Ewing while the Nuggets drafted Carmelo Anthony, my other affiliations fell in rapid succession, and I happily became a full-fledged member of the best fan base in the country. (Here’s all you need to know about Denver sports fans: In 1997 the Mets drew 1.8 million at Shea Stadium; the Rockies drew 3.8 million in a city 1/16 the size of New York. Plus this: the Denver local news typically opens not with a murder or political scandal but with the Broncos injury report.)
But more than that, I fell in love with . . . Colorado itself. The land. The mountains. The sparkling rivers. The 300 days of sunshine. The wildflowers. The wildlife. The people.
There are things I miss about New York, of course—Colorado is way too white for me, and as cities go, Denver can’t hold a candle to New York when it comes to . . . well, almost everything, from restaurants to museums to theatres and whatever else you can think of. But hey, the sports stadiums are right in the city, housing is relatively affordable, and it’s a clean, friendly place to live. But . . . I’ll just come out and say it: I miss New York. And I miss New Yorkers, with their gruff, obnoxious sweetness. And I miss the grit, the energy, the sheer scope of Manhattan.
Which is why Cynthia and I went back, as we do every year, over Christmas break.
We visited our families, as we always do, but then we went into the city for a few days and stayed at an affordable hotel in the West Village (the Jane, in case you’re wondering). We walked the High Line, then down the Hudson River Park, around Battery Park, and across the Brooklyn Bridge. We had lunch at Eataly (I’m salivating as I type the name of that glorious place) before meeting my brother at his office for a cup of coffee. We saw Waiting for Godot on Broadway; we met my family for “Beatles Brunch” at the B.B. King Blues Club in Times Square; we dined at Balthazar and the Spotted Pig; we lounged at Gitane, the very hip café at the Jane, with a 1-to-1 waiter-to-customer ratio and a tall, pale French hostess who drifts about the room like Madeline Usher. But really all we were doing was reconnecting with our favorite city. The city where I went to graduate school, the city I used to sneak into via Metro-North when I was a kid, the city my brother I used to go to to see Knicks games, the city that houses my favorite library in the world, the library where I researched my dissertation and wrote much of my first novel. The city I love.
And, of course, we reconnect with our hometowns: Harrison for me, Kingston, PA for Cynthia. We walk our old neighborhoods, we eat delicious home-cooked meals, we lounge with our parents, we hang out with our cousins. We marvel at how the humidity returns our skin to its natural condition. We point out all the potholes and wonder where the sun went. We smile when our aunts and uncles talk to us with their heavy accents and smile again at their heavy jewelry. We eat nothing organic and drink bottled water and I sit on the living room couch watching football and eating orange-colored chips and drinking Bud Ice while Cynthia helps out the ladies in the kitchen.
Then we come back to Colorado and breathe a sigh of relief. Good to be “home” again.
So here’s my question: When will I have a home without quotation marks?
For now, and maybe for the rest of my life, Colorado is home. And I like it here. But listen: I am still, and always will be, a New Yorker. I will always feel the pull. Cynthia and I fantasize about trading homes with a Manhattanite one summer, or someday being able to afford a log cabin in the mountains and an apartment on the Upper West Side. But these are all manifestations of the ways in which we are trying to resolve our split selves, East and West, which are, let’s face it, probably irresolvable.
In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy the frankness and kindness of our Colorado friends and neighbors. We will eat organic, locally-grown food, drink the amazingly good locally-brewed beer, and carry our REI water bottles wherever we go. We will go snowshoeing at 10,000 feet, where the blinding sunshine reflects off the uninterrupted field of snow, surrounded by mountain peaks. In the meantime, I will enjoy going to Rockies, Nuggets, Avalanche, and Broncos games, cheering my lungs out but keeping my boos to myself when things go badly. In the meantime, I will look for any excuse to go to the western and southern parts of the state, or to Wyoming or Montana or Utah or Idaho, all among the most devastatingly beautiful places on earth.
In the meantime, I will proudly call myself a Coloradoan, while acknowledging I have little right to that claim, knowing I am actually, deep down, a transplanted New Yorker who has no business pretending to be a Westerner. (I mean, have you seen what I look like on a horse?)
In the meantime, like so many other Americans, I will continue to try to embrace my hyphenated self.