CHRIS BATTAGLIA

Thoughts

R.I.P.N.Y.C.C.A.B.

Theo and I sat on mismatched outdoor furniture on the roof of his apartment building. It’s only six stories high, but sits ideally and pleasantly on 12th Street and Avenue A. He lives among the energy. The fast youthful shuffle. The iced coffees and overfilled wineglasses; hoarding free wifi. The building itself is somewhat lavish for its surroundings - culturally and historically - but with the upkeep of gentrification needed to propel Alphabet City economy, it hits the mark.

Sweet potato sautés with onions, kale, and tofu. A wave of caramel wafts lovingly through the small three bedroom. In our three years in the city together, I can count on one hand how many times we intentionally sat down to eat together. Once during Hurricane Sandy I roasted a whole chicken that I bought from the local butcher across Central Park.

It was during Sandy that I had many thoughts converge to feel something of a cathartic mind-shift.

At the time I worked at Tasting Table. I had a 401(k), great income for any entry level NYC job, and worked in SoHo. I have had many jobs here.

I learned the art of hospitality in Harlem, waiting tables at Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster. Every Sunday, “Gospel for Teens” brunch musical accompaniment filled my heart whole.

I learned total generosity and what retired life feels like, house-sitting for a wonderful family in Long Island.

It was at Tasting Table, as an Executive Assistant to the CEO, where I struggled to be great at something immediately. My boss was tough, but loving. Managing someone else’s calendar and life and minutia becomes difficult when you don’t have a grasp of your own. I learned more about food, drink, and social culture in New York here than anywhere. I went out two, three, four nights a week. I drank like a fish and ate like a pig. I crammed too many people and events into the days, seeing people out of obligation and feigned necessity.

I made coffee for the whole office every morning, buzzed people into the building, walked my boss’s sweet and beautiful dog every day. Her name is Sukey Barksdale and taught me to be calm and appreciate what was the only true downtime I had in a day. Sometimes, after her walk, I would just sit for a minute in the apartment, because for that short moment, I had a companion. I had a breath of calm, and I was something like the successful man who rented a SoHo apartment, had a dog, started a company, and meant something of a role model to someone else.

I soon left, after this Hurricane Catharsis.

I took time at home in Los Angeles and came back to New York as an aspiring starving artist. But there was no control. I lived in Spanish Harlem in a railroad apartment. I felt tied to the neighborhood. It is a block of the few remaining streets that used to be old Italian Harlem. I lived behind a beautiful stone church, Mt. Carmel, and the Feast of San Gennaro was celebrated annually on the street adjacent.

I drove my car as a hired limo before Uber took hold. I filmed a marriage proposal for a Swiss couple in Central Park from the seat and two pedals of my road bike. I filmed birthday parties, kindergarten graduations, and photographed office holiday parties.

And then we had bed bugs.

We had all of the bed bugs, and we had a sour roommate experience that colored our year, both well and poorly. I bicycled everywhere. I had my bike stored on the fourth floor walk up every day. I became very frugal, but I lived with my cousin and was fairly happy.

In 2013 I was the first employee as a bar back in a new bar in the East Village. It was at Maiden Lane I learned to love canned and smoked fish, Vermouth and Madeira. I also learned the backbreaking work it takes to work as muscle behind a bar - no matter how small the space or volume. And I learned what working at a start-up business meant, when I had to forfeit my position as freelancing life prevented consistency at my day job.

I filmed weddings and traveled to Maine in the summertime. It was this summer I fell in love with the type of life I desired. I slept in train stations in New Haven and Boston, taking buses and trains and cars to make creative work happen, because it was worth it.

But New York demanded more money to live, and we had a bad landlord experience after the bugs, so I found respite in retail life at Patagonia. I had worked there once in college, returning in the fall of 2013 for security and people I wanted to be around. Those with whom I worked in 2009 in Santa Monica shaped me as a young adult. I grew conscious of the environment, recognized the impact of consumption, learned how to speak to others, and to put up walls to invasive interactions, and the like.

I moved apartments, again. I moved in with my younger brother, Theo, and close high school mate, Nick. Nick worked at SNL and had been a friend for over a decade. We would have a great life on Avenue B.

I moved mine and my brother’s things in the rain, for six hours, hauling all in wire shopping cart in one hand, and rolling luggage in the other.

I hired a guy we met on the street, named Jay May. He had what looked like a burner phone and said his helper was his 16 year old cousin. They drove an unmarked white van and said they worked for IKEA, but when we found them two months prior at night in the East Village, they bore no branding, truck, or truly persuasive story. But they helped us out for cheap with their dollies and strength of hand. And again, I successfully moved apartments.

I soon biked from our beautiful and cozy Alphabet City flat to the Upper West Side five days a week for work. It was commuting along the Hudson, being independent and active and surrounded by like-minded individuals when I realized this reality resembled the quality of life I so desired. I had musicians play in my living room for the sake of a party, and I lived in a bedroom that measured 80" x 80" with one window.

Again, I found myself overcome with happiness. I cooked. I cooked for friends, for women I dated. I wasn’t spending a lot of money, and I was very healthy. I pulled all-nighters and I visited the South.

It was in the South - Charleston, to be specific - where and when I saw the good life. I observed as an outsider what an entirely different part of the country is like. In Charleston, I worked, and was paid by a friend, and was ecstatic.

In Mississippi, I canoed 100 miles with a dear friend and camped along riverbanks, recording and filming the whole thing. We were so much closer to the earth, so much nearer to our ground that supported us while we slept, and the waters that bathed us when we needed cleansing. We washed dishes in the sand and sang at the top of our lungs along the Big River.

I realized I loved parts of the South, and that I wanted to get out of New York City. It was in 2013 I opened my eyes, and that I realized I could not close them again.

But then I fell in love, and I fell with temper, and control, and whole heart. To my coworker. And she was off-limits, so I obeyed; I observed the laws of social and work etiquette, and remained chivalrous.

When the New Year of 2014 arrived, I remained happy with everything. I moved into a better role at the retail shop, exercising my creative interests in Visual Merchandising. I had a 401(k) and had a spectacular work-life balance, and day-to-day on the job. I became close with some of my co-workers, and found friends I would now hold onto for many years to come. I dog-sat for friends. I made granola at home.

I made friends with a commercial producer over the phone, helping him with a sizable clothing order for work trip to Canada in the dead of winter. He told me if I ever wanted to get out of retail and back into production to call him.

So I tested the waters, and began working as a Production Assistant in the summer. This meant 4am mornings to drive vans and work for $200/day in a capacity I disliked. But it was money, and it was a potential avenue towards better work. But it never really got better, and I really screwed the pooch a couple times. Enough so to propel my thoughts negatively towards the industry.

Amanda and I flew to Italy to film a wedding, and we were gone the whole month of September. We lived half the time on the beach in the south of Sardinia. The other half, we rented a car and backpacked through the rest of the island. We slept in our Fiat 500 on the side of the road, and we made friends with an elderly couple, hosting us at their B&B in a rural mountain town. Italy was amazing, and so was traveling with a companion who would continue to amaze and impress me throughout this splendid international daze.

I lived in the Poconos at the chalet home of my recent merchandising boss during the month of October. And it was here in my own “artist residency” (selfishly dubbed) that I realized I wanted not to live in the thick of a busy, noisy, crowded city, using only weekends to travel to environments in which I wanted to immerse myself. I wanted to wake up where I wanted to spend my time, and if so, commute to work so that I may only leave at the end of my intentionally brief time in the city. I woke up in the woods. I stoked a fire every night. I hiked in fallen autumn leaves and drank coffee in an historic Hotel on the main street of a tiny, charming Pennsylvania town.

Then I moved into my lovely girlfriend’s room in her three bedroom apartment. I felt nomadic, I felt without purpose, but I felt like I wouldn’t get a new apartment just quite yet. I told people I wanted to move. Somewhere smaller, on the water. Maybe Seattle, Portland, Portland, or Charleston. I went to Charleston again, this time just for friends. To cement friendships that were more than just an ephemeral whirlwind of social adventure. I became more enamored with the South, and with the smaller city of Charleston. I thought about moving. I even looked into an apartment. But the timing wasn’t right.

I spent two months in Los Angeles. I though I might actually move back to LA or San Francisco. I drove up and down the Pacific Coast Highway several times during my California winter. On these travels I was reminded my penchant for the West Coast.  The friends who made me feel like family.

I joined a Woodshop. I learned to navigate Eagle Rock. I borrowed friend’s and family’s cars, and yet I felt trapped. 

So I didn’t stay. I came back to New York. Amanda talked some sense into me, and by Valentine’s Day I was back. This time, it was more for good. I felt comfortable in the apartment and not entirely unhappy in the City. This didn’t last.

The winter, the work, the people - I began feeling upheaved, mentally. For the first time in my life, I began feeling what Theo talked about when he spoke about his anxiety. I had sleepless nights, my body became upset. I felt unhealthy, and unsettled. Stress took over, and I still remained a freelancer, but I had to find stability again.

So I became a Barista. In the neighborhood, there is a restaurant we had a nice holiday brunch the summer prior, and I got a job a day or two after the interview. I had already learned espresso fundamentals, and was eager to cement my coffee knowledge. It was here, as a barista at Indian Road Cafe that I had to re-learn the art of putting up walls between customer and employee. To not get too close, or allow others to get to close. Because I’m bad at that.

It was decent money for getting some of the more meager shifts, the swing shifts. But I could walk and bike to work, and go through a great big park, and had some semblance of a routine.

Nothing remained right though, and although I met and worked with great people there, I continued to explore freelance work, as was my general plan.

Conversations began developing with my good friend Andrew about Portland, Maine. We sat on park benches at 8 in the morning, or while watching his dog play with other canines at the Fort Tryon dog park, and ruminated about our unease in the city. He has background in lobstering, brewing beer, an interest in farming, feeling a similar sense of displacement in the city. When he secured a job, after many weeks and months of ongoing talks back in Maine, we took a trip up north.

In my last month in New York, I filmed three weddings, one in Milwaukee, one in Connecticut, and one in Germany. Immediately following my friend’s German wedding, I flew to Nashville, TN, to shoot and help produce a documentary with a married couple friends of mine. Ironically, the last job I would have as a New York resident, was with a colleague I met working at the first job I ever had at the Red Rooster. And with that, we set out for 30 days in an airstream trailer, making a documentary around the country.

On the road, I found solace. I found peace inside myself from being mobile. Living simply, and with no excess. Living on the coin that my work merited, paid for by someone who recognizes that. We drove many hours during the week. I saw new parts of the country and met incredible people. It was 30 days of being on the road I found that any anxiety and stress I had in the city in winter and springtime, dissolved.

And now, I find myself in my last day in the city as full-time resident. I of course, am reflecting on three years in a crazy city. 

Moving is not difficult. It is leaving somewhere that gives you a sense of place and character. Leaving when things are not easy to leave, when you don’t have the next step planned out. Leaving, too, when you have good friends, family, and a true partner all in the place from which you suddenly jumped ship.

I’m about to move into my fourth apartment.

Without the help of any movers in 2012, dad and I drove my old Jeep from LA to NY in a little over three days, straight to Harlem. A year passed and I moved out with the help of my mother and Rocky, one of my closest friends from high school. Another year passed and I moved out with the help of my sweet lady Amanda and a 14 ft. box truck rental. Tomorrow, she will help me again, and this time I drive solo to Maine.

Maine is the future home of another self-evaluation. A place where I will now have the space and environment I think I desire from a place of existence. I will have in-home office space, another space to work with wood, and a place to spread out and make use of a kitchen. We hope to raise chickens, brew beer, make yogurt and granola, and be happy. The woodworking and maritime histories of Maine more than sold me to move. The farming and closeness to the earth and salty sea are essential to me.

A lot has mentally and emotionally poured out onto the page since this brief but momentous dinner with Theo last night.

His relationship is one of my clearest cut, and most important. I see in him the entirety of the millennial generation who is merely a couple years younger than me, and I see their future successes. I think of the ways I am traditional and wildly liberal. And I think of young kids and adults buried in their telephones, and of their current and future social capital. Of ALL our social capital, and the revitalization of our American society. And although my retreat to the land is perceived by Theo as going hippie “but in a good way,” I won’t question where the emerging artists and professionals are headed, even without this knowledge. There is a sincere depth of understanding of socialization and work and life success for their futures that I actually do not understand myself.

I don’t have plans, make great money, or have a stable idea of much more than the simple fact I want to be a father, an artist, and someone who knows how to produce food from the earth. When I think of all the money I’ve ever made in New York, and of all the money that my peers are making in abundance, I like to think of something someone wrote in an essay I recently read. It was along the lines of businessmen and women who work in finance and big business are essentially borrowing and spending lots of other people’s money. It’s play money, it’s not real.

Something I have appreciated in this grand history of three years of living and working in New York is that I have been lucky enough to be paid by both friends, family, and small companies. Where the dollar means something. Every check that every friend or parent or relative wrote to me, was not something I took lightly. Every hand-written signature accompanying a sum of money cut me to my core - in a good way. 

It is not that I value the dollar any more than my financially successful counterparts, but I see myself a more conscious consumer than I ever was, now that I get to work for and with friends.

And I just may continue to work and be happy in this scenario for years to come, from wherever in the world I might be found. Until then, it’s off to Maine, from a solemnly joyous once-New-York version of myself.