Oh Wonder

It starts small - the twisting of lights around a streetlamp or the smell of pine in a gift shop. Then more lights, more color and dazzle, and more trees than belong in a city this gray. Soon it is in the storefronts, animated with wonder and longing, windows smudged with the noses of children who still 'believe'. Then the soundtrack to the entire city changes, as if someone lifted their finger to the tip of the Empire State Building to broadcast the same few melodies over and over again...

Although its been said, many times, many ways...

For some, the holidays descend upon us like a disease. A virus to avoid. A reason to stay put. For others, they are filled with as much warmth and familiarity as a homecoming. After 12 years in this city, I have learned how to differentiate the two. The question is simple.

Are you in love?

But more importantly,

Do you believe?

Blue

Some days New York is the perfect shade of blue. The sky cuts so clear above the city it appears to hang low, as if you could reach out and brush your hand against its soft, cerulean facade. Maybe you could even ride an elevator to the top floor of a midtown tower and step right into it - just be swallowed up in the blueness of it all.

The deep, deep blueness of it all.

After

After it rains, the city smells raw and new, like skin fresh from the shower. The absence of life is quickly replaced by its eagerness to begin again, a reminder of the first day of spring after a long northeast winter. We have survived the storm in the smallest sense and are quietly glad to see each other again.

If you want to know why I'm still here, it's because of them - these patterns of New Yorkers like tides on the pavement. They are familiar to me, almost predictable. If it ever feels the world has abandoned me or left me for dead, they never will. We are too close together, too dependent on our mutual survival to splinter. Nothing can stay broken here for long.

Not even a heart. 

 

The Mourning

I woke up in a different city today. I looked around my room in the same apartment of 8 years and it was markedly changed. The streets, the ones I've walked with confidence and well-worn familiarity, were colorless and filled with ghosts. Even the cars were slower, methodical, and unmoved. Where is my village of artists and dreamers? Where have the poets gone? Who did this to you? Who cut the blood from your veins and stripped you of your passion, your vitality and your freedom? What is this haunted vessel?

What happened to my Home?

 

Awakening

 

Two hours outside of New York there are trees the color of sun dried tomatoes and lemon. Others let their bones show through, succumbing to the inevitable ending of things. They stretch for miles and sink into the horizon and all at once the world seems wonderful and vast. I am not used to the freedom of it, or the reminder that Manhattan is more like a dream than a place.

Sometimes leaving the city feels just like waking up.

 

Listen

My map of New York is an intersection of songs that have turned into landmarks over time. They have attached themselves to the atmosphere and I can hear them soft and low as I walk by. If you live here long enough, you will find plenty of music in these streets.

Houston and Bowery - "Ho Hey" The Lumineers

79th and Columbus - "The Wheel" John Mayer

Canal and West Side Highway - "Born to Run" Bruce Springsteen

57th and 7th - "Tenderly" Ella Fitzgerald

14th and 9th - "Nothin' On You" B.o.B feat. Bruno Mars

Ludlow and Rivington - "Age of Consent" New Order

11th and Washington - "This Must Be The Place" Talking Heads

15th and 8th - "Glamorous" Fergie

 

 

Delivery in the Time of Inertia

My whole city is available for download. This morning I ordered a cleaner (a person, not a substance) for my apartment. My coworker, catching the October virus, ordered drugs via messenger (prescription, though I'm sure the alternative is for sale). On a whim, you can transport yourself to Saigon at lunch or Rome at 3AM without changing positions. Sometimes you will sit there for hours trying to choose a destination.

Strange how it gets harder to decide where to go when you don't have to go anywhere at all.

 

Brace for Impact

This is how it starts - with shoes and loose socks and discarded party dresses all over the floor. Breaking up with your smoothies and ordering fries with everything. Turning pale, losing shape, listening to the pluck of a brittle guitar from a song that puts you three feet under.

We can come undone so quickly in the fall sometimes it feels like the summer was a lie.

The Infinity City

My city is fractional, laid out like a grid and splintered at the edges. She is divided into boroughs and districts, precincts and cross streets. Time has no value here in hours or minutes. Time here is measured in possibilities.

Take an intersection during late afternoon. Put two people with 78 years of life between them on this street. Calculate the possibility of looking each other in the eye. Consider the necessary compulsion to go beyond sight and to speak. Words. The beauty of words. Compound a handful of these words by their meaning. Listen to them echo as both parties walk away.

Multiply this moment by the ones surrounding it in every direction before, during, and after. That is life in the infinity city. It is all possible here.

It is all possible.

 

The Search for Delicious

Last night I had my favorite meal in New York.

The idea of a 'favorite' after almost three decades of culinary exploration in the city is rarely a new dish. New things can be delicious, memorable, even 'the best you've ever had,' but not the same as a favorite. To be considered in that category, a dish must be something that helps you return to a feeling again and again. This feeling can most easily be described as joy. As such, a favorite should never be shared over first dates, business dinners, or group celebrations where a check is expected to be split six ways on four cards (tip in cash). Where taste is tied to scent and scent to memory, do not risk a bad experience attaching itself to your 'favorite.' 

If you are curious at this point what mine is, I hope you will not be disappointed when I tell you it's simple and maybe, to some, a bit pedestrian. My favorite is the spaghetti with garlic, chilies and parmesan at L'Artusi, a hidden but lively Italian restaurant in the West Village. Now I could try and sell you on why this dish is so special to me. I could talk about the silky unfolding piles of fresh pasta or the translucent slices of buttered garlic that camouflage so well in between them. I could try and convince you the heat of red chilies is mitigated perfectly by the creaminess of parmesan brodo, or that the generous topping of toasted breadcrumbs adds a savory depth to every bite. I could do all those things, but it would never fully explain how a small dish of spaghetti becomes something more than the sum of its parts - how it turns into a feeling that can most easily be described as joy and qualifies as my 'favorite.'

But if you have your own 'favorite,' and I'm sure you do, then it doesn't really matter what it means to me. I know you understand how delicious it can be.

 

 

The King of 15th Street

A man on my block sits in the corner window which is covered with rusted bars. He hangs an elbow and a flaccid arm between the grates and lets his cigarette linger. A tall enough passerby might brush shoulders with his ash but pass it off as an errant branch. Those tangled limbs look like they have been trapped here forever.

I wonder how long it takes to live here before you become paralyzed with indifference. I wonder if I will escape before it's too late. 

The Universe

In the center of the universe there is a girl. She is known, but not widely. Pretty, but will not make it a profession. In certain circles she is considered 'successful', but only by the ones that move closely around her. She has an idea of who she wants to be and can sometimes be observed looking out in one direction for many miles on end with the belief that she will get there. This is called hope.

Outside the universe someone is looking back. Years have past before the sight of her reaches him. She is standing on a long path by the water, hands in her pockets, hair mussed across her face. He feels the weight of her gaze in something that resembles a heart. He knows she is now long gone from that place and that dream either died with her or before. In what is maybe a heart, he believes she did those great things she promised herself, because maybe she knew the universe was listening and it gave her a reason to try. This is called faith.

 

 

Uber

10:21 AM, .57 miles

Ahmad gets out and opens the door for me, but he’s a little frantic because he’s on the phone. He’s back in the car before I even get in. He’s not speaking in English but I can tell he is rushing someone off the line.

Now he’s talking to me. He says it was lucky he had just dropped someone off where he picked me up. He is smiling wide.

I agree with him.

Then he tells me he is from Aghanistan – we are still parked – and I will have to tell him where to go because he is only two days on the job.  But I must be lucky for him, he says, because that was his cousin on the phone that he has been trying to track down for a year. He scoured Facebook and somehow they found each other.

I told him he didn’t have to get off the phone.

But no, he insists. I start directing him – we are only going 10 blocks or so – and he begins to profusely apologize for his bad English. His English is pretty damn good. I tell him I can’t speak a lick of any other language and then I realize I don’t even know what his native tongue would be. He says his comprehension and literacy are good but not speaking. He uses the terms comprehension and literacy and I am still trying to figure out what his language would be – I end up googling it later.

Ahmad tells me he was a compliance officer in Aghanistan. He has been in the US for 2.5 years and has been studying English so he could get a better job.

I am at mine and he jumps out to open the door. He is still smiling.

Her

Once upon a time my great grandmother, Gisella Bohais, left Komona, Hungary and arrived at Ellis Island. She was 17, alone, with $13 in her possession. It was 1907.

A century later I would visit the tenements where she lived, now a public housing project called the Jacob Riis Houses on the east side (so named because they were some of the more deplorable tenements Riis ever photographed). I stood across the street and wondered about the woman I never knew whose dream resulted in mine - whose dream was, in some ways, the same as mine. Gisella Bohais was not American, but neither is the 'American Dream'. It comes from elsewhere. It's about getting here. 

So you see, the Statue of Liberty is so much more than a statue. She is an invitation. She is asking for you. 

Who are we to silence her?

 

 

Autumn in New York

This late summer (recently deceased) I spent six weeks in London working at my company's head office. It was an easy adjustment, and for the most part being American is less novelty than the norm. But once in a while a curious driver or shop clerk might hear me speak and ask,

American?

Yes.

Where from?

New York.

Ah, New York. I wish I was in New York.

That feeling I can hear them reaching for in their voice is a familiar one. I came here with it and now, a dozen years on, I am constantly chasing it. But I always seem to find it again when the first Autumn weekend arrives, with its sweet and foreboding morning chill, coupled by the most blinding sun. Another year is escaping us and soon the light will be gone. We forsake the shore, the forks, the tinsel of summer flings.  We come closer together.  Now we are New Yorkers, and happy to be home.

But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health, refresh'd, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn...*

Breathe it in. Fill your lungs with it. That feeling is back. It's good to live it again.

 

*When I Heard the Close of the Day, Walt Whitman

 

 

Fine

adjective

good, acceptable, or satisfactory — used in an ironic way to refer to things that are not good or acceptable

---

New York and I have been friends since I was 3, together since I turned 17. Our relationship, like all relationships, is work. Some days I think we understand each other and some days we are falling apart.

Today, we are fine.

 

Everything In Excess

I have a girlfriend who has a boyfriend who has an apartment the size of Moby Dick. It is a two or three bedroom behemoth in lower Manhattan (I haven't checked) and it is mostly empty, though a small congregation of us cook dinner there once a week. Note: Its owner lives in Europe.

Without a proper caregiver we must bring the salt, pans, forks, etc. Our girlfriend steals serving trays (and a leftover salad) from office catering. Everything else here is double-wide and stainless steel, so we scavenge like paupers but cook like kings.

Last night we made quick work of tacos, champagne, and Velveeta. Who are we?  I wondered. We are five girls eating dinner in a grand apartment in a beautiful city or we are five girls eating cheese off of stolen plates.  Or we are friends who are filling this empty apartment with laughter and forgetting to pretend we belong in it.

We are so much better at forgetting than pretending.

 

Rumors

The city is festering today, which is what happens after it rains. Everything is sticking - sediment on the sidewalks, in the air, on the skin, in the teeth. By the time I have crossed avenues I am in tiny ruins.

Something has happened in my office and it is passing between lips like a disease (words like to go viral when they are killing a person's reputation). Without windows, this place incubates gossip much better than originality. 

I am grateful this day is half dead already.

 

 

Familiar Things

There are four main characters in this story.

The first two work in the coffee cart on the corner of 15th and 8th. They are young, tan, and slender, making the most of their impossibly small restaurant. Their windows are lined with frosted donuts and photos of bright yellow egg sandwiches that I know they did not make. For a year we ignore each other when I walk by. After some time, they begin to say 'hello' and sometimes add 'beautiful' to the end. After three years they start offering me free coffee but I decline. I change jobs and now I walk the other way down 15th street. We don't see each other anymore.

The next person I'm thinking of is a security guard in Chelsea Market. He stands by the Moroccan goods store towards 10th avenue. I have never actually seen someone purchase something from this store but it has been here for as long as I can remember - which is forever. For two years now I have passed this guard (whom I know to be a guard only by his blue shirt and serious hat) and on rare occasions we make eye contact. We have never acknowledged that we recognize each other and now it feels too late to start over. I tend to walk outside now.

Our final character is a homeless woman you will find around Chelsea. At any given time, she has no less than a dozen shopping carts lined up on the sidewalk. They are filled with indiscernible items, things you and I have probably discarded. She wears layers of torn fabric that sometimes hide her tiny frame, to the point that when she is sleeping she disappears completely. I used to wonder how she moved all her belongings around and when and why, what she collects, how she ended up here. I am so used to her now that when I see her I have stopped wondering and consider her part of this little world like the architecture along my commute.

This is one of the stranger tricks New York plays on you - turning people into scenery.