Dispatches from the Road: New York
The first month I was in New York, I stayed in an empty apartment on 58th St.
By empty, I mean nothing — no furniture, no kitchen supplies, no hangers in the closet. The toilet ran too, so I had to turn the water on and off each time I used it.
It also happened to be one of the happiest, most thrilling months of my life.
Like the true New Yorker I was masquerading as, I walked — everywhere. Through the verdant greenery of Central Park, where I discovered some new delight on each visit. South down the island into the Lower East Side, where people much cooler than me sat in dimly lit bars over cocktails and flickering candles, their tinkling laughter drifting out onto the street. North, into the Upper East Side, roaming the quiet streets where friendly doorman guarded apartments that appeared from another era, and clusters of brownstones stood proudly, their elegant grandness utterly at home because this, of course, was their domain.
I sweated through my shirts and drank burnt coffee from the food stall just outside my doorway and napped under a tree in a grassy knoll in Central Park.
I drank it all in greedily, unused to having so much at my fingertips.
I'm from the lowcountry of South Carolina, where the marshes stretch for miles and life drifts along as lazily as the rivers on their way out to the sea. New York, quite needless to say, was not like that.
I have never seen a public library so grand, nor a sidewalk so littered with trash. I've never met people who didn't smile back, or who were so woven together into the fabric of a place, from the businessmen and beggars riding alongside each other on the subway to the perky young woman doing her laundry next to the grizzled old immigrant at the laundromat on the corner.
People always talk about noise pollution in New York, as if the constant beeping and shouting and screeching is an invisible poison being cranked into the air. But it's not pollution — it's the symphony of life, disparate elements and instruments fusing together into a single soundtrack. The rumble of the train is the bass, low notes emanating steadily from grates below your feet; the incessant car horns the brass section; the idle chatter from sidewalk cafes a soothing piano. You may not be able to hear yourself think at times, but my goodness can you feel.
I went to Cafe Sabarsky in pursuit of sachertorte and wound up falling in love with The Woman in Gold. I watched Odette die ever so gracefully and cried at Tchaikovsky's score at the Lincoln Center. I lived in a world where you could buy a $4 dinner of dumplings and see Degas' water lilies all in the same day.
I had my wallet stolen in a bookshop on 69th St. I got catcalled on the street and stared down by creepy old men in trucks. I never did learn my neighbors' names.
Like a young girl who's fallen in love, I don't know how, exactly, to describe it. How looking at the glittering skyline at night is like gazing into the eyes of someone you love. How the imperfections make everything more whole. How the simple discovery of something perfectly normal can be so intoxicating, like a present wrapped just for you.
It may be a summer fling, the kind that burns out as quickly as it came to life, with nothing but memories and the smell of red wine left in its wake. Like the best kind of love affairs, I'm assuming it won't last.
And like most irresponsible loves, I've found I really don't care at all.