Sunday, March 16, 2008

How to Move to New York City

Well, hello, darlings! Pretty Lady has been a bit mopey and taciturn, lately; it seems she hasn't had a thing to say, what with Shocking Scandals popping out right and left, and the financial underpinnings of the local economy vanishing like a sinkhole in the basement. She has been too busy watching the floorboards, making sure they're still solid and present.

In fact, Pretty Lady has been a bit jittery ever since she moved to New York City, in the midst of a recession and a chronic terror alert. It is only recently that it occurred to her that she learned a few Facts the Hard Way, and that there might be a few enthusiastic, ambitious young persons out there in the provinces who might benefit from her hard-won experience. So she is rousing herself to give you dears a bit of Sage Advice, which she wishes somebody had given her, five or six years ago. Not that it would have made a great deal of difference, but there you go.

So! You want to move to New York City. Presumably because you are Talented, and Ambitious, and want to Make It in the Big Pond. She can't imagine any other reason. If you are ordinary and bland, there are infinitely more comfortable, congenial and inexpensive places for you to indulge yourself. She wouldn't wish New York City on anyone who wasn't asking for it.

Pretty Lady, first of all, congratulates you. It seems to her that one may not truly progress in one's vocation, or know one's limitations, until one has ventured out into the Wide World and declared, "Here I am. Bring it on!" There are many talented individuals who never develop their talent by honing it in competition with others; they prefer to swan around the Small Ponds of the world, basking in their native statistical superiority. These people may live pleasant and productive lives, but at heart they are cowards.

People who move to New York City are not cowards; most of them are, however, fools. Pretty Lady is no exception. If she had known then what she knows today, she might never have come here at all; what is certain is that she'd have done a few things differently.

1) If at all possible, have a job lined up.

It is madness to move to New York with no job, no friends, and nowhere to live. One ends up paying enormous broker's fees, getting scammed by moving companies, moving into a trashed, sabotaged and stinking apartment, getting stonewalled by licensing boards, jerked around by temp agencies, and generally sucked dry by an impersonal and parasitic machine. People you thought were your friends suddenly become hostile and insane; total strangers will demand impossible things from you.

A few random strangers, however, will save your life.

2) Do not pay a broker. Find a place to live through friends, or friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends, or Craigslist. As a last resort, sublet or couch-surf until you find a no-fee apartment with air and sunlight and a reasonably sane landlord, preferably in Brooklyn.It seemed to Pretty Lady that paying a fair fee to a broker for a decent apartment was a fair price to pay--two or three hundred dollars, maybe?

Try thirteen hundred. In 2002. It's much higher now--ten to fifteen percent of your first year's rent. At between twelve hundred and two thousand a month, for a modest one-bedroom in a neighborhood with infrequent gunfire, you do the math. All this goes to an entity with no function except to get between you and what you need, so as to extort inordinate amounts of money from you. Employment agencies operate in exactly the same way. Welcome to The City!

3) Sign up for the classes, the co-op, and the social networking groups immediately, without waiting to feel grounded or Financially Stable.
Financial Stability will never happen; if you wait to start meeting people, learning things and taking care of yourself until it does, you will wake up and find that you have spent years in total isolation and deteriorating health, in the midst of a sea of opportunity. Nothing happens in New York without Personal Contacts; you make these contacts in yoga class, biking group, choir, co-op, etc. You cannot afford not to do these things.

4) When people in the social networking groups tell you exactly what you want to hear, do not believe them.

Never believe anything someone tells you in New York until you have known them for over a year, and scrupulously attended to their personal history of Word versus Action, or lack thereof. People will tell you anything to make a First Impression, and the big talkers are never the big doers. They are far more likely to be desperate poseurs looking for fresh victims.

Common Lies to Watch Out For:

"I'll call you tomorrow."
"I'll catch up with you later."
"I've got connections who would be delighted to fund that."
"I'll buy that painting."
"I'll have it to you by Tuesday."
"I have this friend you need to meet."
"You can count on me."

5) Get away from toxic people.

This is an important skill to learn, anywhere you live, but doubly so in New York. Endearing personality quirks such as incompetence, mendacity, pugnacity or sloth, which may be given slack in sleepier communities, are the equivalent of a sixteen-ton weight chained to one's ankle, in a city full of obsessive workaholics who will do anything to get ahead.

Furthermore, finding time in one's schedule for personal friends takes a great deal of commitment and ingenuity, in a city where every individual lives the life of ten; you must bestow that friendship wisely. It is important to cultivate the art of sussing out toxicity in a potential friend before the boat is scuttled and the bridge is burnt. Ideally one should have a smiling acquaintance with many, an intimate friendship with the precious few.

6) Beware the crucible effect.

It is Pretty Lady's inchoate theory that moving to New York City brings out a person's worst self-destructive habits, magnified by ten. One may live for decades in a small town, functioning fairly well with a mild case of vanity, paranoia, narcissism or codependency; one moves to New York and becomes a raging monster. Pretty Lady theorizes that this is a result of the pace, the competitiveness, the systemic parasitism, and the psychological pressure that comes from a pervasive sense of 'This is It, Make it or Break it.' The bad habits which emerge under stress threaten to subsume one's entire personality.

The good thing about this is that if one survives and overcomes it, one is an infinitely better and stronger person, a lean and purified verson of self, cleansed of psychic impurities and Stupid People Tricks; if not, well, look at Hillary Clinton. Dear Samantha was right.

7) Treat your real friends well.

Pretty Lady is thrilled to report that after nearly six years in this hell-hole, she is beginning to see the light around her. To her amazement, she looks at her address book and it is filled with astonishingly wonderful, generous, kind, wise, talented, loving people who impress the hell out of her. When she falls, there is a helping hand to pick her up; when she is frightened, there is a listening ear. The economy may have tanked, the Biennial may be full of worthless garbage, and she may be on the verge of bankruptcy, but on the whole she has few regrets.

Related: Why You Should Not Move to New York City


Anonymous said...

What a great guide; I laughed while I remembered (and cried inside). I lived in NY for six years. I miss it sometimes, but not the "I'll call you tomorrows"!

k said...


Welcome back.

Pretty Lady said...

Good to know I hit the mark with someone who knows, Sharon!

Thank you, k, it's good to be back.

Anonymous said...

Good Grief PL,

What makes you think any of your readers would actually want to move to New York?

The chance of catching a ride in the Cash Cab?

Pretty Lady said...

Bobert, dear Bobert, always so good to hear from you!

Sadly, not all of Pretty Lady's readers are like you, dear Bobert, solid and curmudgeonly as you are. Indeed, Pretty Lady is constantly Reaching Out to all sorts of strange people. There are a great many people on the planet who wish most fervently to move to NYC, and Pretty Lady is hoping to Cash In on them. Not in the Cash Cab, which she has never heard of, however. In the Ad Revenue and Potential Columnist or Book Deal Cab.

(Come to think, Pretty Lady once worked a temp job in a property management office headed by someone named Mr. Cashin. She rarely actually saw him; the office was managed by an exquisitely coiffed female who communicated constantly with this dynamic Mr. Cashin on the the phone. Mr. Cashin this, Mr. Cashin that--Pretty Lady privately suspected Mr. Cashin of being a shallow sort of player.)

(All the plants in this office had the dead, brown ends of their leaves trimmed off daily. The dress code was Corporate Formal. Pretty Lady took the opportunity to write subversive, surrealistic poetry and hide it in obscure files on the computer system, and wrote it on Post-it notes, sticking in places where it would be discovered months hence.)

k said...

hee hee hee hee heeeeee!!!

Anonymous said...

LOL... good resposne PL...

Cash Cab is a discovery channel "game show" that takes place in a legal New York cab.

Unsuspecting riders find theselves being quizzed all the way to their destination, some making as much a $2,100, others getting tossed out for missing three questions.

It's kinda fun to watch... some riders are awesomely smart, others are a national embassasment, and should be kicked out of New York... and off the planet.

Anonymous said...

Almost makes me wanna take a cab once in a while just so I can play. Another "how-to" for surviving in NYC: get a metrocard, especially if you live in outer Brooklyn; you'll get there faster underground and a whole lot cheaper.


ps PL has another secret for NYC survival: get an awesome Gentleman Friend who can hang doors! Thanks PL & GF!

Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady took the opportunity to write subversive, surrealistic poetry and hide it in obscure files on the computer system, and wrote it on Post-it notes, sticking in places where it would be discovered months hence.)

That's a f*ing great idea...

Chris Rywalt said...

The last time I was stuck in a suit-and-tie soul-crushing cubicle job in New York, I printed out a bunch of signs reading "things are getting WORSE and you're not helping", then took the elevator to every floor I could, posting one on the wall next to the doors.

Using company tape, of course.

k said...

Okay. So all I ever came up with were classic subway scrawls like *KILROY WAS HERE* or *E=MC2* (well, hell, so I don't know how to make this thing do a superscript, you know I meant "squared") or *"2+2=5 for particularly large values of 2" - Einstein*

At least I can say I wrote one on the inside of one of the big blue mailboxes they put on the streetcorners.

Cuz I had a key.

And y'all probly didn't.

So. There.

Adetola said...

Hey Pretty Lady,

This post that you have written is probably old but I'm 21 and I am trying to move to the city. I want to have a very successful move so I decided to start reading up on moving and things of that sort.

I found your post to be very informative. I loved the words you used. I'm such a vocabulary buff.

Anyways, I hope that I don't get eaten alive in the city. I've noticed the rudeness and other attributes that alot of city people harbor.

I want to move there because I'm always in search of play. I love galavanting.

Is there anything that you could tell a 21 year old student like me who is ready to be independant?

Pretty Lady said...

Adetola--go on Craigslist and browse the 'roommates wanted' ads; what you want is a room with compatible people that you can afford. Get an entry-level job and do it well. Make friends with decent, kind, reliable people and treat them well. Don't do drugs.

You can't be 'independent' unless you are willing to be interdependent with many people.

City people aren't rude, they're just efficient. Don't waste their time and you'll be fine.

Hook said...

Wow! Having just moved to New York about 6 weeks ago, I've felt completely out of my element and have been craving some wise words... This was awesome to find. Thanks Pretty Lady.

Anonymous said...

Im a UK grad in History and hoping to move to the big apple, as life is becoming stagnant here in the UK for me.

Just wanting some insight from New Yorkers as to how easy it is to move, to find some bar work (or something similar to get me by whilst i look for that ever elusive dream job) and to find an apartment all within a short space of time?

Chelsea said...

This was wonderful to read. A real "eye opener". My boyfriend and I have been discussing moving in together and he suggested New York. He is from L.A, I am originally from a small town in Ontario. New York sure is not like my home town.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pretty lady. I know this is an old blog but I just came upon it as I was looking online on anything related to moving to the big city. I've been wanting to leave for nyc for some time now and I live in buffalo, ny..nothing the same. I just love the energy there and its my ultimate dream to live there.
I'm only 20 but I figured now is the time, if I want to do something big with my life. I'm not happy where I live now and ever since I've visited manhattan for a few days during christmas time, I can't get it out of my head that I must live there. It just seems like me.

So..I guess my question would be, is it enough to want to make the move, even though I don't know any friends or family that I could connect with when I get there..or a job lined up?

Pretty Lady said...

To everyone who is under 30, wants to move to NYC and has no friends, family or jobs there--sure! Do it now while you've still got so little to lose. Just understand a few things:

1) You will not be living in Manhattan. You will be living in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island or Yonkers, with roommates. Brooklyn is by far the best, but by the same token, it's also the most expensive.

2) Save up before you get there, and be prepared to work your ass off and live on nothing when you do.

3) If you want a glamorous job, you will be working for free, possibly for years. Internships are the new slave labor. Any job that actually pays you money will not lead to a better job later on; any job that does will not pay you money. Just beware of jobs that pay nothing and still don't lead anywhere.

4) Do research. Tons and tons of research. Do not be afraid to ask questions of older, more experienced people. The world will try to trick you, then claim that it's okay it tricked you because you should have known better. Know better.

LLvgirl said...

This had me laughing so hard! I am 25 & I want to move to new york. NO family! No friends! No job! I think I may start in Chicago first after reading this though. I was looking at places in Manhattan, LoL This sounds exactly like me! Is it really that bad?

nhughes said...

I am in the same position as Llvgirl! I currently live in NJ right across the GWB and am considering moving to Manhattan.

I am 25 years old and am looking for a job in Finance. I know the job market has changed significantly since you first wrote this, but I recently moved back to NJ from Atlanta because of my dream to work in NYC. I have no kids and I currently work in retail. I WANT to work my ass off to make it in NYC because that is what I want to do. Can you please offer some advice for this girl across the George Washington Bridge? Thanks.

Jeremy said...

Pretty Lady

You Rock you have got me thinking about a move to New york.

Rock On

Ceren said...

Your post is great, although it does not apply one bit to my situation. I am 34 and married with two young kids (almost 6 and almost 1 1/2). We want to move from suburban Cleveland (OH) to NYC as in Manhattan and not Brooklyn, Queens, etc. We are city people and just crave the stimulation. Call me crazy but I really want to live in Manhattan.

tammy said...

Pretty lady are you still answering posts on here?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Pretty Lady!

Anonymous said...

This was such good advice, the best I've read about moving to NYC... I feel like I just took my first step towards moving there.

I am almost 30, single but I think that moving to NYC is the only thing I've ever really wanted in the world and I am have only now realized it!

That said, your wisdom has also made me realize I need to do some soul searching before I take the plunge. I am not an inherently social person but I am very passionate and determined. I keep a note in my pocket that says "Your home is waiting - Manhattan" as a daily reminder of this dream I have.

I am saving my money, I'm gaining professional contacts... Even if the city is not for me, its the fire I need to forge the strength that I know is in me! Thanks, again for the advice!

Unknown said...

I am dying to move to NYC. I have dreamed of the city all my life and finally I got accepted into college in the city. I'm trying to find the funds to pay tuition and leave this tiny texas town for the greatest place in the world. you are an inspiration.