tulips in the west village <3
art imitating life?
New parking signs up in Brooklyn
Part 4: Bring Your Ice Picks And Sunnies
It was a cold, broke, winter.
I was out of a job for the second half of the year. Now that I had moved to New York and started making money again, most of it went towards unpaid bills and Manhattan rent. Not that Los Angeles had been making any top ten lists of best places to stretch the dollar.
The apartment was a third floor walk up in the East Village, bordering on what some may or may not still call Alphabet City. I never lived in New York before, but remembered the neighborhood when coming to the city in the past, mostly in a blurry weekend of conferences or music festivals.
Alphabet City area was a dump back then, but like most areas of Manhattan has since metamorphosed into a vibrant part of the city. The neighborhood itself retained an artsy, eclectic vibe, not overly gentrified like the West Village - only borderline so.
I was subletting under “unofficial” terms from a friend who incidentally enough was moving to LA. Come spring, I was her when realtors came by for a showing. They were accompanied by unsuspecting young students, foreigners in town for an extended stay, couples looking for their first joint space, or, others, like me, new to NYC with no general range of what real estate actually went for.
Their eyes would grow large as they scanned the length of the apartment.
“Is this the duplex?,” One would ask tentatively.
“Where’s the private roofdeck?” Another ventured.
It was comedy of the richest kind. The place was more likely around 400 square feet.
Rectangular in shape, the unit ran the length of a corridor with the bathroom on one side of the entry way and utility closet on the other. The kitchen was about thirty square feet.
It was perfect.
When I climbed the stairs for the first time I thought of European cities, where living spaces are traditionally much smaller in urban areas.
“It’s like Paris,” I thought.
I kept climbing.
Posters adorned the door of #2C. The sticky scent of weed filled the air.
“It’s a dorm in Paris!”
However charming this may have seemed, things never went from quaint to questionable. The bedroom faced the rear of the building and the building itself was on a one-way street with a dead end to the east side. These two factors created an usually quiet atmosphere at night, rare for the average NYC abode.
A balcony (a.k.a. the private roofdeck) was available off the bedroom. This was technically part of the fire escape, and the only way to really walk around was to do so in a circle. I sometimes went out there to gauge the weather, but mostly pulled back the drapes for views of the twinkly lights emitting from buildings across the way. It was very Rear Window.
At any given hour I’d hear dogs barking, a young operetta practicing her scales, or the next door neighbor getting ready for a night out. Somehow, this was all ok.
Most weekends I’d slum around the Village in an old REM t-shirt with a big overcoat and little beret I picked up in SoHo. I annoyed the clerk on that one. I tried to explain my relative newness to the winter hat game, this as I got a price tag caught in my hair and couldn’t get it out until he had to come over to remove it with scissors.
I felt comfortable and at home in that little East Village walk-up. There was a delicious ramen place across the street, three bars, a restaurant, and a dubious looking “psychic” on my block. I was a long way from Santa Monica.
After December I didn’t leave the island once in three months. It was baptism by frost.
I walked a mile to and from work every day. I walked in the rain and in the wind and in the daggery winter sunshine. Sometimes the city frowned and beat me down from multiple angles. Other times it was more accommodating, and I felt encouraged and energized.
During the tougher walks, I laughed at the irony of the sleet and little shards of ice that mucked up my glasses until I could barely see a foot in front of me. I cursed at the meager temperatures and once walked home in a blizzard. (the reward was going bar-hopping the next afternoon while the rest of the northeast was utterly snowed in.)
I measured the rhythm of walking the streets - nailing the timing of the light, feeling frustrated when I needed to stop for a light or to let a biker glide by. It was a chance to try on the energy of the city - the sort of energy that sucks you in, makes you walk a little faster and feel either more synced to the world, completely shut out, or positively indifferent.
New York is a city of delights. And you must always look up. Not to be metaphorical, but really, you must look up because the streets and sidewalk are usually pretty filthy.
I admired the buildings that appeared to blend right into the skyline. The architecture encouraged this to happen with such a remarkable ease that it took one’s breath away.
Come twilight, the gentle blue lights assumed the color of the sky, creating an urban gradient where nature met metal and steel. The design paid gentle respect to the vast atmosphere above it, always seeming to blend regardless of the tonality of the clouds overhead.
After the vertiginous feeling goes away, you start noticing things.
You notice the Jersey boys arguing on the street corner. You smile back at the monk passing you from the other direction. You frown at the idiots doing construction that keep blocking street traffic day in and day out. You wonder what the guy in the housing project will blast on his radio this morning. You smile at the kids joshing each other in the subway as a hipster on a cello plays on.
New York City is the only place in the world where a mile’s worth of walking can offer the most randomly delightful forms of entertainment.
I watched the locals navigate traffic on-foot, using their cell phones while doing so (rarely) and their strict codes of haberdashery for various types of weather. I glanced at theatre times, admired windowsills and storefronts, looked quizzically at “parks,” and snickered at advertising on the sides of bus stops.
I took it in. I walked it out. It was priceless.
Winter didn’t pass without its challenges.
I grew weary of many small things I generally wasn’t accustomed to embracing during the day-to-day living circumstances in Los Angeles - things like lint brushes and overcoats and moving around in tight spaces.
I became annoyed that people were always up in my space. I grew exasperated that in an absence of tissue people seemed to “sniff” when approached within their personal area. (for instance in the tiny elevator, or at the crowded accoutrement station at the coffee shop.)
Sometimes I felt a blind spot hovering just outside my line of vision. Just over my shoulder, there was something I wanted to swat at. Was someone following me? Perhaps it was my own shadow. There were some prickly remembrances I couldn’t shake loose.
Reflections of the past had certainly followed me here, but however ominous that may seem, in reality I wasn’t running from anything. I was simply closing a chapter that had neared its end, choosing to head towards the possibilities - however remarkably, ridiculously, and perhaps stupidly - unknown. It’s funny what we have the ability to let go of - and inversely embrace - only when we choose to shrug, throw up our hands, and simply move on.
And when you
need decide to move in a matter of weeks, you pick up your things and go. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the most maddening process imaginable. Things get broken, things get lost, everything gets expensive and strange and withholding.
Your fears and doubts come along for the ride. So do your hopes and dreams, curiosities and insecurities. You try to leave all the negative baggage behind, but time only proves that location is merely circumstantial.
Tellingly enough, my mind chose to remember nothing about work. All of those little victories and “end of the world” moments that were so important in-situ. And what did I remember the most, but the valuable moments I spent outside of those working hours.
My only regret is not having done more. Even if it meant constantly opening myself up to new opportunities and exposing myself just a little bit more to failure or heartache or both. Even in the dead of an east coast winter, with this lesson constantly reworked as I walked those two miles every day, I became slightly more open to the possibilities of acquiring more wounds. More smacks not over my shoulder but upside the head. More muscle, more invisible steel.
Come spring, my heart felt differently. It felt stronger and vibrant, beating steadily and fully as if to assure me that we did it. We made it through…whatever the hell that was.
I crossed Washington Square park with my earbuds in, winter coat zipped up in 50-degree weather as the beginnings of tulips peeked upwards from the fertilized soil and NYU students milled about, eyes large and eager. As I approached the Arch I noticed three young asian girls filming an ad-hoc music video. Alec Baldwin walked in step with a friend. A mother helped her toddler take his first walk in the park. For the first time in three months, I unzipped my coat. I smiled. The city smiled back.
> to part 3
Murals on the Bowery #streetart #nyc