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Andrei Codrescu

Queens or Bust [by Andrei Codrescu]

QE2  If you are moving to New York to do your obligatory two years of poetic apprenticeship among the sophisticated, critical, merciless, and horribly smart (or not) natives, be sure that you move to Queens. You heard me right. Not to Manhattan or G-d forbid to gluten-free Brooklyn, but to Queens.

Botticelli-Venus-pudica-1495-Tempera-on-wood-148-x-62-cm-Private-collection-GenevaThe first thing about it, it's a lot cheaper.

The second, it's full of working New Yorkers of the sort that lace their boots tight, talk with an attitude, and go to Manhattan only if an exiled relative from Cincinnati comes back before dying.

The third thing is that they speak 167 languages in Jackson Heights alone, which is just one part of Queens.

The fourth thing is that the Unisphere from the World Fair that every American has tattooed at birth in the deepest part of the brain, is in Queens, too.

The fifth is that all your friends in Manhattan and Brooklyn have a hard time keeping a smirk off their mug when you tell them you live in Queens.

The sixth thing is the restaurants that deliver 24 hours any variety of non-American or American food your cholesterol-hungry heart might yearn for. The seventh is that. the best comedians are from Queens, like Don Rickles, as are other great Americans, like Cyndi Lauper, Nicki Menaj, and 50 cent. In passing, I'll say that the Queens zoo has a hell of a puma that looks you straight in the eyes until you feel lucky there are some bars between you.

I ended up in Queens because the Romanian Great Writers' League of Queens (as opposed to the Romanian Minor Writers' League of Queens) found me a studio in a lovely apartment building reminiscent of the best Soviet architecture, which costs me less than a parking place in Manhattan. I have a view of a fire-escape and a synagogue, which is all a writer needs: a means to escape from a fire into the arms of an unforgiving G-d. My friends from the Romanian Great Writes' League in Queens know everything about New York, all four boroughs, and can barely conceal their feeling of superiority, for at least one reason: no tourists. Manhattan is all tourists and Brooklyn is all slumming rich kids who want to be famous.

Nobody in Queens wants to be interrupted by gawkers while writing novels and poetry. Regular Quuenzites don't want to be famous at all: it might attract the IRS. So take it from one who's been everywhere, the breadth and length of US and other places where they speak pigeon English: do your time in Queens, young poet. And don't ever show your MFA in public. "Keep old hat in secret closet," as Ted Berrigan said, and you'll go back to flyover America with superpowers. 

[Editor's note: We thought this provocative and engaging article would best be illustrated by a couple of Queens, Elizabeth and Venus. -- DL
From the archive; first posted February 6, 2018


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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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