Just took my second shower of the day for the fourth day in a row. It is hot and muggy here. And you can’t help but be in hot and muggy places. Three weeks ago, when I was here wearing a suit it was dreadful. Now, I’m wearing my lightest clothes and going out on quests.
Things I love about NYC. The people. The differences. The changes. The expanse. The hardness. The soft kind moments.
Things that are different this time around: I am determined to smile and make eye contact with everyone I can, especially those in the service industry. I am now aware of cultural bias and dehumanization, and I am determined to recognize everyone that crosses my path with a smile of equality and welcome.
Things that are the same. In NYC Chapter II Vincent would get so caught up in his studies at Columbia, determined to shine with his public graduate degree amongst all the others from ivy league backgrounds. As a DOCTORAL student he took 17 credits each semester the first year. Which is to say he was boring at home. After a tantrum on my part we agreed that he would give me a carte blanche day where we would do whatever I wanted together. I am not the sort to go somewhere idly. To go to any destination, I needed to have a quest. An item to purchase, a place to see, a moment to discover.
I find that I am doing the same thing now. Waiting for someone from the staffing agencies or dozens of job applications I’ve sent to contact me, I’ve kept myself busy with quests. At first, they were simple, plates, glasses, cutlery for the new apartment. Food. The last two things on my list have been a lampshade for the lamp left behind by the former tenant and some sort of shift I can lounge around in. I have discovered that one of my roommates simply wraps herself in a towel while at home. A bath towel can encircle her frame twice.
Yesterday I went to the West 80s looking for a Bed Bath and Beyond. These were the haunts of NYC Chapter I. Then I had an apartment (a room with shared bath and kitchen, SRO) on 86th and West End. I was subletting from a playwright I’d met at Actors Theatre of Louisville and it was rent-controlled. Would you believe I paid $200 a month?
Walking on the 80s I found that there is an old bookstore, barely a hole-in-the-wall, lined floor to high ceiling with books. And it has those old wooden ladders to access these books. This store was there back in the 80s. I had to go in just to tell the proprietor how I’d been there back when.
I find I’m talking to everybody whenever I want. Recognizing other humans. A young woman in the bookstore was marveling at the dusty books and heard me say I’d been there thirty years ago. She nodded and told me her father had had a practice just around the corner and she wondered if he knew of the place.
When I was here before I think I was more insecure and afraid of myself. I don’t recall openly talking to people, although I knew some who did. I was afraid of making a fool of myself, I guess. Now, I am trying to heighten the human connection in the morass that is NYC humanity. There’s those moments of shared eye contact on the subway, evasion on the street. So many people sharing such small spaces requires navigation in a special way found nowhere else. I think that in some ways this is what I missed most of all while in Michigan. Even though I love solitude and autonomy.
I’m struck by how much exercise I’m getting. Not that I didn’t expect that – you must walk everywhere. But in my mind, there’s that contrast of thoughts just days ago: “We’re low on milk, I should go to the store. Hmm. Not in the mood right now. Maybe later. Or I can ask Vincent to do it.” The timing of my day around when I might go pick something up and whether it was worth getting in the car to go. Today I needed milk for tomorrow’s coffee. I knew I’d have to brave the heat eventually. So, I did. Now I tie everything I need into one trip. I go as far as I can, and I am dripping and exhausted when I get back. Vincent is bringing the scale on his next trip and there’s no way I’m not losing weight and getting fit. Also, I’m so engaged – emotionally, mentally, intellectually – right now that I’m not hungry. For years I have been eating and drinking out of boredom. Now, I have my coffee in the morning and something to eat in the early evening and it’s perfect.
I love Vincent with all my heart. But there is a dependence, or interdependence that comes in relationships. Part of this experiment of living apart is learning to depend on myself and find my own self-sufficiency. Use the energy spent on him to focus on me and my impulses. Like writing. Here I am in a little place all by myself with no distractions other than job hunting, and I finally feel the freedom to write. Oddly, even though I set up writing corners and made plans a dozen times over the years something about having something better to do (Vincent) made it impossible. Now, I’m doing it. We’ll see where it goes.
Back to NYC. The other day I realized and reflected to Vincent that when I was here in my twenties I was captivated by the NCY elite – the fashion, the rich, the famous. I felt that was the only way to be in NYC. I had a friend who took me to parties with Susan Sarandon and Robert Wuhl and house-sat for Phoebe Cates and Kevin Klein. I felt the distance between my age and ambition and those things I’d never achieve.
The second time I lived in NYC I wanted to live at the academic intellectual level. The professors who took years of sabbatical, taught what and when they wanted and created art in the fringes of NYC on their spare time when they weren’t traveling the world. I worked for the bankers who were making millions, but losing their health doing drugs to stay awake and living a wild crazy existence and I didn’t envy them. I wanted to achieve status in New York with my mind. But the distance between my ability and my ambition was too great. When we left, I felt I didn’t belong, because I recognized I was not one of those people.
This is the third time in NYC. Now I am seeking to live amongst the working class, the college class. There is a whole world of NYC that is cheap. Not housing, never, but food. A slice of pizza is less than $3, and will keep you full all day. There are ways to do things, to figure out things, the way people who live here do, without extravagance. It’s existence, but the existence of NY. And in exchange for less house, less land, you get to live in the microcosm of the world. New York feels like another country. I keep realizing that a lot of what I’m feeling I felt last year in Lyon, France. Maybe it’s just being in a city. But a lot of it is the history. The realization that you are standing where Alexander Hamilton stood. A lot of it is the mix of people, the array of languages around you. I need to learn Spanish now. But tonight, I got dinner at a corner place near my apartment. It was Middle Eastern, just two tables. I ordered grilled chicken kabob pita to the cook, but he must have heard platter because I got rice, and salad with it. There were two young men waiting for their orders and when they left they got in a car parked outside next to the fire hydrant. I thought: these young men came from a distance just for this food, it must be original. They were speaking Arabic (?) to the guy behind the counter. It was delicious. I ate it with frozen mango I’d bought at Trader Joe’s on 72nd. It cost $9.00, but I have plenty for tomorrow as well.
Yesterday on a quest I was in the 80s and after finding the bookstore I stumbled into a linen shop that had such wonderful things. I bought two pillows I didn’t need, but they were cheaper if you bought two, so I did. And they are perfect. I also bought this huge quilted blanket thing for my bed, it is beautiful and unique. Then I went across the street to the Bed Bath and Beyond that was not a Bed Bath and Beyond, but a Beauty and Beyond – which seems to be a derivative because the logo font is the same. There I found pillowcases for my new pillows, and knives. Sharp knives. On my quest list. But no lampshades. Still, I found myself wondering up Broadway with two enormous bags full of pillows.
We didn’t have the internet, as it is now, in the 90s. It is wonderful to go to a corner and search bus maps and subway maps to figure the best way home. I plotted a route on Amsterdam Avenue, thinking there’d be less walking and I was getting footsore. Unfortunately, my route left me at W 131 and Amsterdam. The two buses I’d expected did not seem to be running, and I was feeling the heat. And I had these huge bags. So, I hailed a green taxi. Now, the green taxi is also new to me. As I understand it, they are for the upper town places that yellow taxis in the old days refused to go. (That is, back in the 90s, if you were heading uptown you might hail a taxi and the driver wouldn’t unlock the door unless you gave your destination. If it was too far uptown he would speed off. It was illegal, but they did it.) Now, there seems to be some sort of compromise in which the green taxis are for the places the yellow ones didn’t want to go. (Don’t take my word on this, I haven’t actually done the research.)
Anyway, I got in the green taxi and gave my address. I knew it would be a little awkward because I live on a little tucked away street – called a “terrace”. But I was prepared to give instruction. The driver drove up Amsterdam, meter running, all correct. This was only my second taxi ride in NYC this year. I told him to turn on 144th – but oops, it’s one-way the wrong way. I told him to go to 145th, he did. We then went down to Convent and he turned right, back to 144th. I told him to drop me at the corner and I began fishing out my money. I always tip. The fare was 6.30. I had a five, a one and a ten. I gave him the ten. He turned right and began driving up the street, away from my apartment. I got him to stop “wrong way! Wrong way!”. He then stopped and asked me if I didn’t have a five? He had a wad of money in his hand. If I’d been quicker, I would have said, just give me one dollar back. But I explained I only had a five and a one. He said “no, no, give me the five.” I did. Then the one, for which he was grateful. But it wasn’t until I got out and he’d driven away I realized how he’d shortchanged himself. Oh well.
The staffing agencies are assuring me they will send me out soon. It just takes a little time. I’m trying to be patient.