It should be a short trip from my door to Tryharder Headquarters in Brooklyn, but this time took especially long. First, my flight was canceled. Then canceled again. And, a third time. At that point, things went a little Lord of the Flies in Terminal A, with hundreds of passengers who’d been trying to reach New York for 24 hours or more, either for travel or because it was home, each seeking a stand-by seat that might get them to their destination(s) that day…or even the next. I had tickets to the theatre that night; I overheard another lady explaining to the ticket agent that her cruise was departing New York in three hours and she’d been attempting to get there all weekend. A monk in orange robes chatted with a crazy lady who’d been his seatmate during one of our botched boardings; he seemed pretty laid back about the delay, but eager to return to his communal living quarters in Manhattan and get on with his day.
Theatre tickets aside, I was concerned about the number of hours on my hands, hours to fill with concerns about flight. I hate to fly, but love other places, which presents an essential trade. I want New York? I need a plane. My fear stops short of B.A. Baracus, but it’s pretty ugly all the same. Another thing I hate? Not being in control of the circumstances under which I board the plane. Tell me the airport location, the time I need to clear security, and when I might expect to become airborne, and I’ll take care of the rest. The breathing and meditation, snacks, distractions, mantras and personal coaching. A toy rabbit tucked in my jacket pocket, whose ear I will stroke for comfort during take-off. I will stow my luggage overhead and listen up while you talk life jackets and seat belts. Just stick to the schedule and we’re good.
Just…come on. Do not fuck with my departure routine. That kind of thing is just not on.
Eventually, as with all things, the plans came together, I made it to New York, I had exactly enough time to catch the bus from La Guardia to Grand Central, the subway to Grand Army Plaza, to walk a few blocks, climb a few flights, shove a slice of life-saving, ice-cold watermelon into my face, descend a few flights, hug two friends, and catch the subway back into Manhattan in time for the play.
And after all that hustle, I jettisoned any concrete plans I might’ve cooked up for the rest of the week, and decided to take New York slow. An oxymoron, to be sure. In that city, I look up more than I do at home. I didn’t realise this until I scrolled through my photographs later on and noticed how many were shot pointing upward. At home, I look around plenty, and often spot charming secrets like the apartment door carved like a ship or the pay telephone broken and sculpted into the shape of an elephant’s trunk. But, its charms are weighted in favour of eye-level, while New York is awfully tall.
And, imagine all those neighbours. Fifteen buildings slouched against one another to form this block-long complex — my camera lens could frame just three.
When I took my apartment seven years ago, it was a reasonable facsimile of “rent control”. The friend who passed it on told me the landlord would commit to raising the rent only $17 when the lease changed hands, and reminded me that while the place seemed small, it came equipped with a balcony that doubled its square footage in warm weather, and encouraged me to think of it as “the best apartment in all of New York”. It only seems cramped, she said, because I was thinking according to Toronto standards.
What else about New York? Instantly, my feet ache in a way they never do at home, even after stupid choices like walking home from work in mid-height heels.
Things that irk me at home, like strangers fussing over my unexceptional tattoos, are charming in New York where ladies seem to have modest tattoos if any at all and I am far more of a spectacle than at home. A Japanese girl chased me a block in four-inch foamtread creepers and grabbed my shoulder, spun me around and asked to take photos of my calves. I suspect she’d have crouched and gotten down to work even if I’d refused, but she looked so expectant that would have seemed bitchy, cold and uselessly mean.
Non-descript neighbourhoods scream “Law and Order scene”: THIS exact location could be where someone gets found slumped in his car in the wee hours and with no business being in that area (“But he told me he’d be at a meeting uptown!!!”), thereby kicking off the plot.
In New York, I eat $15 salad and wine for lunch like it’s a regular part of my life. When I return home I have a hard time forgetting how great it felt to languish at a table midday doing whatever I felt like. Restored to my office chair, fingers typing, brain thinking, my belly goes off like an alarm — 1:15 PM salad and wine bell — for the better part of a week.
Back home, I’m frustrated by how long it will be until I see my Brooklyn Lady Posse again. I feel like they’re frozen in time, waiting for my next visit and that if only I lived there too, they would always be at my disposal, up for the same sort of good times we have during the week I visit each summer. But of course this is no more true than how often I see my home team. Which is not often at all.
The most special thing New York has going for it is that it’s an escape. A place where I do things I’d never do at home. Eating while walking or traveling from place to place. Staying up till and waking up at curious hours and knowing I can spend them as I please. Not caring that I’ve sweat through my shirt and worn mucky prints into the pearl-grey insoles of my cute shoes. Wiping my hair from my forehead and letting it stick up.
The shine would likely wear off those things if I were to marry my baker-friend and set up home there for good, like we joked over dinner with the Posse on our last night together. Because I’m always exhausted and really quite done by the time my trip is up. It doesn’t matter if I was there for the weekend or stretched my trip into two weeks. The morning I head home always feels like exactly enough.