1979: I arrived in New York with a suitcase, a rubber plant and a job offer from Sarah Lawrence. Back then, the struggling artist could afford a one-bedroom without six roomies. New York’s caffeination taught me how to work. Three years later AIDS began its pickpocketing. In a decade, it relieved me of 30 brilliant friends. I was already eyeing the exit when, one night very late in Fairway, mortal combat: one of those midgety, Chaneled old dames who’ll kill you for an on-sale kumquat. Her elbows out as armaments, she hurled ahead of me in line, cackling. I knew then: I could not fight this hard for milk. I packed the next day, moved South to rural North Carolina. Here I garden. Here I buy Girl Scout cookies. Here my pals are beekeepers, dealers in Gothic antiques, morticians with art history degrees. They’re so original, they don’t know they are. What I once spent on therapists now goes to my tree surgeon. He’s better looking, and I see exactly what he’s done. Here, I am a bulb-planting Zen literalist. Here, I sleep like a child who’s never tasted coffee.

--Allan Gurganus