For a smart, savvy, streetwise native, I can be quite oblivious about what it really takes to move to NYC from another state or country in order to make it here.
I grew up in the Bronx, then moved to Manhattan in my early 20s, all the while knowing that if I ever needed anything, my family was a simple cab, express bus, or subway ride away.
Over the years I have met my share of transplants via business colleagues or other moms. Their stories always seemed quite basic. There were the modest successes: “After college I didn’t go back to Iowa, I moved right to New York and tried to get into (fill in name of industry here) and I did.” And then, there were those who pivoted: “I moved here to be an actress, but that didn’t quite work out. I got a job as a (fill in title here), met my husband, and now we have two children. It worked out fine.”
I never met a resident from somewhere else and felt their struggle was any realer than native denizens who were trying to get a career going or find an apartment; then I read Matt Caprioli’s debut memoir “One Headlight.”
Growing up in Alaska, the author was too gay, too bookish, too everything for his Anchorage community, but loved the life he shared with his grandmother Victoria, mother, Abby and their church-donated Mustang with no passenger window, no snow tires in a place that gets 10-inches on a light day, and one headlight that miraculously guided them wherever they needed to be.
In 2012 when he was 22, Caprioli followed his dream to become a writer in Manhattan and ended up a sex worker, sending large amounts of money home to his mom, who never asked from whence it came.
“I met some of America’s richest men ... [prostitution] broke class boundaries, demarcations around sex and race ... it proved to me that in every chance encounter was a connection potentially profound. But the overriding reason why I found joy in sex work was the freedom to rewrite my past: all my life I had been told homosexuality was evil and here I was now making a living out of it.”
He returned home when Abby took ill.
When he gave NYC a second chance, he did so as a writer and newspaper editor, as well as college lecturer; found love, got an apartment in Queens and an MFA, and is currently pursuing an MBA.
As Abby once said, “See all things are possible,” especially in Manhattan, the place where, if at first you don’t succeed, try again because there are just so many options.
Unlike one industry towns, such as Los Angles, we have it all. Now, especially, in the aftermath of COVID when there are jobs to fill because many 9-to-5ers don’t want to return to work as they knew it, switching careers or getting into a desired one isn’t quite as competitive as it once was.
True, the Apple isn’t for everyone. After Victoria passed away, Abby followed in her son’s footsteps by moving east, but things didn’t quite work out. “She was hapless in New York, which can be expected when you move here as a 22-year-old, as I did. The city could forgive my cringe-worthy behavior, but not my mother’s, a woman of 53.” Some people really only belong in the place they originally called home.
For anyone who’s come here and not exactly killing it but doesn’t want to pack it in just yet, “One Headlight” is an inspirational story of resilience and fortitude, as well as learning to appreciate those who have supported you — even in their flawed and perhaps unconventional ways. Matt Caprioli has found success these days because along the way he experienced two things: the always-welcoming energy of New York and momentous power in a quiet drive with those one loves.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is a freelance writer and novelist. Her third book, “The Last Single Woman in New York City, will be published by Heliotrope Books.