After the exotic tropical locations, I moved to the most exotic place of all for the fifth Lucy Ripken book, LOST IN NEW YORK. That is to say, Manhattan, where I lived with my partner for 13 years. Yes, to my way of thinking, New York City is the most exotic place in the world. I haven’t been everywhere on earth but I’m certain that New York is one of a few, maybe half a dozen, cities in the world that in some ineffable way transcend nationality and can truly claim status as an international city. A city of the world. New York is also the most exciting, glamorous, stimulating, and, well, dangerous city I’ve known. Dangerous not only for the literal, physical dangers in the streets, which used to be far worse than they are today—as for example during the crack plague of the 1980s–but for the psychological danger—the damages that can be inflicted by the city’s relentlessly competitive, take-no-prisoners energy. This is not a forgiving place. A seemingly endless supply of schemers, con men, connivers, thieves, poseurs, gangsters, and soul-sucking vampires populate New York City along with its millions of great, striving souls, and if you live there long enough you’re bound to come across a few of them. You might even find their hands in your pockets, or in your underwear.
I cooked up a couple of these New York scammers to inhabit the dark side of this book.
By the time this story begins, Lucy is getting a little burned out on New York. She is, after all, a west coast girl at heart, from Portland, Oregon. As I learned in my years in New York, if you aren’t born in the neighborhood and/or have family around, you have got to be rich or terminally ambitious to stick it out in Manhattan. It is just too hard a place to live after while. Or was, at least, for my partner and I.
We had a great place to live, a country house to run to on the weekends, reasonably interesting and fulfilling work, and plenty of friends. But it wasn’t enough, not in the face of hard-ass unforgiving New York. Family might keep you there, and money obviously provides the necessary buffers—weekend houses, large apartments, the wherewithal to live well, eat well, go where you want and do what you want—but without one or the other or both, family and money, at a certain point you ask yourself, “Why am I living here?” Perhaps this will happen as you are donning your emotional armor along with your clothes in order to walk a block and buy a quart of milk. Perhaps it will happen as you are pushing away the hands of a man attempting to grope your body on an overcrowded subway train on a hot afternoon in August.
Many people get to a point where they can’t imagine living anywhere else, but we never got to the point. Nor did Lucy Ripken. You can live a wonderfully creative and fulfilling life in New York City without being well-to-do, but it is not easy.