Ode to NYC: On Making a Home out of 1,000 Different Faces on 100 Different Street Corners
August 16, 2012 § 1 Comment
“You can be anybody you want here.”
That’s what somebody we’ll call O told me on the street corner, three nights ago, at 10:35 PM between harsh, quick puffs of Parliaments and telling me about his last trip to Egypt. O’s Greek. But he grew up in New York. He works in real estate in Jersey City and Hoboken. He loves what he does. I know he means it because he told me five times.
Either that, or the sweet tea vodka was talking.
I hadn’t had sweet tea vodka since I was living in Alexandria, VA with my friend Brantley and running on four hours of sleep in between working and interning and catching the dash bus to the yellow line to 19th street. I forgot how good it was.
NYC’s a little like Jesus in that she belongs to each person differently, and yet somehow still manages to love everyone at once. I’ve got my New York, and you’ve got your New York, and he’s got his New York, and New York’s only my enemy when worlds and definitions collide. I get a splintering inside when that happens - just like when this evangelical elder told me Jesus hated my belly ring. Different Jesus. Different NYC. Someone else’s definition of both have made my heart split sideways, more than once.
I’m walking down the street and New York’s all mine and then there’s this Meg Ryan effect when I was expecting to see someone I trusted but met the enemy instead – and maybe their New York provides a certain image that involves damning the girl that said no to a date, or seeing how far they can push you until you call chit. But, either way, the splintering inside is like a blister, and suddenly the city’s hot and it’s hard and this little girl inside me wants to go home.
There was a splintering the night I met O. I was three yuengling’s deep in to a late happy hour and this bartender named Chris was leaning on the counter talking to my friend and me. We left just as this guy in a striped shirt was asking what we do for a living and I was seeing stars and feeling light, you know, cause for me New York is all about throwing off my old shackles and creating new experiences over and over and over again. And, that’s what I had done at this new spot by the river. I’d been present and laughing and focused on the moment with my friend A. And, I’d broken out of my habit of spending all my Tuesday nights at the same spot.
New York is about expansion for me, the opening up of my heart and soul after a lifetime of microscopic focus on disappointing emotional exchanges and small interactions.
It’s easy to get caught up in a safe routine, even here. I’ve got to push myself. I’d been forgetting to do that for a few weeks, and I was feeling like I was closing in again – shutting down, closing up. Tuesday was the night I put a stop to that – I was bent on new streets and new haunts. My experiences get bigger, and my life gets bigger. And that’s New York.
Regardless of why or how you got there, I think the first man who ever buys you Sunday morning champagne brunch in New York is a man you don’t forget. You may have fallen for him hard, or you may have been taking advantage of the free drink, but I’m not sure it even matters, in the end - you send him good vibes and you tip your hat to him, because he was the first to welcome you to the world of being young and beautiful and wanted in this city.
You tip your hat and you send him good vibes, but that doesn’t mean you want to see him on a street corner, months later. And, I had a lump in my throat after mine passed me on the way to the train.
I was all wrapped up, and I didn’t want to be.
“What the fuck?” I kept thinking.
“Open back up. Get big,” I kept answering myself.
O was a stranger out smoking a cigarette on my way home. I bummed after he told me to have a good night in passing. I haven’t bought a pack myself since college, but I bum one once every week or so from a stranger, and I learn things that way. Two months ago, this guy named Mike told me about kicking his heroine addiction on a doorstep two blocks from my apartment. A week before that, someone else ended up splitting four gargantuan slices of pizza with me at the corner store, and we’ve been fast friends ever since.
O asked if I wanted a drink, and I told him I was hungry, and headed home for a sandwich. Ten minutes later I was propped up in the front of a real estate office by a big window close to the street, drinking just one more after all, and eating bruschetta and Belgian chocolate with french bread and Greek olives, all dipped in olive oil and fresh pepper off a paper plate because O just wasn’t about taking no for an answer.
It was a big conversation – the kind that opens you back up. We talked the exchange of culture and what it’s like in Greece, as a kid. We talked Egyptian politics and gun control laws and I shared about the only night I ever spent in Dubai, and the way the hotel manager silently scoffed at my bare shoulders on my way to my room.
We circled back to New York, ten minutes later.
“You get to re-invent yourself by the weekend in this town,” O commented. “You just can’t get too narrowly focused on any one thing. Beyond that, all you have to do is be open, and opportunity and experience come your way.”
I guess that was a different way of saying what I’d been feeling – that if you can insist on staying open, you can make a home out of a million different experiences and people that become part of your New York, before you know it. Otherwise, you’ve made a home out of a single person, or a single experience, and I should know by now that you can’t do that.
If you’re going to stay open, then you’ve got to let go of the bitterness that comes from definitions colliding along the way. The splintering – you feel it hot – and then you let it pass. And, that’s what I was doing, propped up in an office chair with O. I was letting the weeks before get gone, while I grabbed on to something new. I know by now that if you don’t let go and grab on, let go and grab on, let go and grab on, a million different experiences will turn out differently than you expect and that factor alone will that turn you into one harsh fucker. Suddenly you’re the kind of girl that’s flipping off cabbies and assuming everyone’s out to steal your wallet. And, I don’t want to be like that.
I woke up the next morning insistent on continuing my hunt for new scenery, so after a meeting in Union Square I took off for East Village and this little coffee shop and beer bar I’d stumbled on with a friend weeks before. I’d met the barista in passing, and I’d liked his vibe. But I doubted he’d remember me.
He didn’t, that much was clear. I sat working for three hours on a draft and he took my drink order twice without showing any recollection of my stopping in before.
I reminded myself that this is New York and I’m new. “Of course he doesn’t,” I thought. And for a moment New York was his – this barista in East Village. I was thinking on his experience in the city and how there wasn’t any way that it had anything to do with me. “Man, I’m silly” – that’s what I was thinking.
I cashed out at 8:30 with my laptop bag slung over my shoulder and my umbrella tucked under my left arm.
I was signing a receipt and thinking about the pasta in my fridge when he cocked his head and said he knew my face.
I smiled, “It was here two weeks ago. I was a with a guy friend – real tall? He was visiting me for a week.”
He shook his head and winked at the guy beside me, “I don’t remember anything about a guy,” he said. “But I remember you. That’s for sure.”
I said thanks and told him my name after he introduced himself properly. I waved, as I was leaving, and he called out across the shop that I should come in and work on my writing at his spot again, soon.
I nodded and opened my umbrella outside, ready to walk to my PATH station, along my 9th street in my New York.
Just like that, I was back to making a home out of a thousand different faces on a hundred different street corners that, one experience after another, were telling me this city loves me, just the same as she loves everybody else.
O texted a little later.
“Champagne and brunch…