R5 Manhattan transplants swap 212 for 914 and live to tell the tale

NUTSS. . .

Or, New Yorkers Under Transitional Stress Syndrome. All this from moving a few miles north?

“Mommy, what’s that smell?” six-year-old Marisa asked.

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“What smell is that?” her mom answered.

“It smells funny. It doesn’t smell like our old neighborhood.” Marisa sniffed and made a face.

“Our house in Staten Island?”

“Yes. It doesn’t smell like there at all. What’s that smell?”

Marisa’s mom began to realize that there was going to be some adjustment moving to Westchester.

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“Well, that’s what they call fresh air,” Marisa’s mom said.

Today, Marisa is an associate editor here at Westchester Magazine and, though her olfactory confusion happened more than 20 years ago, she still remembers that it took a little time getting used to life in Westchester, or more accurately put, life away from the big city.

What we see here in Marisa is the same thing we see all over Westchester. For example, a fellow citizen might have difficulty recognizing someone who lives a half mile away as “a next-door neighbor.” Or a poor soul might wander in the center of town in search of a fresh pretzel. Or a hapless person might venture out of his residence to walk somewhere…anywhere.

Friends, it has reached epidemic proportions and it shows no sign of slowing down. I’m talking about a well defined condition called NUTSS: New Yorkers Under Transitional Stress Syndrome.

“You’re likely to see people with a sense of loneliness, a feeling of not belonging to a community, leading to a sense of not fitting in and not being accepted,” says Dr. James Zimmerman, an Elmsford psychologist. “It’s important for people to keep in mind that this is a transition that is going to take time.”

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Ah, yes, time. But how can you tell if what you observe in your fellow Westchesterites is NUTSS or just anti-social behavior? What if you’re NUTSS and don’t even know it? How do you get over being NUTSS, or what if the people you know never stop being NUTSS?

All challenging questions, but let’s examine the common symptomatology, how to identify it, and perhaps some strategies for dealing with it.


Symptom One: The belief that you can go out your front door and walk anywhere for a purpose other than cardiovascular benefit (i.e., the realization that all your life’s needs are not within 100 feet of your living space).

“I used to be able to walk anywhere in the Bronx,” says Maura Costello, a Yorktown resident who does marketing consultation at home. “I moved here ten years ago and there aren’t even sidewalks. I yearn for sidewalks.”

Let’s just say Costello hasn’t quite made a full adjustment to her new home. But then a lot of ex-New Yorkers still find it strange to get into an automobile to complete a task.

“I miss the fact that my neighborhood had everything I needed in just a few blocks,” says Darren DeVivo, a DJ at WFUV. “There were three or four restaurants in that area that were excellent.” DeVivo, also from the Bronx, moved four years ago to Dobbs Ferry so his kids could be in a better school district. His wife loves the area’s laid-back lifestyle, but DeVivo? Well, he’s not so sure, though he admits, “You could’ve moved me anywhere and it was going to take an adjustment.”

Freelance publicist Wendy Camerik, formerly from the East Side and now living in Bedford, agrees with Costello and DeVivo. “I miss being able to go out my front door and get whatever I wanted when I wanted it. And with kids—jeez—you got to get the kids to the car, put them in their seats, drive to where you’re going, get them out of their seats, and then do what you have to do. I hate it.”

Apparently, this whole walking-on-the-street thing is quite a source of pleasure to these people. Check out what Eileen Bingay of Mohegan Lake (by way of Brooklyn) says: “Yes, I know I can walk here, but it’s not the same. In the city, you could walk thirty blocks without even blinking an eye. It was a great workout after you had kids. You didn’t have to pay some fitness club, or buy some oversized machine that you end up never using.”

Sorry Bingay.

Barbara Bornhoeft, who just happens to be Eileen’s mom and also lives in Mohegan Lake, also has complaints. “I am a senior and rely on public transportation. You have to wait forever for a bus around here.”


Symptom Two: Despondence and anger leading to chronic depression related to Westchester’s excitement deficiency (e.g.,  getting accustomed to establishments that are not open 24 hours a day, the dearth of world-class entertainment, and the loss of stimulation from not having your life threatened on a regular basis).

One day you’re in the city that never sleeps and the next day you miss the exit that would’ve taken you to Sleepy Hollow. Maybe the ability to get somewhere as a biped meant a lot to our relocated New Yorkers, but they also tend to go on and on about not enough happening up here. Some even see the two issues as closely related.

“You can’t get the same feeling when you have to drive everywhere,” says Mount Kisco’s Stacey Cohen, president of Co-Communications, a PR firm. “I used to walk three miles a day when I lived in New York. There was so much eye candy. I used to live up on West 79th, and every year on Thanksgiving eve, I could look out my window and watch all the floats getting ready for the parade in the morning. It was like having your own private parade.”

Westchester has no gargantuan inflatable Bullwinkle—and that would take some getting used to. But it’s not just the absence of antlered dirigibles that have the New Yorkers grieving. No, it’s something much more than that, as Wendy Camerik of Bedford says: “The city felt alive. It has its own pulse.”

Says Pam Goldman, who today lives in Scarsdale but used to live on 86th and Park, “There was definitely a palpable energy in the streets of the city. Unfortunately, you don’t find that up here.”

Boring? Here? No pulse in Westchester? Clearly these people haven’t been to the Westchester County Fair. But it’s not just the feeling of vitality or the intensity of a beating pulse. It’s what New Yorkers might refer to as “a vibe,” a sense of excitement that you are where important things are happening. Maura Costello’s assessment of Westchester’s vibe? “This place has no vibe.”


Symptom Three: Failure or unwillingness to adjust to Westchester’s cultural idiosyncrasies (e.g., having no interest in golf, oversized automobiles, or houses with square footage roughly equivalent to say, all of Ozone Park).

Some ex-New Yorkers have the gall to say that some Westchesterites are snobby. Is there something to that, or can that opinion be attributed to the jealous musings of those with a lower-class upbringing?

“There’s definitely a hierarchical and unspoken structure up here,” Goldman says. “You know, the class thing. People in the big houses tend to play with the other people in the big houses. People in the even bigger houses play with the people in the even bigger houses.”

Sometimes the difficult adjustments involve dealing with the absence of the great Gotham lifestyle, like world-class views, cutting-edge architecture and, of course, para-military raids on one’s own domicile. Jeff Galperin, an attorney who lives in Rye, loved the view from his former place in Manhattan. “We lived in an apartment at 108th and Fifth, where every room overlooked Central Park,” Galperin says without a trace of longing. “It was beautiful. Of course, this was in the eighties when the side streets weren’t so great and the New York City crack epidemic was in full force. One time a SWAT team was in our neighborhood and there were people jumping off of fire escapes. It got pretty rough.”

I guess that would explain the lack of longing.

Symptom Four: Discontent with the unavailability of certain New York City consumables (e.g., superior baked goods, diverse ethnic merchandise, and ptomaine-inducing street dining experiences).

“There’s nothing like a hot pretzel with mustard on it. Oh, how I miss that!” Stacey Cohen says. “And falafels…oh…”

“There are no good Italian bakeries around here,” Maura Costello opines. “And I miss my clothesline.”

“For the longest time there were no good independent movie theaters, and there still aren’t many. Just the big ones showing crappy Hollywood stuff,” says Pleasantville’s John Mullane, president of Calumet Communications.

“Let’s just say the whitefish is not as good as Zabar’s,” is Pam Goldman’s complaint.

“The pizza at its best up here is ‘decent.’ It can’t hold a candle to anything in the Bronx,” hungry Darren DeVivo adds.

Hmmm, perhaps with a greater concentration on our complex carbohydrate-
leavened products, an art house movie place or two, and some rope for Maura Costello—maybe we could make these people happy.

Maybe not.

Symtom Five: Denial of the fact that there is a world beyond New York City’s five boroughs and that large groups of people actually reside in this other world who:

A. Are not inbred

B. Are as intelligent as some New Yorkers

C. Deserve to live

There does seem to be…now, how do I put this…a certain sense of superiority in native New Yorkers. Perhaps a bit of an attitude that their birth zip code entitles them somehow to some rank. Perhaps a bit of a “vibe” that they are tougher or have something on those who live outside the five boroughs?

“When I got up here, I got the feeling that some people needed to be taken down a peg,” DeVivo says. “You know, I’d be driving and not knowing where I was going and one of those Mercedes or Lexus types would get an attitude and I’d flip him off and get ready to mix it up. Then I’d realize it wouldn’t end in a fight up here—it would end in a lawsuit.”

Attitude? Westchester citizens with a certain attitude? Yes, I find it hard to believe, but some of the people I spoke to seemed to have strong feelings about it. Ironically, what many New Yorkers fail to realize is that Westchester is made up largely of former city dwellers. Still, that creates its own phenomenon. 

“A long time ago, shortly after I moved here, I overheard a bunch of men complaining about Westchester being ruined by all the people leaving the city,” says Briarcliff Manor resident George DeLaney, a consultant to CEOs throughout Westchester
ConEdison. “I had just moved up here and I continued to listen to them. The funny thing was, as I listened it became obvious that they all had moved from the city too.”

Apparently, anyone who emigrates here five minutes or more after you did can be labeled an interloper. It does set up a strange dynamic, one that Maura Costello sums up pretty well: “I don’t think they like the fact that we people from the Bronx came up here and took over their sleepy little towns.”

Hmmm, she might have something there.


Tom Schreck lives in Albany but frequently visits both New York and Westchester and professes to love both places equally. His second Duffy Dombrowski mystery will be available in May.

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