There are things they don’t tell you about living in New York. I try to notice as I walk to work each morning. Scribbles on the subway columns. The wanted posters for grand larseny. Hairstyles and shoes. I spend buckets of time analyzing shoes, and usually conclude that my feet are happier than theirs.
This post doesn’t know what it’s about—perhaps an ode to a place that does, it turns out, have things that are endearing. Here is what I didn’t know, and what I’ve grown already to forget are novel, things I don't want to stop noticing.
You can never tell what time it is when you wake up in the middle of the night, because the haze is always there. It isn’t morning yellow. It’s a golden-gray dust. It comes out and night and just floats by everyone's windows.
Morning subways are quiet. People are shut. And wearing designer sunglasses.
You always think of cities as tall and I always picture myself looking up when I hear the word city. But everyday here, I look down. Playing cards and animal mess and mushed cigarettes and hopping pretzel papers. There are upturned cobbles and mothers pulling slow children, and mainly a whole lot of feet to avoid. To me, New York is low. The high windows? They are not what I think of anymore, nor the skyline. This summer I ate icecream and looked across at Manhattan often, but now everyday I dive into it. And really, I’ve tricked myself into expecting little and then unexpectedly liking it. I like that within 5 minutes of my office, I can find anything. Old-fashioned candy, consigned Gucci, costume jewelry, cafes. Oh, cafes. The food is just so. good. But I'm on a tangent.
Groceries are shockingly expensive. I have paid (wait for it) $14 for a box of pasta. I go to Whole Foods because it’s incredibly cheaper than my local market (which I still frequent for its 1950's music, walls of windows, and happy butchers). I get groceries nearly every day, because my little arms are still a-building.
Speaking of building, my building friend (she lives on the 8th floor) told me she saw Anne Hathaway walking her dog in our park. She was wearing all black, sunglasses, and looked lovely. She lives on my block, and I look up into her building each night hoping she’ll be standing by the window. Because then? I could be a real New Yorker and talk about it.
There is no way to practice an instrument in this city. You will wake up a sleeping baby or disrupt the rumpled artist. I am constantly in fear of upsetting someone, because people in New York like to make scenes. I should say, they love to make scenes. One morning I nearly slipped out some tears when someone yelled at me that I should get off the subway to let people off. Why on earth would you lecture a bookworm?! (for that matter, I wasn’t that oblivious).
Things people love in New York? Coconut water. Ankle boots. Pretending they don’t care. (They do). Dogs, oh baby do they love their dogs. More than you. Big glasses and bicycles and being old-fashioned. Sunday brunch.
Things I love? Trombone duets in the Broadway-Lafayette subway station. The smell of burnt sugar on the nut cart near my office---it's happiness every morning. Knowing my street. I squint into windows at night to smile at people I know in the Italian restaurant. That is what I always hoped city-life would bring me. A small group of happy shoppe-owners.
And everyone is specialized. There is someone to stock art eyeglasses (I walked by that store today. The glasses looked like those crazy straws you drink milk from in elementary school). There is someone to cinch in leather boots whose calves are too wide (that person is amazing). There is someone that is passionate about making apple syrup. And someone who makes up crazy lesson ideas (yes, let's use flubber in that science lesson, I say). And cheesemongers, ach. My lost calling. I walked 15 minutes to Murray’s Cheese Shop today, and stood in the golden halls in awe. Ewephoria. I bought some (it’s actually a sheep's gouda). And I wanted so badly to be that person who knows where the sweetest milk for gruyere is, and how burrata is formed.
One last thing.
Yesterday evening I heard sirens down my street, a rare occurrence in our quiet little nook of Brooklyn. Soon enough, I saw red pulsing outside the window and stepped over to see firefighters getting out, and I thought I saw them going across the street—no, coming into my building! About a minute later, there was clanging all around and thudding steps. I heard doors opening, so popped my head out to see a man with more clothes and equipment than his own body weight. He said there was an odor on the third floor, and the first thing I thought was my black beans. The smell is going through the air-vent down a floor. So I did what any paranoid girl would do. Washed out the pan, hid my steaming bowl of beans in the fridge, and listened nervously to banging and doors slamming and hoped they didn’t open mine. I might also have latched the door shut.
When I could stand it no longer, I decided now was an excellent time to buy milk I’d need in 3 days. I put on my coat and stepped out into the hall. I walked through the door to the stairwell and bam-zo! A burning smell, and something like popcorn (they said it was paper) snuck up my nose. I have rarely been so relieved.