When I moved back to Long Island from NYC after a nearly ten year stint away, I did so with a personal caveat: my stay would be temporary. I was just moving back in with my folks in Central Islip in order to get my finances in shape, to save a chunk of change and then I would head back to the city. I had always considered myself a city person at heart. I’m the person that thrives when I hear my neighbors above, below or to the left and right of me. In fact, I am really only at peace knowing there is someone so nearby that I can occasionally hear the muffled sounds of their day to day living. I once had a neighbor who lived above me in my first Queens apartment who would have a nightly ritual of what I can only assume was pageant practice since all I heard for about two hours every night was the click clack of her high heeled shoes. The day after she eventually moved out, I had insomnia. I needed the noise of that well treaded pathway above my head to truly feel relaxed. In general, I enjoy large gatherings of people who seem to congregate for no reason, I cannot sleep unless there are both light and noise coming from the street and the types of mountains I prefer are man made and constructed almost entirely of steel and glass. You get the picture. It explains why I was adamant about putting a time limit on my stay on Long Island. “A year, two max” I’d tell myself. So, ok, that was six years ago.
As it turns out,the old addage is true: you make a plan, the fates laugh. They have a strange sense of humor, those fates. They’ll do things like, give you a good job (or two) that leave you making a decent living which contrasts with anything you ever found in the city. Then one day the fates make you realize that you have grown accustomed to coping with that livable salary and make moving back to one of the most expensive cities in the world seem like two day old restaurant leftovers: a once appetizing and savory prospect made less and less palatable the longer you keep it bagged up and further you push it to the back. Those damn fates. Halfway into my six year stint out in Suffolk, I realized how comfortable I had gotten in my life out here (with occasional outbursts of restlessness, of course). Even though I still had the melody of NYC in my mind (NYC is full of sirens. And Sirens), I was going to make a go of it, for at least a little while longer. I next had to find a new place to live.
At first I found this hard. I suppose it’s because the Long Island of my youth had stayed somewhat static in my mind; it becomes very easy, when you are ensconced in a city of 8 million people who are constantly reinforcing the notion that you live at the center of the universe that anywhere else, even if it is just 50 miles away, is simply that...50 miles away from where you truly want to be. 50 miles turns into 500 and everything beyond that becomes a flat expanse of land. Flyover country. Pretentious? Definitely. But until recently, this was my outlook. When faced with the idea of moving to a new town on Long Island, I felt adrift and a bit lost. I say this happened recently but what I really mean is three years ago, as that is when I remembered Patchogue.
I was already familiar with Patchogue, having dated someone in the past who lived in East Patchogue and having a close friend buy a condo in the neighborhood and I was charmed by what I saw: a thriving, developing and changing downtown. I hung around in town quite a bit, going to the various eateries and bars that were popping up at the time. I started going to the sorely missed (by me) Once and For All and in particular to the Brains of Long Island trivia nights and I got to know some locals through friends of friends. All I kept hearing were excited visions of where the town was going and how quickly it would get there. It was really the first time I had ever seen or heard people actually enthusiastic about their community. It was a direct contradiction to my erstwhile vision of a long, long island, dotted with cookie cutter shopping malls and self contained hi-ranch houses. Here was optimism. Here was community involvement. Here was the antithesis to the collective, uninterested and uninspired shoulder shrug I’d encountered in most people about their neighborhoods. At the time I remember feeling the energy of a town on the verge of change and wanting to be a part of it.
I quickly found an apartment in a complex that I had passed many times and had always noticed due to its cleanliness and festive decorations during the holidays. It also happened to be ideally located just blocks from Main Street. I remember meeting the landlord for the first time and taking a walk through town. Three years ago, there were still so many empty storefronts but a lot of “Coming Soon” signs and what looked like progress on the way. There was a new building that was to be affordable housing for working artists and art galleries just behind my apartment complex and nary a strip mall in sight of my apartment. This was the anti-suburb. It was what I had been hoping to find under the long, long skies of the island. I was sold. I signed the lease the next day.
I’ve now lived here, in that same apartment for three years, four years in February. The town has been facelifted, stretched and tucked and rearranged, looking and feeling younger. So many new businesses opened in that time, all unique and just exactly up my alley: an artisanal wine shop, a specialty cheese shop, specialized DVD shop, eateries in all styles of food, a coffee house that roasts its own coffee. And all of this was in walking distance from my house. I found myself not missing the city for long stretches of time, something entirely new since I relocated. I remember one Friday night last winter there was a wine tasting, an art show opening, a live music show and an open mike night all of which I attended after doing yoga within walking distance of my apartment. I keep emphasizing this point because a big detractor for me personally was the necessity to drive everywhere on Long Island. To find a place where I can walk everywhere was like finding a $10 bill in a pair of jeans I hadn’t worn in a long time: unexpected joy.
I’m writing this now after just coming back home from getting frozen yogurt in town, despite the fact that eating frozen yogurt in winter is somewhat of an anachronism (who cares? I can WALK there!). And I was just sitting here remembering Patchogue and feeling grateful for all the reasons, four years ago now, when I was drifting around, locationless, and I decided to land here.