The first time I stayed in New York I did an internship at Nightline for about a month over Christmas vacation my senior year of college. My father lined it up for me as he lined up the lovely and spacious one-bedroom with a view of the Park on Columbus Avenue. I was responsible for the owner's cat while she was on an extended trip. That's it. No chores, no fees, just beautiful views and pleasant surrounding. “New York”, I thought, “is great!”
As I was working for Nightline, I went in a bit later and stayed until after mid-night. My parents were crazed that I was walking home from work, but I have never been afraid in New York. The streets were filled with people and the view of folks enjoying their late dinners was a reassuring backdrop. So I walked. I walked up and down Columbus Avenue to work. I walked to see museums and shops. I walked in Central Park. I loved New York.
I loved New York until I began to see inside the lives of my co-workers. These women were my seniors by only a year or two and they showed me the ropes. My job was to deliver faxes and scripts. This was a time when organizations had one fax machine and its silky rolls would pour forth uninterrupted pages and they would have to be divvied up and delivered to the recipients. So these smart and savvy women showed me where to deliver the faxes and where to go out at night. They were working untold hours and begging for overtime to make their rent. One night, before heading out, we stopped by one woman’s apartment. She was living with three other women in a "one bedroom" slightly smaller than a walk in closet. The bedroom contained two sets of bunk beds. "How's that working out?" I queried, peering around the corner. "We're always at work so it doesn't matter much.”
That one phrase started an early-life crisis that consumed the next five years. In broadcasting you have basically two choices at the beginning of your career; toil away in small towns for years, hopefully moving to increasingly larger markets every two years or so, or begin at the bottom of a barrel you cannot even imagine in a larger city and work up. I had thought the bottom-of-the-barrel New York route seemed the way to go. While my father had the connections to make the job happen, I was lacking both the independent wealth to sustain the lifestyle I’d envisioned and the drive to ignore my lifestyle while I pursued my career. My folks did not really want me in New York anyway, so when I said, “I’m not sure this is for me,” they said, “Great.”
But there is something about that city. I keep going back. Mr. Blandings does not really enjoy New York. Shortly after our big city friend moved there we went to visit. It was Mr. Blandings’s second trip. The first was a family vacation over Thanksgiving when he was in high school. They stayed at the Plaza. To hear the story you would think his parents had carted him off to do missionary work in Central America. When we went back, together, in 1999, he thought it was better. Clean and exciting and fun. Except for the buildings and the cars and the people.
Now when we go together we’ve worked out an unsuccessful compromise. Short, two days at most. Mr. Blandings thinks this is all he can manage, but what really happens is that I am dashing and hurrying and compromising what I want to see the whole time and the trip has a frenetic feeling. When we leave I have a list in my head of all I was hoping to see and didn’t, sometimes including friends, and he is exhausted and out of sorts and convinced that New York is hell on earth except for the food.
The last two times that I’ve been I went alone. My big city friend, generous to a fault, opened his home both times. The first trip was magic. Everything fell into place. I met people, saw places, had fun.
The latest trip was different. Less magic, more life. In fact, I fell down. In every sense of the word, but I did actually fall down. My big city friend lives in the West Village. The geography of New York has been challenging to me, but this last trip I tried to untangle its neighborhoods and realized that mostly, it’s pretty simple, except for the neighborhood that has been my home base. As a friend said, “It’s all a grid, except in the Village where it all starts to squish.” Exactly.
Anyway, in an effort to find my way, I was walking everywhere despite the frigid temperatures. My first day, after leaving Kansas City at 5 a.m., I walked all day, until nearly midnight in boots with three inch heels. Piece of cake. Nary a stumble. The next day, all mine for shops and galleries and no meetings of anyone new, I donned my Chuck Taylors and headed out again. Starting one way, then realizing my instinct was wrong, I corrected. It was a convergence of four or forty streets, I can’t remember quite clearly, but as I crossed one, headed to an isolated triangular island of the next, the toe of my sneaker caught a slight heave in the sidewalk right where it meets the curb.
I have a very clear memory of the mental process of the fall. I felt quite sure that my left foot would do its job. It never gets to lead, is always the number two guy, but the one you want in a pinch, like this, when the right foot screws up. The left foot is always the one who makes the catch, comes down sure and solid, resulting in an awkward stumble, but not a full on fall. Except in this case, where I guess the momentum of my springy-happy-to-be-in-New York step carried me right over the left foot as well. (I’m quite sure he’s still stunned by this and is seeking counseling.)
If you had seen me, I would have looked like I was sliding into second. Both arms fully extended in front of me. A little bit of air. Then down with a brief skid. There is that moment when you can’t move just yet. Mentally you are assessing your injuries. The responsible toe? Fine behind the cap of rubbery plastic. Knees, thankfully uninjured as they are the weak link at this point anyway. Hip. Yes, horrific, legendary bruise forming already. And hands. Fortunately, clad in snappy red leather, the hands themselves were fine, but slightly stinging. The snappy gloves, in comparison, bore cement burns. The realization of which led to a quick roll to the right. Thank heavens, the bag was spared.
And then, I had to stand up. I hadn’t realized until that moment that it is actually better to be with someone when you fall down. If you are with someone, there is someone there to absorb a bit of the experience with you. To ask you if you are ok. To distract you from the looks of passers by. Someone whose arm is available to grab while you bury your head in his shoulder
Mr. Blandings was horrified when I told him my tale, of course. “Didn’t anyone stop? Didn’t anyone ask you if you were alright?” Evil New Yorkers. But it wasn’t like that and it isn’t like that. When I did the internship over twenty years ago I realized one-on-one New Yorkers are like anyone everywhere. Helpful if I needed directions. Generous with their time and knowledge. Gracious in their willingness to entertain. It’s en masse when it’s different, when the gal in cosmetics turns away with a look of disdain when you don’t’ know what shade of powder you need at her crowded counter on December 23rd. But the fact was, there wasn’t anyone on that island where I had taken my spill. Nor, oddly on the next. So I stood up. And I walked. But I did have that feeling of being distinctly alone. And slightly bruised.
Labels: Musings from the Dream House