It’s almost New York City time – less than a week! I’d say I was getting excited, but that’s really an understatement. I’ve BEEN excited. I suppose you could say I’m getting MORE excited. As each day passes, more butterflies move into my tummy and start doing the Riverdance. The Riverdance? Or just Riverdance? What do you think? Eh, who cares, they’re Riverdancing up a storm, all fluttering and clogging and shit with their little butterfly-feet.
I was doing a little research recently for the trip so Susie and her husband and I can just pop on the subway and zip zam zoom around to wherever we need to be (I’m not ANTI-walking, but I also might die, and don’t especially want to die, you know? Since I don’t walk a lot? Also, that’s what the subway is for. Transporting lazy people from here to there. And also? Peoplewatching!) and I was taking notes like “take the F train” and “take the 4 train” and “exit at 14th Street/Union Square Station” and I got reminiscey.
Listen, I love New York City. I love it. If I had the money to do it justice? I’d leave where I live in a minute and I’d live there without a second thought. And you all know how much I love where I live. I’m a huge Capital District supporter. I’ve never loved anywhere I’ve lived more, and don’t plan on living anywhere else ever. But New York City makes me so happy.
When I was a kid living in the middle of nowhere (Middle of Nowhere! Population as of last census: 1,676! No, I’m not kidding. The population of the ENTIRE TOWN WHERE I GREW UP is the size of SOME OF YOUR HIGH SCHOOLS) I read. A lot. And some of the books I read were about big cities. And I dreamed of someday going to a big city, and what that might be like. Scary, I thought. Probably really, really scary. Killers would lurk in every dark alley! Men would try to SELL ME MARIJUANA CIGARETTES! There would be PROSTITUTES! PROSTITUTING!
Man, I couldn’t wait to go.
I’d been to a couple of cities before I went to New York for the first time – Syracuse, Toronto, Montreal, Binghamton. (Don’t you even tell me some of those aren’t real cities. When you grew up in a town where you went to kindergarten with the same people you graduated with, anything with a building taller than three stories was A VERY BIG PLACE.) Toronto was pretty. Montreal was nice. Syracuse was ok. Binghamton was gray and kind of dirty (but oh, how I loved it there, the five years it was my home.) But, freshman year of college, a few months into the semester, one of the girls in my dorm asked if I wanted to go home with her for one of the Jewish holidays, to see a concert. She lived in the Bronx.
“We’d go to New York City?” I asked.
She laughed. “The Bronx IS New York City,” she said. “But yes, of course. We’ll go into Manhattan. I’ll show you around the Bronx. We’ll take the subway. We’ll see Times Square. All the touristy stuff, if you want.”
Oh, I wanted. I so wanted.
I honestly don’t remember how we got there. It’s been twenty years. The bus, I’m thinking? I thought for sure she’d live in an apartment like I’d seen on all the sitcoms. Probably with a lot of garbage cans outside. And rats? Probably there’d be rats. I was prepared for rats. I WAS A BADASS COLLEGE KID NOW DAMMIT.
Her family lived in a very nice house. A house! In the Bronx! Not even an apartment! She even had a teeny tiny lawn! A lawn-let!
We went into Manhattan. We rode the subway. They were still using tokens back then. Remember tokens? I wish I’d saved some. I’d love to have a subway token of my very own right now.
She bought me my first egg cream. We saw a concert at Radio City Music Hall. We walked until our legs hurt.
I feel madly, passionately, crazily, forever in love with New York City.
It’s a city you can get lost in. No one cares. For a girl from a small town where everyone was always watching everything she did? This was a revelation. NO ONE CARED. You could strip down naked and run down 42nd Street and no one would bat an eye. They were too busy doing their own thing. There was always something happening. You couldn’t see enough. I felt like I was walking around with huge eyes and craning my neck and constantly at risk of tripping over my own feet because I wanted to see EVERYTHING. (Psst, I totally still feel like that, only I restrain myself so I don’t look touristy.) A whole STORE just for PAINTBRUSHES. An entire WAREHOUSE just for LIGHTBULBS. People selling things on streetcorners! People walking super-fast! Businessmen! Kids in little school uniforms! So much theater! Another hundred people getting off of the train!
I couldn’t live there, though. I knew that. Oh, not that I didn’t WANT to. But in order to live there, I’d have to have the money to make living there worthwhile. I’d want to go out and do things. I’d want to see shows and go to concerts and go to the fanciest of fancy restaurants and on whatever salary someone in clerical would get (which is, let’s face it, pretty much what I’ll be doing until I go toes-up) I’d be lucky if I could afford an apartment and something to eat that wasn’t peanut butter or popcorn. I’d want to do New York City justice, were I to live there. So I don’t. But I would. If that ship that I’m pretty sure sank years ago ever comes in? See you, Capital District. I love you, I truly do. But I’ll be living in New York City and visiting you every now and again.
After that, I went back whenever I could. I went with some friends to see some shows a couple of years later and a man thought I was a prostitute and asked me “how much?” which alternately amused and horrified me. (In his defense, my sundress was pretty risqué.) I had a job where I was required to go to our satellite office in the City once a month or so for a while, and I felt SO FANCY, taking the train with the business people, walking all official-like to the office, getting buzzed up to their floor in the office building like a real PERSON doing a real THING like a real JOB or something. I kept thinking that there were probably videocameras following me, because something this cool couldn’t happen to me. Country mouse! I was country mouse! This was NOT ALLOWED!
I went and stayed with a friend who lives there for a long weekend once. He’s a bigwig. Like, a total bigwig. We did the town right. Broadway show. Fancy dinner. Again, I felt like I didn’t belong. But that’s ok, because I often feel like I don’t belong in my own life, so at least I was feeling like I didn’t belong in a FABULOUS life.
I went for a long weekend with BFF. We played tourist for five days. That was the best trip I’d ever had. I highly recommend, if you’ve never done it, going to a city you don’t live in, but you love, with your closest friend someday. You will have adventures and you will laugh until you cry and you will talk until you fall asleep and you will make the best memories. We ate amazing food and we walked until we were too sore to move and we touristed everything there was to tourist and we took every subway known to man and it was the best. Just the best.
I’ve gone for the day to shop. I’ve gone for the day to watch a show. I love living where I do, because even though I can’t afford to go very often, if I want to go, it’s not far. Just a trip of a few hours. It’s right there.
Not long after I moved here, I went with a group of friends for the fourth of July. I didn’t know them well. They went every year. They did their thing, and I had friends to see, so I went and did my thing for a while, and we met back up in the evening for fireworks and drinks. They collapsed and slept away most of the day on the fifth. Since I hadn’t been drinking much – I came in late to the drinking portion of the evening – I woke up early. The fifth was a Sunday. I crept quietly out of the hotel room, tiptoeing around so as not to wake anyone, and out onto the streets, looking for coffee and some breakfast, maybe the paper. I knew my friends would be out for a while. There had been some…um…upchucking the night before. The bathroom wasn’t looking great. Or smelling like a rose. Let’s just say that.
I walked out onto the street and it was just me and some street cleaners, cleaning up the red plastic cups and the beer bottles from the night before. The sun was coming up. The streets were bare in the part of town where we were staying. (It was right down by the South Street Seaport, if that means anything to people savvy to the ways of New York. Our hotel was right near the water.) You could see the Brooklyn Bridge from where we were. It was sparkly in the sun. There was mist coming up from the water.
And it was so QUIET. Even if you’ve never been to New York City, you’ve been to SOME city, at some point, I’m sure. They’re not quiet. They’re never quiet. They seethe, no matter what time of day it is. That morning, the City was so, so quiet. Everyone was sleeping off the festivities from the night before. The businesses hadn’t quite opened for the day yet. There was the sound of the hoses from far away street cleaners, the occasional groan of their trucks as they moved from one area to another. The sound of the river. The sound of traffic from streets away, muffled by buildings. And only me, walking around the street. I felt like an explorer. I felt like the City was mine.
I found a little shop that was open and got a coffee and a bagel, and a copy of the Post (it was too pretty of a day for the Times, which is SRS BSNS, yo), and sat on a bench, in a street that was all mine, and ate my bagel and drank my coffee and just kept looking up, and it was warm but not hot, and breezy but not too windy, and perfect. Just utter and complete perfection. I had my MP3 player but I didn’t turn it on. I listened to the sounds of the city waking up. It was better music than I’d brought with me.
I wasn’t out there for more than an hour. People started to show up, stroll the street; shops started to open. Garbage trucks started garbaging. Cars started honking. People sat on the benches around mine, then someone asked to sit at my bench, and the day belonged to everyone else again.
But I’d had that hour. I’ve lived a lot of hours in my life, and some were wonderful, and some were interminable, and some I’d like to never think about again, but that one is one of my favorites, and I go back and I dwell in it, every now and then, when I need a little peace. It was like peeking backstage of a flashy Broadway show, or seeing a rockstar chatting with an old friend at a bar; it was the City without its makeup on, without its sequins and sparkle and glitter. And it was beautiful and it was stately and it was fine, and it was all mine. Just for an hour. It was magic. Just true, absolute, everyday magic. That happens now and then, you know? I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I know I probably won’t again. Well, until the rapture comes, I suppose, and there’s no one left but me and the rest of the sinners, and won’t we have fun in our quiet, quiet world?
I can’t wait to see New York City with Susie. We’d have a great time anywhere, up to and including meeting in an abandoned truck stop in North Dakota haunted by thunderwolves, most likely, but it makes me happy the first time I’m meeting her is in my favorite place in all the world. I can’t wait to make more memories there, and I can’t wait to make them with her. Five days, Secret Sibling! FIVE DAYS!
(Title is a Thomas Wolfe quote. I can’t write something that lovely. Nope, not me.)