Monday, August 23, 2010

City Soul

There’s something about New York that still feels like a dream to me. Not a fuzzy, warm romantic fantasy, all hazy at the edges and softly swaying to Frank Sinatra music… But a weird, disorienting, unreal yet happy existence that can’t possibly be true. There is nothing about this life that my soul can grasp, that my whiplashed mind can wrap itself around. Occasionally I’ll be walking through the streets, plodding along between tall concrete buildings that look like nothing I’ve ever existed with before, and it’s like my mind has to separate in two—one half gripping the other by the shoulders, shaking firmly as it says, “This is real. This is REAL. This is New York, and you live here.”

I don’t know what to say about New York that hasn’t been said before. Any attempt at originality would be a regurgitation of songs and literature, stories and poetry and slogans I’ve ingested over the years about this myth of a city in which I now reside. I have nothing new to add to a dialogue about this strange and weird and wonderful and unreal metropolis that I now call my home. It is what everyone says it is. Everything you have heard of New York City, every whisper, every anecdote, every limerick and lyric… everything is true. And yet somehow, it’s still a mystery, still a complex Rubik’s cube of experience and transportation and love. This city has a soul that is infinitely explorable.

The things I’ve learned are small—seemingly insignificant when faced with the task of conquering this mountain of a city. But they serve as touchstones, little pieces that make this Xanadu world seem real… Never forgetting one’s umbrella, walking with purpose and economy, knowing when to flash a warm smile at the man behind the counter at the corner market and when to set your face like flint when the woman behind a table on the street calls out to sell a handbag… These are things, however small, that make up a life in New York.

However cold and unwelcoming the city may seem, my experience has proved just the opposite. Beside every crass construction worker cat-calling and sneering as you walk to work, there is a sweet old Italian man who shouts, “Good morning!” as he leans from his second-story window. There is the sweet woman at the flea market who wants to know your name and tucks an extra pair of vintage earrings in your bag because they looked “just divine” on you. Amidst all the awkward shuffling and purposeful avoiding of eye contact on the commuter train, there are the moments you lock eyes with the person across from you when something funny or weird or awful happens and you smile together.

This is what I know New York to be. It’s not that the city is cold, she’s just not easily won over. And I can respect that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I’ve lived in California my whole life. I thought I knew what summer was like… I considered myself an expert on warm, sunny, flip-flop weather. Bathing suit weather. Air conditioning weather.

But I was not prepared for summer in New York.

The air is thick with sweat. Dense and still, it presses in all around you as soon as you step outside. A thick hot mist envelops with every step you take to the train station and back again. Descending into the dungeon-like, fiery, still heat of the subway station is even worse. You stand waiting—praying—for that long golden light to come plunging from the darkness, for the cool silver bullet to open its doors and whisk you away from this hell-like hotness.

Beads of salty perspiration make their way in rivulets down your back, neck, legs… Puddling against your neckline, waistline, back of your knees. You are sweating. But so is the ground you walk on, the buildings you cross between, the air you breathe in and out. The city sweats too. Everything seems damp with this omnipresent, all-encompassing Heat. And when it rains, it’s as if the sky itself is weeping from the smoldering sun, spontaneously bursting into fat, lukewarm tears that rain down, dampening already damp bodies. Even rain does nothing to cool the swelter.

Last week I was walking home from work, crossing the final blocks until I reached the solace of my cool room and my cool bed, where I was planning on dropping everything I was carrying, peeling off every layer of clothing, and laying scantily clad beneath my beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent, wonderful, holy air conditioner, when I saw two children standing behind a table on the sidewalk. The air was thick with 6 o’clock heat, and I wondered what two adorable kids in a rich neighborhood were doing standing outside voluntarily. I had to see.

So I crossed over to the side of the narrow, tree-lined road and saw that they had tall, icy pitchers of lemonade and iced tea and were pouring them into little clear plastic cups. Now, I am a firm believer that children should never stop selling lemonade, and will consider it a great societal grievance if young ones ever lose the entrepreneurial ambition to pander watered down beverages to passers-by, so a smile began to play on the edge of my lips when I saw them there.

As I approached the little propped up table I saw a hand-crafted sign, as child-run lemonade stands are wont to have. Except this one said, “Free Lemonade and Iced Tea.” …What? No quarter? No dollar? You don’t want any money for video games or comic books or Frappuccinos? You’re standing out here in this heat, pouring iced tea for strangers, and you don’t want anything for it?

I walked up to the little boy, his blonde hair swooping across his forehead, blue eyes lowered shyly to the ground, and asked for, “Lemonade and iced tea together—half and half. Is that okay?” He nodded his head and poured me my special Arnold Palmer. I asked, “Is it really free? …What are you doing this for?” Still avoiding my gaze he shuffled and said, “It’s for the church. We know it’s hot and we want people to be cooler.” I looked back at the “Free Lemonade” sign and saw that at the very bottom was scrawled, “Donations accepted,” and my gaze traveled up to see a little blonde girl come tumbling out of two wide wooden doors. Church doors. I hadn’t noticed until just right now that we were standing in front of a church.

I pulled out the biggest bill I could find, and handed it, folded, to the boy. “Thank you very much,” I said. His eyes still fixed on the ground he shuffled his feet and smiled softly, “Thank you.”

As I continued my walk home, only two blocks more at this point, I sipped from my sidewalk purchase and thought, “I’m happy to be in New York in the summer."

Sunday, August 1, 2010


So here I am. I’m really here and it’s already been a week.

It’s hard to shake the illusion that this is just a trip—only a few more days and I’ll be home again with the California sun on my shoulders, driving my convertible through traffic on the freeway, falling asleep beneath the soft whirs of the fan above my bed. But it’s not true. My car is sold, my bed is filled, and here I am sending off the sun. …It’ll take a few hours for it to get to you.

I’m in New York.

I’m in.... New York.

Maybe if I say it enough, it’ll sink in to my jet-lagged brain that yes, I really did move across the country in a week. And yes, I really am living in the most beautiful apartment I’ve ever seen. And yes, I did go from working as a hostess at a restaurant where I had to wear pants that smelled like meat and orthopedic shoes to an office on Wall Street where I wore a red dress and four inch heels two days ago. It really is… real.

Last night I climbed the steps of my five-story walk-up to rest on the beautiful roof-deck atop my building. The cool summer breeze whipped around my shoulders as I turned to gaze at the Empire State Building in all its lit-up, regal glory, and I thought, “It’s good to be here.” Yes, it still feels like I’m on a trip, and yes, I still miss California and my friends and my car and the weather (!) and the beach… And Home. But for now, I’m here. I'm "home."

The night I moved in, I took a tiny calendar from the top of one of my boxes and flipped it to the date. Each day on this calendar has a little saying or inspirational phrase, and it always makes me smile. And last Saturday, July 24th, my move-to-New-York day, it read:

So be truly glad! There is wonderful Joy ahead.
1 Peter 1:6

Lord, let it be true.