The Look After-School Special
Andre Wagner captured the brief window when kids run New York.
It really started around my fifth year in New York — both friends and strangers telling me that I needed to accept the harsh reality of becoming a “New Yorker.” This conversation was always awkward, less because of the premise and more the tone: It was consistently less congratulatory and more gotcha. But that made sense: New York City is the great collector of souls, eternally capable in the art of lengthening stays and erasing plans of ever leaving.
Proudly from Atlanta, I’d always counter this opinion of my statehood with my stats: my 404 area code, my Georgia driver’s license, my tattoo of the phoenix (General Sherman rudely burned down Atlanta and made this image the city’s seal) and the fact that I say “y’all.” But as my tenure in New York nears a decade, coupled with the expansion of Chick-fil-A into Manhattan, my insecurity about my “home” has quietly grown. Was I actually a New Yorker now?
I considered this while sitting at the bar of one of North Williamsburg’s many new hotels alongside photographer Andre Wagner. We talked about our respective New York lives while looking through his black-and-white photos of kids after school. After a few minutes, I asked him where he was from.
Thinking about the images, his background and current existence supported his art. Wagner is someone who has also been in New York longer than expected, someone who understands New York, but someone who is not a New Yorker. Traveling through the city by way of his photos, you experience two sides of his identity: a photographer who can identify with the kid in the photo and a photographer who is still bewildered by the life of a kid who grows up in New York City.
It hit me, finally, in seeing these photos why we’d never be New Yorkers: We missed out on being young students here, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, in the fall, winter and spring. It’s not just that I didn’t experience an after-school life like those of New York City kids — it’s that I can’t even fathom it. During the school year, if I wasn’t in school, I was playing some type of sport, and if I wasn’t in school or playing some type of sport, I was with my mother, everywhere. There was not a fourth option.