New York stole my heart and never gave it back

San Francisco is not like that. Part of you dies when you go there

Playwright, screenwriter, producer and actor  Brendan Connellan is living in San Francisco, but he left his heart in New York, he says

Playwright, screenwriter, producer and actor Brendan Connellan is living in San Francisco, but he left his heart in New York, he says

 

“There’s not much point getting to know you,” she said, “you’ll be disappearing off home like the rest of them.” She wasn’t wrong. You put in all that time and, bam, they’re gone. She knew what she was talking about. She was Irish herself.

I’ve been in San Francisco for three years, but gone from Ireland for 20. I’m one of those Morrison visa people. If it was up to me, I’d still be in New York, but I liked Manhattan more than my wife did. The experience of being a woman there is different. I didn’t have to deal with the cat-calling or the snarky comments when I was lugging the groceries home on a hot June night.

When I first came to America, I told myself it was for “three years, maximum five”. It made me feel better. I’d concocted some theory in my head whereby you could go home after three and you’d slip back into things easy as pie. Stay for five, you’d be running a serious risk of falling between two stools and not being one thing or the other. You’d be mixing up your boots and your trunks, your footpaths and your sidewalks. Well, I wouldn’t. I never switched.

Bigger deal

Back in the mid-1990s, emigration was a much bigger deal. I was just out of college and wanted to try somewhere different, but I was still gutted to be going. You’d be relying on letters for news from home. Maybe the odd phone call, but it was hard timing it right with the hours difference.

It all changed once Ireland got all fancy and full of itself. You’d have people flying over just to buy an iPhone. I’d see them with their shopping bags on Fifth Avenue. Full bags, too.

New York stole my heart and never gave it back. I might not be living there now, but it carved a deep notch in me. It’s like the girl you break up with nine times but, just as you’d be walking out the door, she’d do something so unbelievably wonderful that you’d throw down the bags and you’d be going nowhere.

San Francisco is not like that. Part of you dies when you go there. Yes, the sun shines in January (sometimes) and you can put away your coat but, after New York, it’s like a plate of white bread and a slice of dry ham.

“Yes, the sun shines in January (sometimes) and you can put away your coat but, after New York, San Francisco is like a plate of white bread and a slice of dry ham”. Photograph: Getty Images
“Yes, the sun shines in January (sometimes) and you can put away your coat but, after New York, San Francisco is like a plate of white bread and a slice of dry ham”. Photograph: Getty Images

Very strange

People don’t say please or thank you and, for the most part, skip looking at you altogether. They order their muffin without taking their eyes off their phone and just stick out a hand and expect the food to be dropped into it. It’s very strange. Maybe it’s the future and I just got old.

I write plays and put on a stack of sold-out shows in New York. I’m a curious person. I feed off the buzz of a big city. Coming here was like chopping off half of my head. I feel like I’m starving myself.

Although you’re forced to listen to loud conversations about stock options and cryptocurrencies, and you see plenty of fancy cars, you can’t but notice the other end of things too, not when you’re tripping over crazy people yelling at the sky and defecating right in front of you. Night of the Living Dead, that’s downtown.

We talk of going back to Ireland, especially now that Kim keeps showing pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge crumbling beneath an atomic bomb. The best you could hope for is that you’d be incinerated right off the bat, my wife says. That’s what passes for dinner conversation in our house. I point out that San Diego has a naval base and Los Angeles has more people, so there’s that. Throw in all the hurricanes and Ireland starts to look really good.

Irish come and go

We live in the Marina, which is Dalkey but with more sun. Good and windy and not too hot. Plenty of Irish people hunker down nearby and I pass them when I’m out pushing a pram. They’re big into kite surfing and mountain biking. Me, not so much.

As the lady said, the Irish come and go. Don’t get too attached. We lost some good ones recently.

“Dublin’s hopping,” they tell me, “it’s so much better, you should move back.” Maybe. John Bruton was taoiseach when I last lived there. Dick Spring was tánaiste. Going home would be like passing through a portal into another dimension. Still, I’m sure I’d cope. The world has flatlined and the difference between one place and another isn’t what it used to be.

I’d enjoy the bit of banter. They’ve zero sense of humour here. A city of droids. I wouldn’t miss the blank faces. Who knows, I might be seeing you all soon.

As the i.ny festival takes place in Limerick this weekend exploring the relationship between Ireland and New York, Irish Times Abroad wants to hear from readers living there. Send your My New York Story (400 words max) with a photograph of yourself to abroad@irishtimes.com before Monday September 9th. A selection may be published online next week. Thank you.

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