I have a friend who, while not all that nice, is really a good writer. Everything he writes makes me laugh out loud. Extremely insightful and, frankly, he and I complain, I mean write, about many of the same things. Reading his blog is like reading my own ideas. But getting an email announcement about his latest post sets me off. What the!? I haven’t started a new one yet and he’s got two more out there. I hate that. And they’re always wonderful, of course. I may have to block his emails from now on so I don’t feel so bad about slacking off. It’s hard to come up with ideas sometimes. Many posts just present themselves (I wish they’d also write themselves). But if I haven’t seen anything worth writing about — vomit on a subway platform or SUV stroller wars on a Brooklyn Heights sidewalk — then I anguish. I have anxiety. Because my aim here is to please my devoted readers.
You’ve heard of Minnesota Nice. It’s kind of true, though sometimes it’s just passive-aggressive posing as nice. We aim to please, sometimes at the expense of our own pleasure. Lately I’ve been thinking that I shouldn’t worry so much about being nice — I mean, if someone isn’t happy with me, that’s their problem, right? This morning I butted in a line. Yes, really. I was late and couldn’t wait for the exceedingly large gentleman in front of me to move along. I did make eye contact as I shoved him out of my way. With big Keane eyes and upturned eyebrows, I begged forgiveness, “I’m sorry..!” I mouthed, with all my teeth showing, and I moved along quickly. Hostile yet smiling broadly, scurrying away like the infamous Pizza Rat, avoiding confrontation. I thought about it the rest of the day. I felt bad. I wasn’t nice.
When I was a little girl, my father left. I never knew why, it wasn’t talked about, though in my young mind, it was likely because I wasn’t a nice enough daughter. I did see him several weeks after he left one day when I was outside playing in my front yard. His car drove slowly by, with the window rolled down, and he looked at me. Didn’t wave or stop. I stood there, watching the car as it drove away. You’d cry if you saw it in a movie. Years after as an adult, I made contact and met him at his house. I met his new wife and we all drove down to West Des Moines to visit my step brother, Gene, who I had never heard of and never saw again. I remember he was very nice and I wondered why he lived in West Des Moines.
Of course we’re all formed by good and bad events in our childhood. Maybe I try really hard so people won’t leave me. I’ll continue dispensing tales of my nice and not-so-nice accounts of the city. But I can’t stress about it. I’m going to spend less energy seeking to please strangers (except you, my faithful blog followers.) This is New York…there’s no pleasing it. It doesn’t care about me anyway. This city can make me feel bad, but I know, even if I’m not so nice, it will never leave me.
I got a walking app yesterday. It shows me how many steps I take every day. I didn’t start it until late and just walked to a store a little ways away. In terms of how much ground I usually cover in a day, this was nothing. And it was 2400 steps. If I had this app when I started traversing the city, I would have had 2400 million steps.
Went to the Met a couple days ago and saw the Sargent exhibit, portraits of his friends and commissioned work. I’m more a fan of the later work with broad, seemingly wild brush strokes. But these portraits were exquisite. The Met is a delicious gem, inside and out. It’s a treat to wander and get lost in there, and I like that you can pay what you wish. I met some ladies standing in line in the ladies room. “If a woman designed this building, there would be more bathrooms!” “Went to the ballet yesterday and it was ridiculous…and they won’t let you back in your seat if you’re even a minute late.” I’m not here to talk about women’s bathrooms, it’s a subject near and dear, but there will be no solution to the problem unless we can learn to pee standing up. But I do want to talk about lines. Whether one stands ON them or IN them. Because when someone says she is waiting ON line, I want to ask, where is this line? Because I don’t see a line ON the floor. There is actually some debate about this and I don’t know if it’s a New York thing or not. It’s not really worth getting worked up about, because this will not change, but it is curious and irritating to a Midwesterner.
New Yorkers stand in a lot of lines. At the bakery, at the bus stop, Trader Joes. I saw a line yesterday at a clothing store on 3rd Avenue. The line was winding around the block. It was a store that sells jeans, so maybe they were giving them away or something. People here are resigned to be in lines, nobody’s nerves get jangled. When I first got here, I was practically insulted that I had to stand in a long check out line at a women’s clothing store – a really long line. People were just waiting, chatting, looking through the little bins of crap nobody needs but they put them where you have to stand for 10 minutes. I was wondering why nobody was grousing (um…almost nobody.) Then the clerk would call out, “Next on line?”
Someone I know said when he arrived here he got so worked up over always having to stand in a line. When you’ve been here awhile, he said, you get used to it. It’s true. You head out knowing you will be standing in 4 or 5 lines that day. And one day you get to your favorite coffee shop and there’s no line AND the sticky buns are still there at 10:00. And you take time to appreciate those fleeting moments. I won’t be standing ON line, but now I’m resigned to being in one, however long. It’s New York.
I’ve learned a lot about Myself and The City on this amazing New York journey. I ask questions like “What do I want?” “What’s important to me?“, and “Why does the F train have a suspended weekend schedule?” I don’t have the answers, just throwing it all out there.
I’ve been both a tourist and a real New Yorker these last several months. Exploring every nook and crannie, I head out in the mornings sometimes without a clue as to where I will end up. But it is almost always alone. I like being alone, most of the time. Last week, with a visitor I will call Someone Special* (*name has been changed) from Minneapolis, I had the best pistachio gelato in little Italy. The day was perfect. I realized that, with Someone Special to enjoy it with, the gelato was so much tastier than ever; eating take-out in a park in Chinatown listening to street musicians was way more fun. While people are always around, I’m mostly alone. But I enjoyed that day so much (and the entire jam-packed, fun-filled week). I’ve been alone so much, I forgot how special even little things feel when you’re with someone you like.
Rarely are you ever ‘alone’ in New York. Walking in this city amid the throngs of other walkers, (most, irritating me with their slow pace) surrounded by timeless architecture and ceaseless noise, I say – to myself, since I am alone – “god, I love this city!” Each morning the sidewalks are bustling: dads walking kids to school, nannies with strollers, children on scooters, old men who shout, “Happy Holidays!” and the various people on their daily walk to work. I think, “Why do so many people want to live in this densely packed, expensive, sweltering hot and dirty city?” Trying to escape each other, we seek anonymity in our daily routine, earbuds secured, staring at our phones. Yet we all still long to be enclosed by our community, by one another, by strangers. We want to belong somewhere, and ultimately, to someone. I still like being alone, but I’m thinking about being enclosed sometimes, too.
Now about that F train…
I changed my Facebook ‘Lives In’ city to Brooklyn. I’m feeling like a real New Yorker. Had lunch in Chelsea with a friend and he, upper west side resident, remarked on my nascent noteworthy grasp of neighborhoods, train stops, landmarks, etc. I told him I like the challenge and discovering something new every day. Not that interested in the Statue of Liberty (except from the outdoor patio at Fairway) or popular tourist spots, I’m really more drawn to exploring interesting neighborhoods, architecture, pocket parks. Had a picnic on the grass in Central Park last week, a trio of jazz musicians played close by. You just can’t find that everywhere! Nature, architecture, music, good company, outrageously expensive lunch from Whole Foods…
Being a real New Yorker means taking the good with the bad. The sublime with the irritating. Irritating: my refrigerator leaks. And, on a similar note, my door buzzer randomly goes off and it seems to be attached to the refrigerator somehow. It’s gone off several times today, startlingly long and loud, and reverberating through the refrigerator. I’m serious. It’s 10:00 in the morning, I’ve had nothing stronger than coffee (Dunn Brothers brew, sent from Minneapolis by a wonderful friend…I can’t find coffee like that here. New York has everything except Dunn Brothers.) So, anyway – YIKES!! – just jumped out of my chair..buzzer, refrigerator thing.
Also irritating, I threw my back out yesterday morning. Ready to attend a film, I got up from my couch and something went pop. I know it’s related to the whole coughing thing from last month because I am out of align and my back is messed up. This did not prevent me from attending a party last night and Ubering back home through new streets and neighborhoods, ripe for exploring sometime soon. I’m feeling very positive about my new city and my decision to come here, despite not having a job yet, or creating any worthwhile art, the buzzing and leaking…these are temporary irritations. Tomorrow, something sublime will come my way.
There are none in Manhattan.
I was telling my friend this and he said, of course there are – they are labeled Starbucks, a term from the Dutch settlers meaning toilet. This welcoming chain has hosted many non-coffee drinkers seeking relief, and I know where almost every Starbucks is located. My Midwestern sensibility compels me to buy something, though, when I use the facilities.
Last week, stopping with a friend not for an iced coffee, but a beer from a store on Avenue C, I rediscovered one of my favorite places in Manhattan: Alphabet City, in the East Village – formerly home to squatters and drug dealers. The designation Alphabet City is kind of a throwback to the area’s former criminal activity, so it’s mostly referred to now as the East Village. I love the slightly seedy, old quality of some of the buildings and the untouched facades. It still has lots of charm, and new development is required to keep the low-rise character of the neighborhood. During the daytime, it’s not bustling with throngs of camera toting tourists, yet it’s bustling with daily life. Walk down most any block and tucked away between buildings you will see tiny, gated parks, community gardens with names like 2Bn2C, and Earth People Community Garden. Beautiful and well tended, sanctuaries amid the clamor of the city, the gardens are locked at night and managed by volunteers. I think there are at least 50 in the neighborhood. We spent the day on a shady old bench in one of them, enjoying the sights and sounds and a couple beers. The hours passed and suddenly feeling the..um..urge for a Starbucks, we bid farewell.
I headed back out into the hum of the city (with an iced coffee) before catching the train home.
I’ve not been as successful as I hoped keeping up this blog, and I’m sorry. I have a good excuse. I’ve been in bed. Coughing. I can’t type and cough. Someone gave me a bad case of bronchitis (which I’ve never had in my entire life) and I was laid up. I slept a lot. I had to lay off the writing. Otherwise it would be: Got up, had tea, decided to go back to bed. Got up, coughed, blew my nose for about 5 minutes. Must lie down for just a minute…zzzzz.
Finally ventured out to The City last week. Job hunting. The temp agency I visited had to be a movie set from a cheesy 1964 detective movie: dim lighting, worn carpet, grease-stained walls, not a magazine in site. Silk flowers and no wi-fi. I should have bailed when I saw the ‘typing test’ at a great big Dell computer from the ’80s. The test administrator had baggy pants and athletic shoes. His shirt was very wrinkled. I know New York has its own style, and it’s not like Minneapolis, but does clean have to be an option?
Afterward I met a friend at Washington Square Park. He bought me a bottled water and a banana and we sat in the sunshine and listened to a jazz combo. Walking back to the train, I was surprised to note something: Manhattanites don’t dress all that great. I was anxious about the wardrobe I packed – would I be cool enough to walk among them? “Don’t worry,” my daughter told me. “We don’t dress any better than Minneapolis.” (I wanted to remind her of the pink appliqued kitten sweatshirts there.)
Exciting as my day was, it felt good to come home to my lovely, peaceful neighborhood. I had to take a nap.
I was walking down Smith Street yesterday, a lively avenue with butcher shops, flower marts and tiny French restaurants. Groups of people were standing, engaged in loud and spirited conversations. “I sawr it…” “I sez, whada yuhs guys tawwkin’ about?” “It ain’t woith it..Fuggedaboutit!”
We don’t do that in Minneapolis. When I see people on the street, their conversations are friendly, but private. Actually, other than downtown on a weekday, there aren’t crowds of people milling about. When I return home from New York, I’m aware of how quiet and open the Twin Cities seem. It’s easy.
People here in Brooklyn are friendly. It’s a neighborhood where you always see someone you know and stop to talk. They are also very helpful. The reputation of the brusque New Yorker is not deserved – and maybe misinterpreted. New Yorkers are abrupt. But that’s because we are all in a hurry. Not discourteous, just direct. Ask someone how to get to the R train, another helpful New Yorker rushing by will offer his opinion, because there-is-a-much-faster-route-let-me-tell-you-about-it.
I rush here, too, as if I have places to be. Swept up in the pace, even though the entire afternoon is stretched ahead of me, no commitments. I have to keep up. I’ll be rushing into the city tomorrow to pick up a rug and carry it back on the train. We don’t do that in Minneapolis. We have cars. It’s easy.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
I will admit it. My life in Minneapolis is great. But I think it’s important to test your spirit, go outside that comfort zone, and, through resistance, strengthen muscles you didn’t know you had. For example, just once, everyone should live in a place with cockroaches. I don’t have cockroaches in Minneapolis. I don’t know anyone who has them. When I first got to Brooklyn, I saw what I now know was one on the sidewalk. “Wow!” I said, in a sing-song voice to a little boy and his mom nearby, “look at this cool cricket!” Both raised their eyebrows with a pitying look in their eyes. Pity from a 5-year old who has undoubtedly seen many cockroaches.
I have not painted yet. My paints arrived in the mail and I had to schlep over to the post office and pick up the box. That was a challenge, too. I wasn’t sure if there was an actual line, nobody looked particularly queued up. So I picked a good spot to stand. It was a good spot because it was the front of the line. “Oh, hahahaha, is this the beginning of the line?” I said, backing away and bumping into a baby stroller. Many looks of pity.
I will learn. I will accept the looks of pity. I will accept the challenge that is New York.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
I’ve been in my new apartment for a week now. I wanted to write about all the surprises, expectations and experiences of my first week. Rather, I’ve spent it painting walls and gathering essentials (plates, knives, matches) and trying to remember why I left a beautiful, sunny loft in Minneapolis for a nice but decidedly darker and dirtier New York apartment. I wanted to write interesting posts and do lots of paintings of my beautiful neighborhood that (in my mind) I would be busily be cranking out. But I had to hold off. Because the only thing I had to post was: Waited all day for the gas man to hook up my stove…