Four years after that I was in Florida at some kind of family function, having a conversation with my great-uncle Kenny. Kenny was and remains an interesting guy. A computer programmer, a piano player, a jazz-head, blind since birth. He’s lived in New York since 1964. His wife, Rochelle, was a poet and novelist and honest-to-goodness New York intellectual. Why, I wanted to know, would two smart, resourceful people actually choose to live in that terrible place?
“Brandon,” he said, in the vaguely cranky know-it-all voice that remains his default tone, “the people who’ve taught you about New York are idiots. Come spend a weekend with me. I’ll show you what New York’s all about.”
In 2005 I took him up on the offer. In return I got the most revelatory three days of my life. Uncle Kenny knew I loved music, theater, and food, and in 72 hours he dazzled me with New York’s capacity to deliver all three in quantities and qualities unimaginable elsewhere. He took me to two jazz clubs (Birdland and the Village Vanguard), a Broadway musical (Avenue Q), and a dizzying succession of fine-dining restaurants both trendy (the Tribeca Grill) and classic (Chez Josephine). Late at night, from his 28th-floor windows in the Upper West Side, I stared at the innumerable lights of Midtown, and thought I’d never seen anything so lovely, or so full of mystery and promise. In the mornings I had my first loxes and pickled herrings, in the afternoons my first dry martinis, in the evenings my first truffles and foie gras.